The Culture of Cities

6 May
Court, Parade and Capital
Privacy was the new luxury of the well-to-do; only gradually did the servants and the shopkeepers’ assistants and the industrial workers have a trace of it. Even in the fine houses of the nineteenth century, the domestics often slept in the kitchen or ina bunk adjacent to it, or in dormitories. Now, privacy had been reserved, in the medieval period, for solitaries, for holy persons who sought refuge from the sins and the distractions or the outside world: only lords and ladies might dream of it otherwise. In the seventeenth century it went with the satisfavtion of the ego. The lady’s chamber became a boudoir, literally a sulking place; the gentleman had his office or library, equally inviolate; and in Paris he might evenhave his own bedroom, too. For the first time not merely a curtain but a door separated each individual member of the household from every other member.
Privacy, mirrors, heated rooms: these things transformed full blown love-making from a seasonal to a year-round occupation: another example of baroque regularity. In the heated room, the body need not cower under a blanket: visual erethism added to the effect of tactile stimuli: the pleasure of the naked body, symbolized by Titian and Rubens and Fragonard, was part of that dilation of the senses which accompanied the more generous dietary, the freer use of wines and liquors, the more extravagant dresses and perfumes of the period.
Lewis Mumford; The Culture of Cities (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. New York ©1938) p.118
From the standpoint of the working classes, the period after the middle of the sixteenth century was one of increasing exploitation, and with regard to their quarters, one of increasing dilapidation and constriction.
The contrast between the new residence quarters of the rich and the decaying medieval quarters, now overbuilt and crowded, or the even more wretched new accommodations, was marked in every city where the two were placed side by side: Paris, London Edinburgh, Berlin. To understand this servility and depression, one must realize that before the humanitarian conscience of the nineteenth century had begun to alter social attitudes, destitution had been accepted as the normal lot in life for a considerable part of the population. In the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries, it has been estimated that as much as a quarter of the urban population consisted of casuals and beggars. In a memorandum dated 1684 the Chief of Police in Paris referred to the “frightful misery that afflicts the greater part of the population of this great city.” Between forty and sixty-five thousand were reduced to outright beggary.
The groundwork of a large servile proletariat was a necessary feature of the blaze and pomp of baroque life.
Some of them (proletariat) rose into service, where they were provided with a uniform, a more or less sufficient supply of food, occasional opportunities for pilfering, and security of employment during good behavior. In these respects army service and domestic service had many points in common. The rest begged and cadged and seized odd jobs, they sank further into thieving, pimping, pickpocketing and prostitution, and they ended up in the gutters of Gin Lane or the gallows of Tyburn. I have taken example from London: Wein, Madrid, Naples or Berlin would have served equally well.
Ibid. pp. 121- 122
In the medieval order, the fatalities and insecurities of life were offset by the organizations of guilds and friendly societies. In the metropolitan regime, these services are performed by special financial corporations: insurance companies.
Unfortunately, within the current metropolitan scheme, insurance is an attempt to achieve security by piling together at one point the maximum number of risks. In the short run, the insurance company may be solvent: in the long run, it becomes itself one of the elements contributing to the bankruptcy of the regime as a whole.
So long as the productive mechanism is in working order, the flow is continuous: but a drought, a dust storm, an earthquake, a glut of commodities, or a war will seriously shake the fabric, and the existence of these implacable metropolitan claims may then stand in the way of rational political adjustment.
The Rise and Fall of the Megalopolis
In all these efforts, the stage, the motion picture screen, the radio, no less the newspaper and the printed book, concentrate on fixing the national appetite upon just those products that the regime can sell at a profit. Similarly, they create an image of a valuable life that can be satisfied only by ruthless concentration of human interest upon pecuniary standards and pecuniary results: the clothes of the metropolis, the jewels of the metropolis, the dull expensive life of Park Avenue and the Kurfürstendamm, Piccadilly and the Champs Elysées, become goals of vulgar ambition.
Advertisement becomes the “spiritual power” of this new regime: ostentatiously or covertly, the greater part of the literature produced with the imprint of the metropolis is advertisement: an effort to establish the universal prestige of the metropolis, if not of this or that special product. Such methods, such standards infect the older emblems of spiritual power, the Church and the University…
In the second and third generations of money-making philanthropy itself becomes a business of high repute. Just as about two hundred corporations control about half the industrial capital in America, so do a relatively small group from the financial classes control the organs of culture in the metropolis and in a good part of the outlying territories. When new lines of activity are to be promoted in the arts and sciences, it is inevitably to the swollen purses of the metropolis that the promoters direct themselves, here, more often than not, the new foundation settles. Thus a multitude of associations of national and international scope naturally have their headquarters in New York, London or Paris…
Ibid. 229
When one examines the state of the metropolis one discovers a curious hallucination: the notion that its size, power, mechanical equipment and riches have effected a corresponding improvement in the life of its inhabitants.
To believe that civilization has reached a culmination in the modern metropolis one must avert one’s eyes from the concrete facts of metropolitan routine. And that is precisely what the metropolitan schools himself to do; he lives, not in the real world, but in a shadow world projected around him at every moment by means of paper and celluloid: a world in which he is insulated by glass, rubber, cellophane, from the mortification of living. When the metropolitan lives most keenly, he lives by means of paper. The classic caricature of this tendency was given by Samuel Butler. When he took his man, Alfred, a perfect cockney, to the peaks of the High Alps to show him the overpowering landscape, Alfred gave the scene a bored glance and said: “And now, if you please, Sir, I should like to lie down on the grass here and have a read of Tit-Bits.”
Ibid. p. 249
The Politics of Regional Development
In every society there is some sort of spontaneous co-ordination of functions based upon tradition. Bit this sort of empirical “planning,” though not altogether ineffective in a stable society working under long-tried conditions with well-established conventions and duties, was cancelled out by the changes that took place during the last three centuries. The growth of population, the multiplication of inventions, the rise of hitherto unknown needs and the employment of uncertain techniques, the acceleration of change itself-all these conditions turned empirical and spontaneous co-ordination into helpless mockeries. For lack of a conscious plan, the empire of muddle arose: a maximum opportunity for social conflict and cross-purposes and duplication of effort, and a minimum means of achieving collective order.
Ibid. 274
Social Basis of The New Urban Order
Plato defined the desirable size of a city as 5000: this was the number of people who could hear the voice of a single orator and so participate in the active political life of his day. In our time, new technical facilities have altered many social functions: but the principle of limitation is still imperative. In one of Le Corbusier’s early schemes for an ideal city, he chose three million as the number to be accommodated: the number was roughly the size of the urban aggregate of Paris, but that hardly explains why it should have been taken as a norm for a more rational type of city development. If the size of an urban unit, however is a function of its productive organization and its opportunities for active social intercours and culture certain definite facts emerge as to adequate ratio of population to the process being served. Thus, at the present level of culture in America, a million people are needed to support a university. Many factors may enter which will change the size of both the university and the population base. nevertheless one can say that provisionally that if a million people are needed to provide a sufficient number of students for a university, then two million people should have two universities. One can also say that five million people would not provide a more effective university than one million people would. The alternative to recognizing these ratios is to keep on overcrowding and overbuilding a few existing institutions, thereby limiting, rather than expanding, their genuine educational facilities.
Ibid. p. 487

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: