Abstract

This essay sketches the rise of a Popular Front-inflected vision of the U.S. city neighborhood's meaning and worth, a communitarian ideal that reached its zenith during World War II before receding in the face of cold-war anxieties, postwar suburbanization, and trepidation over creeping blight. During the war years, numerous progressives interpreted the ethnic-accented urban neighborhood as place where national values became most concrete, casting it as a uniquely American rebuff to the fascist drive for purity. Elaborations appeared in the popular press's celebratory cadences, in writings by educators and social scientists such as Rachel DuBois and Louis Wirth, and in novels, plays, and musicals by Sholem Asch, Louis Hazam, Kurt Weill, Langston Hughes, and others. Each offered new ways for making sense of urban space, yet their works reveal contradictions and uncertainties, particularly in an inability to meld competing impulses toward assimilation and particularism. Building on the volume's theme "The Arts in Place," this essay examines these texts as a collective form of imaginative "placemaking." It explores the conflicted mode of liberal nationalism that took the polyglot city neighborhood as emblem. And it outlines the fissures embedded in that vision, which emerged more fully as the provisional wartime consensus dissolved.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 351-378
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-31
Open Access
No
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