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DREAMS AND DISASTERS: AMERICAN CITIES REVISITED David de Giustino William H. Wilson. The City Beautiful Movement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. x + 356 pp. Illus. Lewis Fried. Makers of the City. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1990. viii + 244 pp. It is said that Lucio Costa used only a few index cards to draw his plans for Brazil's new federal capital. Each year, by contrast, the titles of useful new books on city planning and urban history would require a cabinet of index cards. There are the official publications, of course, sponsored by central and municipal governments; there are the reports of statistical societies and by associations of economists, engineers, educators, architects, sociologistsand geographers. Everyone, it seems, is trying to make sense of our increasingly urban society and no aspect of the city is neglected. Consider only a few of the latest efforts. There are studies of familiar English towns and unfamiliar African cities; there are cautionary tales about old, worn-out cities in the West and glimpses of still older ones in the East; there are ambitious attempts to compare cities in crisis and transition; there are perspectives of the city as the fount of modern capitalism and power.1 American scholars have not been bashful in adding to this literature. There are macro-studies, relating individual cities to large regions or to national patterns of urban politics and crime. There are also micro-urban investigations of particular neighbourhoods and urban topography. 2 It is entirely appropriate that some of these publications should read as tourguides , for long walking tours are still possible in most American cities. It is also inevitable that many new books express the anxiety which Americans now feel for conditions of urban life. Two very different monographs demonstrate the historical dimensions of this anxiety. Makers of the City is a frankly inter-disciplinary survey of the beliefs of four twentieth-century Americans uncomfortable in their city. The City Beautiful Movement, on the other hand, explores a much shorter period when many Americans were optimistic about making their cities more livable. 282 David de Giustino These two books are complementary in many ways. They reveal what American cities had become in the early years of this century and how various Americans reacted to the reality of their urban environment. We see cities through their eyes--the eyes of planners and critics, aesthetes and bosses, reformers and cynics. Predictably, the net result of Fried's and Wilson's scholarship is to confirm the hopes and fears which we, too, feel for American cities. At the end of this century, we, the readers of American urban history, are little different from the urban reformers at the century's start; when we learn of grand schemes to save cities and citizens, we suspect, as Frederick Olmstead and Jacob Riis did, that America's ingenuity and its dedication to the task will not suffice. I Lewis Fried's book interests us for a number of reasons. First he brings together the careers of four writers: Jacob Riis, Lewis Mumford, Patrick Farrell and Paul Goodman. Assigning a chapter to each, Fried discusses various intellectual and social influences. His scholarship is extensive (although Goodman suffers from a lack of correspondence) and his judgments are usually sound. His publishers have given him plenty of space for endnotes, and his bibliography (stronger on books than articles) is helpful to scholars and undergraduates alike. Unfortunately the introduction is rather weak. The theoretical concerns which Fried puts before us are not well expressed, and that is disappointing in a book which covers so much ground. Moreover, he makes a grave mistake in attaching a generic meaning to "the city." In fact, three of his four theorists give most of their attention to one particular city, New York. (Mumford is the odd man out; he never lets us forget his acquaintance with many large cities, past and present, American and European.) Fried's homage to fashionable words only serves to mystify some of his arguments. He says, for example, that "the city"(an unspecified place) was a "text" for his theorists to "meditate" and "decipher" (Fried, 7). This is confusing, because while his writers left...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 281-298
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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