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Introduction Americans have perpetually harbored complex and often uncomfortable feelings about urban life. Recognizing early in their national history that cities performed critical economic functions, they nonetheless worried about the effects of concentrated settlement, not just on individual behavior but on citizenship itself. Thomas Jefferson was not alone in the belief, which he stated in Notes on Virginia, that ‘‘the mobs of great cities add just as much to the support of government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.’’1 Stating his strong preference for agrarian republicanism over social conditions generated in European cities, Jefferson, like others after him, nonetheless ultimately embraced the forces of modernization. For critics who followed, the challenge lay not in avoiding urban development but making it work according to republican principles. Over time, solutions differed, but one strain remained remarkably consistent: the belief that in improving the physical environment lay the key to civic as well as social regeneration. Countless reforms, of course, were incremental. Among the most lasting and influential efforts, however, were those intended to uplift whole communities. Distressed by the ways urban density fostered anonymity and social differences at the cost of solidarity, reformers sought new means to bring together the ‘‘people’’ in whom the nation’s founders had endowed so many powers. Through interventions in public spaces as well as private living conditions, they sought to enhance both sociability and knowledge among strangers. Their goal was not simply better people. Ultimately, they sought to shape civitas—the community of citizens— through design.2 These efforts first emerged in concentrated form in the early twentieth century, as critics of unbridled capitalism on both sides of the Atlantic sought alternative ways of assuring more responsive and humane uses of investment. In England, Ebenezer Howard’s vision for a whole network of PAGE 1 ................. 17669$ INTR 02-23-10 13:51:28 PS 2 Introduction garden cities organized on the principle of returning to residents the increased value of the land as it was improved provided a powerful alternative to the status quo. Progressive reformers in the United States embraced a number of methods for countering the ill effects of the prevailing laissezfaire ideology. They shared with Howard, however, faith in the ameliorative effect of a good environment and sought in their best efforts to implement change for the betterment of civic life, not just of individuals. Reform withered with the disillusionment that followed World War I, but other efforts emerged, not least through a small band of architects and critics who formed the Regional Planning Association of America in the mid-1920s. From their extraordinary members, among them Lewis Mumford, Clarence Arthur Perry, Catherine Bauer, Clarence Stein, and Henry Wright, came innovations to building practice that envisioned broad social benefits through good physical design. Through their writing as well as their building experiments they left a vital record of what I have chosen to call here ‘‘civitas by design.’’ This legacy remained in evidence as I undertook graduate training at Yale in the mid-1960s. Christopher Tunnard, of the School of Architecture, was an enthusiast of Lewis Mumford’s sweeping formulations for a revitalized urban civilization based on purposeful regional planning and respect for the natural environment. It was through him that I was exposed to Mumford’s assertion, which has been repeated more than once in my subsequent writing, that ‘‘The city, as one finds it in history, is the point of maximum concentration for the power and culture of a community. . . . here is where human experience is transformed into viable signs, symbols, patterns of conduct, systems of order. Here is where the issues of civilization are focused.’’3 Times were changing, however. Mumford’s emphasis on the central agency of cities remained pertinent, but the focus for reform was shifting. Even as New Haven received accolades from journalists as well as academics for its extraordinary ability to tap federal funds in the cause of ‘‘urban renewal,’’ Mayor Richard C. Lee came under intense fire from local activists for putting physical revitalization ahead of human welfare. When civil disturbances wracked the city in August 1967, a protest document directed at the mayor carried with it the ring of authority: ‘‘What are looted stores compared to looted lives?’’4 Within a few years, prescriptions for city revitalization had changed irrevocably. Rejecting ambitious efforts to reconstruct whole cities typified by the ambitious ideas of Paris-based architect Le Corbusier and the Modernist movement he promoted,5 critics embraced instead more...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780812205282
Related ISBN
9780812242478
MARC Record
OCLC
794700586
Pages
216
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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