Lewis Mumford: The Culture of Cities (1938)

Lewis Mumford’s The Culture of Cities is a classic: the editors of The City Reader (3rd edition) go so far as to say that, “Lewis Mumford’s magisterial The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938) was the first and remains the best book on the culture of cities” (2005, 10). Yes and no.

Mumford advocated ‘decentralization’ and earned a reputation for hating large cities. Jane Jacobs, for example, had a different opinion. In her Death and Life of Great American Cities, in a discussion of “orthodox modern city planning and city architectural design” she directs readers to Mumford for “a sympathetic account which mine is not” (1992, 17). On Mumford’s The Culture of Cities, specifically, Jacobs writes that it “was largely a morbid and biased catalog of ills. The great city [for Mumford and others] was Megalopolis, Tyrannopolis, Nekropolis, a monstrosity, a tyranny, a living death. It must go” (Jacobs 1992, 20-21; also 207). The notion of “culture” invoked throughout Mumford’s book–despite earning a place int he title–is somewhat simplistic and vague–amounting to a generalized sign of human prosperity… e.g. Mumford speaks of a “non-metropolitan culture,” “human culture,” “advanced cultures,” “cultural impoverishment.”

While it remains a classic–a valuable and detailed exploration of the way cities were influenced by nineteenth-century industry (which he calls the “paleotechnic” era)–it seems insufficient if we are to understand how “The Culture of Cities” changes over the course of the twentieth century (and twenty-first), particularly given the postwar shifts described by Lefebvre in his Critique of Everyday Life…

more on this anon…

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2 thoughts on “Lewis Mumford: The Culture of Cities (1938)

  1. Pingback: Lewis Mumford: The Culture of Cities (1938) | concerturbain

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