THE URBAN WILDERNESS by

THE URBAN WILDERNESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A somewhat diffuse and ponderous analysis of the multiple ills of American cities and how they have been aggravated by our longstanding ""racist, capitalist and sexist traditions."" Warner approaches his subject historically beginning with the Puritan New England towns -- in many ways the best ""planned"" settlements America ever had -- but even then they showed evidence of that stultifying ""resistance to change"" which has been so detrimental to our cities. Case studies of New York 18201870, Chicago 1870-1920, and Los Angeles 1920-1970 demonstrate the inadequacy of the ""regulatory approach"" to urban problems and the degree to which growth patterns have been determined by the exigencies of federal highway programs, the ""skyscraper core"" which lodges powerful business interests, and the zoning ordinances which have balkanized the cities and suburbs along ethnic and class lines. Warner (Univ. of Michigan) charges that Americans, unlike the more farsighted Europeans, have never accepted the notion of urban planning which alone can make cities democratic and ""humane."" ""As city dwellers we have remained what we were as farmers: a nation of small proprietors jealously guarding our individual property fights as if they were the cornerstone of our civil liberties."" Hence public housing has always been ""a mean and narrow philanthropy"" and municipalities have rarely entered the housing market directly. Warner's solutions are far-flung indeed: he envisions massive government action which would rehabilitate and develop urban areas in conjunction with full-employment, living-wage policies and the ""support of family budgets."" His ideal is the multicentered, competitive, highly bureaucratized metropolis; his most startling suggestion is giving everyone a car -- this would increase personal freedom and mobility and do away with potential costly expansion of mass transport. (Oddly, for a man who cares about environment, Warner is unconcerned about pollution; presumably GM can be ordered to produce non-polluting automobiles.) The kind of massive shift in national priorities which would be required to civilize the urban wilderness as charted by Warner is terribly remote in political terms -- and so all-inclusive that it leaves little scope for measured reforms. Which makes the whole proposition seem speculative and academic in a way which pragmatists will find unrealistic and irksome.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1972
Publisher: Harper & Row