Urbanism




“With a year old son and a husband who traveled several days a week, she knew she wanted something more than a neighborhood. She wanted a community” (Richards 2005: 64).




“Urbanism” refers to the distinctive social and cultural patterns that develop in cities. “City,’’ ‘‘urban site,” “urban society,” and “urbanization” are often used to refer to the physical structures as well as the social activities in an urban society. Cities have always been key sites for transcultural connections such as local and long distance trade and the transmission of innovations. They further have been the centers where political and economic power relations are instituted and maintained. Within urban centers multiple cultures develop, interact, and create social change.

Outline

Urbanism is not a monolithic term, but one that is complex, multifaceted, and centrally placed in history.

When discussing urbanism, Deitrick and Ellis (2004: 427–8) present a long list of key patterns that dominate urban areas. The first pattern they refer to is the creation of metropolitan regions that are composed of a structured hierarchy of cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods. They recognize patterns revitalizing city centers with interconnected streets that are friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. They further argue that there is a very careful placement of unaesthetic structures such as garages and parking spaces with a transit oriented development. Well designed buildings and gathering places along with high quality parks and conservation lands are used to define and connect neighborhoods and districts. Finally, there is respect for local history and regional character in new architectural development. This can be particularly observed in neighborhoods that retain the character of their traditional inhabitants. Thus, we have Little Italy in the North End in Boston, or Chinatown in the middle of New York City and San Francisco, Astoria in New York, Soho in London, and so on. Interestingly, the nature of those neighborhoods and how they are viewed by the population have tremendous historical and ethnic/racial significance. For instance, visiting Chinatown or Little Italy is a night out on the town as opposed to visiting Roxbury, a low income, economically depressed, black dominated neighborhood in Boston.

Others claim that urbanism is a cluster of variables. Cowgill (2004) defines a city as a permanent settlement within the larger territory occupied by a society considered home by a significant number of residents whose activities, roles, practices, experiences, identities, and attitudes differ significantly from those of other members of the society who identify most closely with ‘‘rural’’ lands outside such settlements. Beyond the structure of the city, he theorized about individuals and their practices, interests, and emotions; the extent to which the first cities were deliberately created rather than merely emerging as byproducts of increasing sociopolitical complexity; the internal structure of cities and the interplay of top down planning and bottom up self organization; social, economic, and political relations between cities and their hinterlands; interactions of cities with their physical environments; and the difficult ‘‘city state’’ concept.

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Globalization and Urbanism

The city is a place where people typically lead in economic and technological developments as well as artistic and intellectual experiments. Foreigners and endogenous extramodal cultural elements contribute to the creative potential of these innovations.

Migration patterns have changed dramatically in the past two to three decades due to many socioeconomic and political changes that have occurred globally. The new waves of migrants stem from many Asian and African countries, as well as from Central and Eastern Europe and South and Central America. The great numbers of migrants from such diverse backgrounds and differences in lifestyle, with heterogeneous habits, food, clothing, music, film, dance, and literature, have instigated a shift of research focus in race, class, ethnicity, age, and gender. They have also become involved in the construction of new political spaces that cross conventional boundaries between nations and ethnic groups.

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Racial Segregation and Urbanism

Although urbanism involves different patterns of cohabitation between groups, some kind of segregation exists almost in every city.

For example, most North American cities remain deeply segregated by race, economic status, or ethnic affinity. Although overt racism has decreased over the last 30 years, racial segregation continues to be a persistent feature of North American cities. Economic segregation continues, sometimes acting as a proxy for racial segregation, strengthened by ideologies justifying ‘‘neighborhood protection.’’ Ethnic enclaves persist as protective way stations for recent immigrants as well as distinctive and valued urban neighborhoods.

A host of other problems, such as the lack of both public services and private enterprise in inner city black, Hispanic/Latino, or Chinese neighborhoods, have persisted in part because of this segregation. The challenge today is to address the legacy of nearly a century of institutional practices that supported racial and ethnic ghettos deep in our urban demography. Specifically, the practices of mortgage lenders and property insurers may have done more to shape housing patterns than bald racism ever did (Squires 1999).

In 1989, Urban Institute researchers found that the dual housing markets are perpetuated by racial steering, insurance decisions, and other forms of disparate treatment of minorities such as concentrating public housing in central city locations and financing highways to facilitate suburban development. Dismantling cities’ dual housing markets will require appropriate political strategies that address the structural causes.

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Gentrification

N. Smith (2002) uses several events in New York in the late 1990s to launch two central arguments about the changing relationship between neoliberal urbanism and so called globalization. First, much as the neoliberal state becomes a consummate agent of – rather than a regulator of – the market, the new revanchist urbanism that replaces liberal urban policy in cities of the advanced capitalist world increasingly expresses the impulses of capitalist production rather than social reproduction. As globalization bespeaks a rescaling of the global, the scale of the urban is recast. The true global cities may be the rapidly growing metropolitan economies of Asia, Latin America, and (to a lesser extent) Africa, as much as the command centers of Europe, North America, and Japan. Second, the process of gentrification, which initially emerged as a sporadic, quaint, and local anomaly in the housing markets of some command center cities, is now thoroughly generalized as an urban strategy that takes over from liberal urban policy. No longer isolated or restricted to Europe, North America, or Oceania, the impulse behind gentrification is now generalized; its incidence is global, and it is densely connected into the circuits of global capital and cultural circulation. What connects these two arguments is the shift from an urban scale defined according to the conditions of social reproduction to one in which the investment of productive capital holds definitive precedence.

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Urban Cultures/New Urban Planning Movement

The new urbanism, a movement in urban town planning that developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is built on the belief that physical environments really matter and shape people’s lives in ways they might not recognize. The principle of new urbanism is to erect fabricated ‘‘small towns’’ with an increased density of friendly residential neighborhoods, and all the facilities within walking (or skipping) radius of their home.

The objective is to facilitate everyday social interaction through the strategic design of public and private spaces, creating the sense of real neighborhoods. Traditional neighbor hoods wove people together in economic inter dependence, allowing for residents as well as most professionals to be deeply involved in the local society.

The most notorious new urbanism development is the Disney owned Celebration in Florida. Unveiled in 1994, this $2.5 billion project nestled on 4,900 acres a mere 5 miles south of Walt Disney World is the new urbanism embodiment of Walt Disney’s utopian vision of an ideal planned community.

Ladera Ranch, an Orange County, California, development, is designed to mix homes, neighborhood shops, and jobs to get away from the developing individualism (Richards 2005). Houses are set close to the street and to each other, and are equipped with front porches to encourage social interaction, while banishing garages to the back. The community also employs six salaried event planners who organize at least a dozen functions a year, from harvest festivals to holiday lighting celebrations to garage sales to movies in the park. Residents are also linked around the clock on their own intranet system, Ladera Life, where message boards, chat rooms, and activity schedules are always accessible. Such innovations attempt to make people the moving force in the life of a neighborhood. Ladera embraces its mission with such intensity that residents joke that they are living on a stationary cruise ship. There are some who think that the intensive communitarian social engineering that distinguishes Ladera or other communities like it may ultimately work against it. Nicolaides insists that too much planning can thwart natural community involvement, which has to grow organically over time to be real.

Another distinctive urban engineering project is Ave Maria, Florida. This intentional community, founded by pizza entrepreneur Tom Monaghan, is the expression of a community comprehensively embracing and enforcing the religious values of Roman Catholicism.

Another example of new urbanism is the creation of urban cultural parks, which was inspired by a Lowell park development. There, planners found that the powerful architectural and urban artifacts of the industrial era could be used to transform a city where everything was perceived to be dull into a city where everything is interesting. New life was given to century old mill buildings and canals through adaptive uses. Urban cultural parks represent a major leap from the nineteenth century concept of the park as a retreat or escape from the city. In an urban cultural park, the entire urban landscape, with its amalgam of cultural and natural resources, becomes the ‘‘park,’’ which serves as a unifying force, helping the city develop an integrated, resource based planning effort that addresses the goals of preservation, education, recreation, and economic development.

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Architecture, Art, and Social Condition

KATARXIS is a website (http://luciensteil.tripod.com/) dedicated exclusively to a new traditional architecture and urbanism that incorporates a reevaluation of the many world cultures in cities and includes the heritages of the West and the East. Another artistic development is the creation of murals in cities, honoring cultural backgrounds, political beliefs, anger, love, despair, or hope.

J. S. Smith (2002) analyzes the Hispanic urban experience as a window through which an intense attachment to rural places of origin can be examined. Hispanics, like Greeks, Italians, Polish, or Irish immigrants, have a deep attachment to the village of their family’s roots. This is quite visible in the way they structure their lives and cultures in the new urban set ting. It is not unusual to witness people sipping their coffee under a grapevine, just as they did in their Greek village, in a small street in Allston, Massachusetts. Similarly, Hispanics show their attachment to the rural village ideal in beautiful murals painted on neighborhood walls or the desire to be buried in the town of origin. Rural based, intensely local music and other kinds of public art frequently mark the territory of an urban ethnic enclave. The murals remind urban dwelling Hispanics of their cultural roots, reinforcing cultural identity and giving them feelings of comfort, security, belonging, and continuity with a long cherished historical tradition. These are physical and cultural features that are documented, but each also con notes a whole range of broader psychological and spiritual life, much as rural landscape always has.

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Community Organizing

Community organizing has always been crucial in developing social movements, whether these are in response to lack of government funding and support (Stoecker & Vakil 2000) or in objection to immigration policy proposals.

Organizing has been particularly powerful among the youth in most countries. Throughout the 1960s, most countries globally witnessed youth movements. The student uprising in Athens, Greece, is a good example of change in the country’s political power. On November 14, 1973, students at the National Technical University of Athens (also known as ‘‘Athens Polytechnic’’ or Polytechnion) went on strike and started protesting against the regime of the colonels. There was no response to their demands, so the students barricaded themselves in and built a radio station that broadcast across Athens. Soon thousands of workers, citizens, and youngsters joined them, which marked the beginning of the end of the regime.

Generally in the 1960s, youth desired to crack the many codes that maintained sexual, social, racial, and political oppressions. Student revolts were connected with movements of rebellion in a number of sexual, social, racial, and political spheres. The intellectual resources came from writers and theorists such as Mao in the Cultural Revolution, Marcuse on sexuality, one dimensional man, art and socialism, and feminism. Alternative collective lifestyles were proposed, encompassing popular music forms, drug use, and living in environmentally friendly ways.

Today, two youth movements and cultures can be mentioned as examples. The first is hip hop, evolving in the US in the late 1970s and 1980s, exerting an ever stronger global influence. The code it cracked was that of complacency and passivity, which had socialized successive urban youth cultures into accepting unemployment and racial and ethnic oppression. The code it proposed in its place was a mixture of rap, music, dance, and graffiti. Oppressed ethnic/racial identities are celebrated by marginalized communities by challenging majoritarian aesthetic authority. This self assertion includes redefinition of language, and radical challenges to liberal and conservative social norms. The intellectual roots are in an indigenous people’s aesthetic rebellion against Eurocentric Caribbean colonial authorities. It began with Caribbean artists such as King Stitt and Kool Herc, and developed its alternative code through American pop artists such as Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube.

The second example is that of the development of new communities through the Internet. These communities overcome the limits of space and time upon communication. Resources develop organically on the basis of its users’ interests, practices, and intentions. Users do not necessarily intend a reproduction of the norms that dominate in face to face communication. There are, however, a number of parallels, as in the email practice where messages are designed to flame and insult their recipients. This is paralleled by the face to face version of the open, raised voice argument where the intention is to provoke and bully the other party (Dobson 2002).

Cowan (2005) also presents popular music associated with urban culture, with entries on The Clash, Dancing in the Streets, and hip hop among others. The promiscuous mingling in the book of higher and lower culture, of professional jargon and street slang, is rather like real life that documents social change in the making.

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References:

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