Key Idea: Social function as a part of definition of the city
Lewis Mumford in his article argues that the city is more than its physical form. All the writers urge for a sociological definition of the city and the primacy of the social function that cities provide. In Lewis’ case, cities are the theatres of human interaction. This interaction taking the form of purposive activities, using social activities of conflict and cooperation, and groupings that deliver a more significant impacts. This ‘drama’ is critical to the definition of cities as well as the development of a strategy for the growth of cities. Georg Simmel, in agreement with Mumford, puts forward that man’s existence is dependent on differences. He suggests that while an increase of population may at first seem to be the best reaction to the importance of social interaction, the very nature of social drama would change to the point of there being a lack of meaningful interactions if population increases, essentially ruining the interactions. Mumford suggests that analyzing these populations as smaller communities by identifying specific use, we would succeed in creating some form of functional internal identity that would accommodate and allow for these social dramas at scale. The next task would be to link these communities together to form one large regional community.
Louis Wirth provides a definition of the city that moves away from the reliance of population numbers, but instead chooses to include density and heterogeneity of the population. He digs deeper into the role and place of the individual as part of a larger community interacts with the city and plays their role in the development of the city.
The ideas of the impacts that cities have on the people that form part of them is also repeatedly pointed out in the readings. Wirth Further delves deeper in understanding the impacts of population increase on a city’s character. The process by which cities grow is more than the attractions that draw population to them causing an increase in number, but this process also refers to the subtle changes and set of characteristics that new entrants to the city adopt because of interactions with other members of the urban community. The benefits of a large population include, greater individual variation, which may bring with it spatial segregation according to common heritage, economic and social status, as well as race.
Key Idea: Human interaction as a prime source or motivator of Urbanization
All the Writers agree that the interactions that man has in the city with the rest of the city are fundamental not just to the definition of a city but the development of the city as well. Contrastingly, varied human players interacting in a large population run the risk of limiting the possibility of knowing other members at a personal level.
An interesting outcome of the impersonal nature of city populations is the emergence of the community and the need for representation due to the lowering importance of the individual. As populations grow, individuality takes a back seat due to the utilitarian nature of social interactions.
Practical Application: Sociological considerations in the definition of a city in contrast with the ideals of smart cities that have an emphasis on technology and its inclusion to the development and growth of cities.
The idea of Smart cities focuses on a set of technologies and innovations aimed at managing the spatial growth and the working of the city. They offer little by way of enhancing the social interactions among the members of city communities.
At a time when the term “smart cities” has become the most mentioned, pitched, and referenced term in almost every meeting of the future of cities and the people that build and manage them, I believe the readings given, present an interesting wakeup call on our present tunnel vision. Smart city technologies promise to deliver great methods of building and managing cities, but very rarely touch on the people scale of the city. Smart cities offer only improvement and do not provide adequate social drama. Technologies will be used to decide things for you based on data about you, and your environment. This is the new form of urbanization, one that doesn’t bring to the fore the sociological definition of cities.
An intentional evaluation of any ‘smart’ technologies through the lens of its ability to bring people together and foster human interaction should be considered. This discussion lays the groundwork for participation as a valuable tool for urban planning.
Question: Are there other competing ideas that challenge the idea of the primacy of social function in the definition of cities and the process of urbanization?
- Mumford, L. (1937). What is a city? Architectural Record (originally published). Found in The City Reader, Fifth Edition. Eds. LeGates, R.T. & Stout, F. Routledge: 2011, pp. 91-95.
- Simmel, G. (1903). Chapter 1: The Metropolis and Mental Life.
- Wirth, L. (1938). Urbanism as a Way of Life. American Journal of Sociology, 44(1), 1-24.
- The truth about smart cities: ‘In the end, they will destroy democracy’
Steven Poole – https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/dec/17/truth-smart-city-destroy-democracy-urban-thinkers-buzzphrase