In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

210 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d'etudes americaines James T. Lemon. Liberal Dreams and Nature's Limits: Great Cities of North America Since 1600. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1996. The field of Urban Studies is a bit like the North American city. There are some interesting neighbourhoods, some dynamic and vibrant people, but an awful lot of dreary and undistinguished suburbs. Like old shopping plazas, uncritical textbooks clutter the literature of Urban Studies in unedifying sprawl. The intellectual marketplace seems dominated by the textbook equivalents of Wal-Mart, whose glossy but anodyne messages preach uncritical acceptance of the status quo. While it isn't particularly glossy, and doesn't provide convenient parking, Jim Lemon's new book, Liberal Dreams and Nature's Limits makes a very important contribution to Urban Studies in North America, and probably beyond. It is a critical work, with some tough and uncompromising things to say about North-American urban society. Put simply, Lemon feels that North America's economic stagnation is derived from the unsustainable character of its social and environmental practices. The Liberal Dream is Lemon's term for the type of laissez-faire materialism which has long characterised American ideology and whose most fervent contemporary adherents are the neoconservatives. Classic American definitions of liberty place considerable emphasis on property rights, but while tax breaks and deregulation may enhance the property rights of some, they translate into higher unemployment and reduced social programmes for the poor. Liberal free-enterprise may give us Wal-Mart, but when discount prices are won by discounting wages, it creates a class of people who can only afford to shop at Wal-Mart. Thus the irony, which Lemon notes, of a society espousing freedom and opportunity, whose cities are filled with a resentful and discarded underclass. Conventional North-American economic and social development has a tendency to become a zero-sum game, in which the success of a few is paid for by the failure of many. Lemon attributes the popularity of the liberal dream essentially to the expansionary economic growth of North America before 1900. Classic liberalism worked because there was scope to sustain social and economic expansion by plundering the environment. Once those limits were reached, North America began a slow end-game of stagnation. While North America must learn to live within its environmental limits, it also needs to review and reassess its liberal ideology. Lemon sees hope, and possibly sustainable progress, in an ecologically-informed social democracy. These arguments are Book Reviews 211 carried through a series of analyses of five North American c1t1es; Ben Franklin's Philadelphia, Tweed's New York, Robert Park's Chicago, Los Angeles circa 1950, and David Crombie's Toronto. Through them Lemon explores salient phases of economic, environmental and social development. Jim Lemon is, of course, something of an enthusiast for the Canadian city, especially Toronto, where he has been active as a teacher and researcher. There is a note of sadness though in his conclusion that Canadian society, despite greater prosperity and more comprehensive social programmes, is developing acute symptoms of the North-American malaise. Lemon is an unrepentant admirer of social democracy, and is saddened by its not-so-gradual demise. Lemon is not the first writer to make the connection between the city and the environment. The work of William Cronon immediately comes to mind, with his marvelously detailed account of Chicago's relationship with its regional environment. Lemon does not offer us anything close to that level of detail, but in raising the issue of environmental limlts to growth, he is raising something which receives little consideration in Cronon's account. Lemon is not alone in offering a critique of the liberal dream in North America, but it is intriguing that he does so in connection with a discussion of environmental limits. He is well-read and paints with a broad brush. He makes many connections between different areas of thought, experience and cultural life, some of which no doubt will prove mistaken, but we do not have to agree with everything he says to be fascinated by his suggestions. It is suggested, for example, that Jane Jacobs and Newt Gingrich essentially...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 210-212
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.