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  1. Week 3 Urban Culture and Society
    Sep17 by agrace05

    These readings show the city as a function. Simmel relates the city through its historical blossoming to the emotional well being of its citizens. Mumford and Wirth, both write about cities from around the 1930s and are visionaries in the planning community. Mumford pioneers the thought of the city highlighting individuals’ use of secondary groups versus primary relations seen in rural society. He views the city as a creative, social being, “. . . a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theater of social action, and an aesthetic symbol of collective unity. The city fosters art and is art, the city creates the theater and is the theater.” Wirth expands upon the concept of primary vs. secondary groups, explaining that ‘urbanism’ extends past the city and that the only way to be heard in this heterogeneous environment is to create and join organized groups. Wirth goes on to describe the city “as a relatively large, dense, and permanent settlement of socially heterogeneous individuals.” Glaeser takes another approach, in theorizing that cities are still needed in the modern era. Some scholars downplay the role of the city due to advances in technology and way of life, yet Glaeser believes society still needs, wants and has to have cities. Pointed out, the cities that have a diverse workforce will thrive. Higher wages coupled with higher levels of education are to be had in cities, and he finishes with city growth. Lemann analyzes previous thought from Richard Florida, Glaeser and several others. Hitting on metropolitan areas and the ‘global city,’ he draws the connection stating, ‘an atmosphere of cultural richness and innovation that attracts more obviously productive types.’ He concludes with the phenomenon of immense metropolitan expansion.

    Wirth and Mumford connect on several levels. They both agree upon primary vs. secondary group functions within the city, in addition to the fact that the city is a melting pot of heterogeneity that allows for the expansion of individuality and human personality. While these two took a more personal approach to the city, Glaeser focused on the city itself. Going beyond the definitions and facets, he describes the setting of which why cities are still prosperous and why they will continue to be an important part in society, and globalization. I believe Simmel looks the closest at the human element with the piece on mental life. He believes in the rigidity of human interaction and the differences between individuals. In my opinion whereas the other authors look down the line of the city beginning as a heterogeneous organism evolving to a homogeneous sort, Simmel would want the city to remain heterogeneous and fractured so to speak. Lemann gives a critique of Glaeser and other authors, and I would say even though all the authors are pro-city; there are several small differences in each of the views of the city.

    Through these readings we are able to look through three time periods: the 1930s with Wirth and Mumford, 1950 with Simmel and the current era with Lemann and Glaeser. The earlier authors describe the city and its’ differences when compared to rural life. 1950s looks into how the city affects the mentality of people living within, how the city has changed people, and currently we look into whether the city is still an important tool in today’s societies. This progression can be boiled down into describing and understanding the city, and how society is setting up these urban areas, to the affects the city and urban areas have upon the population, to finally whether cities are a thing of the past, or will continue to be a driving force for industry and the workforce for years to come.

    There are a plethora of questions stemming from the reading. One would be, does the division of labor create more individual dependency? And if it does, how could cities ever become obsolete? As individual dependency rises, wouldn’t that just attract more people to the city, like a magnet effect? Also, what role does capitalism play in creating a(n American) bifurcated workforce, in relation to the city? Why do cities polarize us? Wirth states, ‘. . . an urban community may, therefore, be expected to range between more widely separated poles than those of rural inhabitants.’ Is that separation healthy? How does that play into the homo/heterogeneous role of cities?

    As for practical applications, Wirth and Mumford have been applied in these readings in addition to a vast amount of other scholarly work. They do help frame what a city and urban area is, while showing that urban areas are not a thing of the past, and no matter how much decentralization and deindustrialization occurs, cities will still survive as command and control functions in addition to regionalized hubs of commerce, trade, and finance. A big theme that was only touched upon briefly was that of culture. Cities serve as cultural monoliths of contemporary society. Going forward in the current global age, we will need to understand how different city culture and cultures will be affected both in a macro and micro scale. Cities are definitely here to stay, but the culture within them is for the taking, and we as planners have to understand how to create, keep, or modify the culture that is present and the culture that is to come.

  2. Wow, I thought the definition of a planner was pretty straightforward – someone who makes plans for the development of an area of land. But of course, writers have to muddy the waters by questioning this definition, to the point that I am now confused about exactly what a planner is and what he or she does.

    First, the consensus was that a planner was somebody who engaged in comprehensive planning. Although that seemed sufficient in the past, today’s planners do so much more and have their hands in a lot more things. Conversely, non-planners often have a hand in planning activities, which also complicates the question of what a planner does.

    It is good that today’s definition goes beyond being a comprehensive land use planner. With all of the political, legal, environmental, design, etc. areas a planner must consider and work within, he or she cannot *just* plan in a vacuum anymore. And even if he or she mostly works on plans behind the scenes, many planners have gotten away from comprehensive planning in the first place. Specialists in Smart Growth, Sustainability and New Urbanism might just scoff at the quaintness of performing comprehensive plans.

    Today’s highly-charged political environment almost makes it impossible for planners to impose top-down comprehensive plan on a jurisdiction of any size. Instead, it might be more practical to plan individual projects on a piecemeal basis, keeping in mind a guiding set of principles (such as smart growth and livability) that would serve the jurisdiction in the wisest way.

    Therefore, a better definition of what a planner is is somebody who engages in some aspect of planning as a primary function of his job. That definition would include all types of planners while excluding other professionals that get involved with planning on an ancillary basis such as politicians and lawyers.

  3. Week 7 – Planning Theory and the City

    In Susan Fainstein’s essay, “Planning Theory and the City,” Fainstein proposes that planning theory not be separated from urban theory. Instead of learning about planning theory apart from what is needed to make cities better, the disciplines should be combined so planners have a foot in the “real world” when they are developing plans. Of course, Fainstein has a progressive political agenda here, but I do agree that planning in a vacuum does tends to perpetuate the status quo – that is, only the usual power players will be influential in a traditional top-down plan.

    Plans must be developed with a thought about how the plan will affect the city as a whole, not just the area within the project site. Will this slum clearance project cause more harm than good to the fabric of the city, even though on paper, the new development will be grand? In short, it is an activist approach that Fainstein advocates, which I think is generally a good idea, but not always.

    Fainstein calls for community involvement, but not just in the form of input, but also as a voice in the development of the plan as well. Does the community always know better? Will they ever consent to allowing their neighborhood being razed for “land development?” If community groups had veto power, New York would never have had Central Park and more recently, Lincoln Center. In a documentary I happened to watch last week, I heard that hundreds of Latino families were displaced in order to build Lincoln Center. If the city had not been able to clear the sub-standard housing to build this project, New York might not be the city it is today.

    That’s not to say that community groups should never have a say in a plan. But if their desires don’t stand up in an objective cost/benefit analysis, projects have to be able to go forward. Otherwise, progress could be stopped completely and the planner would become no more than a political horse trader.

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