This is the epithet, Lewis Mumford sneers, with which Jane Jacobs dismisses all our plans to replace the cities.

Jane Jacobs, of course, is the famed author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a classic celebration of the great city, in all its excitement and diversity. Lewis Mumford, a supporter of planned suburban-style cities, was also a columnist for the New Yorker, where he attacked on Jacobs’s book as the city equivalent of recommending chicken soup to cure cancer.

For a while I wasn’t sure who to believe. I had come in with a heavy bias towards Jacobs and thus against Mumford, but Mumford’s reasoned tone made me think he might be right. Upon further reflection though, I came to believe he was dead wrong, an apologist for the suburbs, and I’m not quite sure how I ever thought otherwise.

I’m reading these things for my class “Introduction to Urban Studies” (Urban Studies is the department here on Stanford that focuses on cities), which has a clear bias towards Jacobs (we have to read her whole book and apply it, for example). In class we discuss their ideas and watch an old film, The City (1939/I), co-written by Mumford.

The film is a blatant pro-suburb propaganda piece. The city is dirty and crowded and hectic, its immorality quickly leads young children to form gangs and loot stores. (All this is done in beautiful black-and-white cinematography with an Aaron Copeland score.) And then, we escape to the suburbs, where the highways are always empty and you can walk through green fields to work, etc.

We laugh at it a bunch. It didn’t quite work out that way.

What’s surprising to me, though, is how I’m instinctively repulsed at the helicopter shouts of the small suburban homes, laid out so neatly, each with its lawn, and the four-sided highway roundabouts. These things are really more disgusting that the evil city.

posted April 08, 2005 01:20 AM (Education) (1 comments) #


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Stanford: Radiant Garden City Beautiful
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There’s a third way. “The Country”. By living on 5 acres near signs reading “50 miles to next gas station” one gets yet another view.

So it’s not just urban/suburban.


posted by William Loughborough at April 8, 2005 04:50 AM #

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