cit·y: /ˈsidē/

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?


4 Different Plans, Planners, and Planning Styles- Emma Buchanan (Blog 2)

The four planning theorists who were discussed this week all wanted better cities, and they took it upon themselves to rethink the total urban environment. They all believed that ideal cities were accompanied by radical changes to the distribution of wealth and power. However, three of the four never made blueprints for an actual project, but they made ideal types of cities for the future. Howard, Wright, and Le Corbusier’s’ plans were all very different- the great metropolis, moderate decentralization, or extreme decentralization. These smart men had great ideas but saw the role of the planner/ architect in different lights. As I examine the ideal cities these men proposed, I also examine the role of the planner/ architect in the design. Understanding how the theorist viewed the planner will allow me to classify them into the different planning currents.


Drawing from the need to address the central problem of the relationship between nature and the built environment brought up by Olmsted, Ebenezer Howard proposed the “Garden City”, which was limited to 30,000 people, included a surrounding greenbelt, and was composed of moderate decentralization.

Howard’s plan was that of a physical utopian, seeing the built environment as necessary to change in order to reach the best societal plan.


Frank Lloyd Wright wanted a nation of individuals; he planned a city system called Broadacres. In Broadacres all counties larger than a county seat are gone, everyone has access to as much land as they need (with the minimum of one acre), and everyone works part time of their farms and part-time at local factories, offices, or shops. A network of highways join the small cities. Wright saw architecture as a victim of nature saying, “In an organic architecture the ground itself predetermines all features; the climate modifies them; available means limit them; function shapes them.” To Wright, the formal institution of planning would come or not come organically in Broadacre, and the “present curse” of government would be reduced. The largest role the planner/ architect would have is to act as the agent of the state who works to marry architecture with the landscape.

Wright proposes a utopian plan that rejects existing arrangements but rather accepts the physical utopia, which sees defining forms of the built environment as in face decisively incorporating the desired ideal.

Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier had faith in the organization and saw cities as large bureaucracies. He wanted extreme density and very modern living. His ideal city, A Contemporary City of Three Million People, laid out a rigidly symmetrical grid pattern with neatly spaced rows of identical skyscrapers. The skyscraper, in his view, was a vertical street. Actual streets in his view were not good; he suggested that the modern street should be a masterpiece of civil engineering and “no longer a job for navvies”. One would imagine that formalized institutional planning would thrive in Le Corbusier’s ideal city, but he actually believed that the architect was a twisted sort of creature due to their love for irregular sites, claiming that they inspire them.

Because of Le Corbusier’s view of cities as large bureaucracies, he falls into the realm of differential planning. More specifically, his views are in line with scientific planning, which views the function of planning as “producing the scientifically most efficient mechanism through which to perform the activities of the current city (Marcuse, 120).” His “contemporary city” was very machine like with code like structure to the layout of the city, industrial designs, and futuristic lifestyles. Efficiency was sought after in his ideal city, so a rigid planning structure would have fit nicely into his design.

A city like Le Corbusier would never survive. Cities today are praised for their unique architecture, differing character on every street corner, and availability of choice. Can you imagine how different America would be if New York City were absent of lively streets, historic preservation, or participatory planning? As the introduction to the article brings up, the creative class would fail in a Corbusian city.


Olmsted was not on a mission to trash the modern city, rather, his goal was to improve the cities of America to be healthier places for residents. Olmsted argues that our cities need public parks in order to improve public health, reduce social degeneration, and to advance the number of urban amenities made available to all. Olmsted assumed the planner/ architect responsible for all construction of a better community.

Olmsted resembles a radical planner, someone who confronts the functioning of a particular system that gives rise to the issues planning efforts confront. His call for more parks in our cities was a confrontation to the unsanitary conditions, urban vices, and the lack of urban amenities in our cities.


Understanding Cities and Placemaking and Spatial Exclusion

The concept of the city (Mumford, 1895-1990):

Levis Mumford (1937) noted the urban experience as an integral component in the development of human culture and the human personality. Drawing from urban sociology, he focused on the social and human elements of urban space and design. With an emphasis on community values, emphasizing the relationship to the natural environment and to the spiritual values of human community.  According to Mumford, in defining what is a city, social facts are primary, and the physical organization of a city – its industries, markets, lines of communications, traffic – are subservient to its social needs.

Another concept of “what is a city” involves the relationship between nature and the built urban environment, as articulated by Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903). He noted that the principal concerns of urban planning are both infrastructural and social. Focusing on nature and beautification (parks and open space, and systematically maintaining trees) to improve: public health by the use of trees to combat air and water pollution; urban vice and social degradation; and to advance civilization through the provision of urban amenities that would be available to all.

I think that while the above factors are core requirements for understanding a city, international commerce, trade, and globalization are additional key factors in understanding a city. Including new technology and diversity. My opinion is that Mumford did recognize the evolving nature of cities, and the constant reinvention of cities, through the adapting and retooling technologies, to effectively compete for opportunities. I identified and noted some of the emerging sources of power – including phones, rapid transportation, and power sources.

However, since after the WWII, advances in science and new technologies, especially the automobile have led to fundamental changes in the morphology of cities. Mumford’s core assumptions about “what is a city” may not be particularly relevant in the context of the modern city. In particular, technological advancements and increasing diversity have changed the outlook of cities in terms of both socio-economic and physical design.

The concept of the smart city:

The word “smart city” seems to epitomize the growing use of information technologies to solve core urban problems. A core assumption of a smart city is its techno-utopian vision of and discourse around smart city matters (Wiig, 2015; Soderstrom et al. 2014). Perhaps, intending to advance a data-driven approach to urban governance. I think there is a lot of ambiguity to the benefits of smart city technologies. Mostly on how digital governance impacts citizens and service delivery. Fundamentally, there is an inherent assumption that access and connectivity to information is beneficial, to city residents (McFarlane, 2011).

Spatial Exclusion:

Ali Madanipour analyzes spatial aspects of social exclusion in contemporary European cities. Institutional and social factors, including economic and political exclusion, are prevailing challenges in cities around the globe. As Ali noted, “exclusion of groups of city residents from access to all that the city has to offer on the basis of race, religion, income, or national origin has been and continues to be a pressing issue in cities throughout the world.”



Exploration of Growth, Impacts, and Driving Forces


Mumford notes that “solid continuous growth for purposes, for the purposes of intercourse, has been in turn been lessened by hindered by telephone and radio.” While agreeable valid, he focuses on a comparison to modern times to a highly distance Middle Ages that were far less technology advanced society. Our domestic and global community rapidly grows in population, as well as innovative extension. He notes that there has been a further distancing from a tighter-knit unity among communities made possible by city centers that enabled closer interactions and grouping.

Density is vital to social interaction, which is good for business, as noted in the reading. But congestion in cities of modern times can lead to overcrowding, pollution, exhaustion of resources, unbearable traffic, in ways that can lead to hindrance of productivity by obstructing efficient transportation to and from work and social life.

Methods that worked in Middle Ages promoted closer community interactions, but overcrowding in modern ages leads to frustration in regards to feeling suffocation, and with some personalities, a feeling of social anxiety by being surrounded by a vast number of people.

The horse-and-buggy era felt revolutionary and a strong sense of advancement, but now with overcrowding results in an overwhelming amount of traffic. Transportation can feel burdensome and frustrating, hindering productivity by wasting time in clogged spaces. In modern times, consistent construction on highway improvement attempts to lessen commutes and create opportunities for dispersing travelers, but cannot always compensate for overcrowding. A prime example could be the extensive bustling city of New York City.



This piece opens by dissecting the driving factors of society as a whole. Caught up in our daily lives, we may overlook what we are working towards and why. Though cases vary by person, culture, and beliefs, it can be traced to previous times that our motivations are driven by politics, religion, morality, and economics. People pick their priorities based on values and circumstances. Social structures inform those within that community of suggestions on how to prioritize certain aspects of life courses.

In this reading, the point about psychological conditions is important to note, because we as a community, may overlook our subconscious habits. Mental well-being in communities is vital to our performance and “feelings and emotional relationships,” as noted by Simmel. Varying personalities is a strong contributing force in regards to the diversity of communities and differing set of skills and opinions.

In modern eras, ones own economic standing seems to be the most prominent driving force for most. Our lives are formed about making money, as promoted by our early age. We go to school to learn, as we progress, we learn methods to gaining information to further our understanding of subjects. Further education becomes centered on finding suiting career paths. Most highly developed countries and communities then enter the workforce to make money for themselves and their families. We live by a currency-centered economy, focusing on how to grow our assets.



Wirth refers to previous centuries while bringing up Darwin beliefs and commentary on humanity. He refers to a Darwin quote stating, “diversity thus reinforces the effect of numbers in diversifying men and their activities and in increasing the complexity of the social structure.” When exploring our current state of being and urbanism growth, I feel that it is important to refer to historical beliefs to understand the roots of where we have come from. Although through innovative advances, we have rapidly grown in technological, economical, and other components, there is much to learn from ancient theorists and philosophers. We can question why they were seeking these answers and the conclusions they came to, even though some beliefs may seem outdated.

I appreciated that Wirth noted the exploration of urbanism in ecological perspective, social organization, and collective community behaviors. These investigations had not been thoroughly touched upon in the other readings, but it is important to keep in mind our carbon footprint as we grow and use resources that may be exhausted in the near future.


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.


A city – A Good Behavior?

I could not find anything to relate to my background, but I was able to identify a theme which ran through all the readings, “diversity.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, diversity is the inclusion of different types of people (such as people of different races or cultures) in a group or organization.” I examined some of the advantages and disadvantages of cities (diverse cities) and concluded with some questions from the readings.

A clear theme in the Luis Mumford’s reading that cities usually comprises of people from different places (diversity). Cities are always made up of people from different academic backgrounds, cultural differences, racial differences, religious and other differences. Cities also comprise of people with different ideologies and ways of doing things not common in the suburbs. The differences in the inhabitance of cities and other (talent) attractions make people with similar aspirations wants to go into these cities. For example, a place like New York, New York comprises of people from different part of the country and of the world, living and working together as a collective unity.

There are many reasons why diversity is important including productivity, perspectives, and growing acceptance (peace). Productivity: Bringing together people of various backgrounds with different life experiences can generate ideas or perspectives that others may not have ever considered. For example, people with different educational backgrounds will have different approaches to enhance productivity. Everyone has their way of viewing a problem, shaped by the individual experiences that they have had. When building a community or a country, wouldn’t it be better to have multiple interpretations and approaches, rather than everyone contributing the same thoughts and conclusions?

Perspective: Hearing about another’s experience can provide you a new perspective. When you compare your struggles, priorities, and values, you can begin to comprehend where an individual is coming from and understand his or her actions and behaviors. Different perspectives will give you the motivation to work harder and keep pushing for the best. One of the characteristics of city people is hard work.

Growing acceptance (peace): Diversity is the first step to not just tolerance, but true acceptance. Through increasing contact with, exposure to, and communication between people with different ideologies and cultures with unique ideas, individuals may see that they may have more in common than they thought. Or, they may still be remarkably different, and that is okay, too. Increasing familiarity with these differences can alter perspectives, facilitate acceptance, and diminish the misconceptions and prejudices that fuel discrimination.

Despite some of the great things that often comes with diversity, a city with diverse population also have significant disadvantages. Some of these limitations include crime and safety concerns, bad habits affecting child and youth development, overpopulation leading to pollution and illnesses.

Crime and safety concerns: Crime statistics for cities are always higher than rural areas. Crime rates are not high because there are many people in the city than in the rural area. There are more crimes in metropolitan areas than rural areas for many reasons including the family and social structures in the city.

Child and youth development: The money economy of cities as argued in the readings shows how much money is admired in cities. Money becomes the end to which every activity targets. Everyone in the city is doing everything they can to make money. Parents end up giving little attention to their kids and youths. Whereas some of the young fall into bad crowds, in a busy environment it’s easier to be introduced to smoking, drinking, gambling, drug taking, etc.

Overpopulation: As population density in cities increases, it leads to overcrowding. As more people join the cities rush each day increases, roads and freeways become crowded. Also, since people who live in cities are regularly exposed to an unhealthy lifestyle that leads to health problems. Overpopulated cities are usually associated with pollution, especially air pollution as in the case of New Delhi, India. Contagious diseases spread quickly and widely due to the overpopulation in cities.

  • How has planning incorporated the social functions of a city in the history of planning?

Cities have a characteristic where everyone and every family is on their own. It is not normal to see the social bond familiar in the rural systems in the cities. Can it be possible to incorporate that social system of the rural side into the city?

  • Do cities instill good behaviors? “what is a city” 93

Louis Mumford argues that cities instill good behaviors. I would have agreed if he had said that cities challenge one to be better. Or that cities give the child the opportunity to a finer formal education and a global citizen than the rural area. But I disagree that the city instills a good behavior.

  • Is what is good for business always good for the society. How do you make that which is good for business also good for society and social benefit?

Society is not the priority in a city. It is always about getting smart in making more money. Whereas in the rural areas, it is still about getting smart about your neighbor’s needs. How do we make what is good for business also good for people (society)?

  •  If cities instill good behaviors as Louis Mumford debates, why is it so common to find dirt in every city?

People throw trash everywhere in cities. There is no care for the quality of life in cities. For example, the capital city of Ghana, Accra is filled with trash. Gutters are filled with trash from city residents. Water becomes stagnant in these gutters and breeds the malaria-causing mosquito. So, how does a city instill a good behavior?


Learning to Admit that the City is Alive

The city is alive. Each of the authors start from the assumption – or claim, really – that the city is a social process that is subject to writing and rewriting. While there may be competing sites of social organization – mass movements or workplaces – these sites of social organization provide some important degree of rationalized order that corresponds to the built environment. Mumford explains “when the physical environment itself becomes disordered and incoherent, the social functions that it harbors become more difficult to express (2).” Therefore, the authors take up the task to develop an urban theory to theorize how individuals connect to the urban environment.

The task, then, for these early-to-mid 20th century writers is to get inside the head of the city dweller, to identify and foreclose, so as to order and rationalize space within which to “optimize” (my word) their existence. Simmel dissects the different experiences and “mentalities” of the urban and rural dwellers. He explains that urban dwellers protect the “inner life against the domination of the metropolis (12)” or the mass of the city. Wirth sharpens this point through the claim that individuals have a natural gravitation toward joining mass organization or movements.

Yet their theorizing is underpinned by the pervading assumption that it is possible to actually “know” the individual and how/why they connect to groups or even their surroundings. What if it is not possible to “know” or “understand” the individual? Rather, there is a need to engage in a negotiation to better reconcile competing perspectives, rationalities, and lived experiences? This negotiation, in my view, is precisely the point of planning, however, it is off the table for these authors. Instead, they are interested an abstracted sense of order. In short, they are predisposed with control – or at least the illusion of it – through the production of spaces and cities that limit (Mumford) the potentiality of a space in order to ensure efficiency and the illusion of seamlessness.

The problem, of course, is that these modes of efficiency and seamlessness come at the expense of segments of the population. What about the highway – that is removed from the urban core – but runs directly through a village or bisects a village from their agricultural land? It’s not of concern to the authors. Rather, they are interested in hashing out a vision of the individual within the city (and in some cases, the rural areas) in order facilitate some form of seamless living. But living in a city or anywhere is – and frankly, never should be – seamless. In fact, I would argue this is the only way that a city works – in those confrontations with the people, places, or objects which all too often fade into the background – the garbage dumps, the garbage collectors, the street sweepers, the janitors, the teachers, those segments of society may actually benefit from aforementioned highway projects through jobs, but at the expense of the house they grew up in. No, the early-to-mid 20th century urban theorist is more concerned with a city of absolutes and frameworks to promote efficiency rather than an admission of the limitations and blindspots in those frameworks and actions.

The stance of Wirth, Simmel, and Mumford demonstrates the view that planning is a technical imperative that promotes what Mumford refers to as “a more rational type of city development (3).” Yet there is no acknowledgement of blindspots or the need for negotiation, and thus questions of equity or more precisely, “who gets what, where, when, and why” are utterly absent. For the authors, planning is about drawing the line on an map: Mumford explains, the “limitations on size, density, and area are absolutely necessary to effective social intercourse; and they are therefore the most important instruments of rational economic and civic planning (3).” There is significant power in drawing the lines to limit or manage population, yet there seems to be little reflection upon what the implication is for those at the threshold of those lines.  Perhaps a productive question to ask, then, is: what if that line to distinguish one city from the other is, in fact, what is known as a “redline” – or the areas that were devalued by a mix of public and private actors? The U.S. is still coping with the violence of racial redlines, long after they are drawn. There is a lot of power within the act of drawing a line, and thus, that power deserves to be challenged or negotiated through circuits of input.

Some Reading Reflections for Week2

Fan Mo

In Munford’s “What Is a City?”, he attempted to answer the question: What is the city as a social institution? The author combined the insight from Elizabethan London with his own a few adding. Concluding the city is not only “a related collection of primary groups and purposive associations”, but also “a geographic plexus”. He pointed out that social facts must be the first priority and the physical organization subordinates to the social facts, and must be formed according to a city’s social needs. In this way, the function of social institution was answered. Munford considered that the size of population in a city is a critical question since productive organization, to some extent, emerges as a proportion of population it serves. Thus the amount of social institution could be roughly assured. Other questions, like density and area of the city, are essential to the effectiveness of the city’s function.

Wirth’s Urbanism as a Way of Life, tried to find a sociological definition of the city. The author give the answer: The sociology definition of a city is “a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of heterogeneous individuals.” It search the answer from both the typical forms of social action and organization determined by heterogeneous individuals, and the physical characters, such as number s of population, and density. The author said that large population leads to variations which gives rise to the spatial segregation of individuals and makes the character of the social relationships changed. Density enhanced diversifying people and their activities, and complicating the social structure. Heterogeneity tends to induces a more differentiate social framework due to the highly social mobility and footlooseness of population. However, even the highly variation the city may be, the services like facilities and institutions would be based on large number of people, instead of focusing on a particularly individual for economic productivity. As a result, the forms of the social actions bear high variety and different organizations will be formed to meet the need of social actions of different groups, but services of public utilities and culture institutions must be as “leveling influences”, meaning serving for the mass of population.

In my opinion, this article gives more hints to further develop the answer that a city as a social institution in terms of what functions of the social institution should offer, and what forms of the social organization might be.

Simmel’s article Metropolis and Mental life, revealed what the swift and continuous shift of external stimuli changed the mental tendencies of individuals in Metropolis. For the social character that almost every individual will face a large number of people in their daily life, in order to pursuit efficiency, the small relationships between people within which people rest more on emotion will become inefficient, and thereby person’s relationships would logical be toward purposive and superficial. Due to the absence of intimate personal acquaintance, Individuals try to separate their external and internal characters for the purpose of protecting their independence and individuality. At the same time, they have to experience the impersonal metropolitan life and release their individual nature with great care. This article cast more light in explaining the character of urbanism, or metropolis, and give more details of urbanism in differentiating the character of urbanism and rural area or small towns.

Nevertheless, the variations of the city is a great development advantage for large cities. The variation will create novel characters for the city, which will bring more development opportunities to individuals for their future career, thus, attracting intelligent, well-educated, and ambitious persons to the city. Such people are the key for further developing a city in today.

Thus, it raises a question in my head: What the planners can better use the character of the variations of the city to conduct a good planning? I believe the following class will give some light for the answer.