A really really old one, spunoff some from our very first assignment when I decided to begin a second bachelor's degree. The course was introductory sociology; we got to go to the university library and choose an article from journals the professor had on reserve. Of course I had to choose something very urban: Society, v. 16 no. 6 pp. 4,6-7, September-October 1979
- Wolf Von Eckardt, New Mood Downtown
- Society: v. 16 no. 6 pages 4, 6-7 September-October 1979
The essential thesis appears to be that use – or misuse – of architectural space is the prime humanizing or dehumanizing factor. Beginning with the fact of the physical return of people from suburbia to cities, and ending with the observation that it is people who are beginning to make their environment livable and workable, the writer lists a series of factors that contribute to the neglect and decay of the city:
- residential exodus/flight to suburbs
- suburban shopping centers
- exit of industry
- poorer people remaining in the city
- suburbs receiving a lot of tax money
- "urban renewal" attacking the apparent, visible problem of substandard housing rather than the real problem of limited employment skills and opportunities
Among positive forces now at work – presented both as a response or reaction to Corbu's style of architecture and as an awareness that possibly we were in danger of losing the "good old" things about the city – the author mentions particularly the rediscovery of the neighborhood as a social setting and the multitude of creatively revived downtown shopping centers. His only possible reservation seems to be the suggestion of a need to find a solution for the problem of gentrification of lower-class housing and the subsequent displacement of people already living there.
The limitations of a short article better serve the purpose of either a general, broad overview or of a concise unilateral view as presented in this article than that of a thorough presentation of multiple aspects of a situation. Although Von Eckardt's bias comes through forcefully, he also succeeds well in portraying the renewed cities as most attractive and as definitely the place to live.
Because of the relative terseness of Von Eckardt's exposition of the urban revival phenomenon, and because it is well documented by specific examples of decay, demolition, revival and rebuilding, the article is both informative and convincing. Written in easily readable non-technical language, it incorporates virtually all of the observations I've read in popular literature over the past two or three years.
Though never stated overtly, overlaying the focus on architecture as the apparent major factor in the city's crisis/rebirth is an implied awareness that life happens and can be lived only in community. The architectural accidentals that at first seem to be Von Eckardt's central concern thereby can be seen as enabling and facilitating community.
© Leah Chang