Why more ethical and open cities represent the future of urban planning.
The acclaimed urbanist and sociologist Sennett (Urban Studies/London School of Economics, Harvard Univ.) completes his Homo faber, or “man the maker,” trilogy (The Craftsman, 2008, and Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation, 2012) with this exhaustively researched and illuminating inquiry that “seeks to connect how cities are built to how people live in them.” It’s also a window into one of the more brilliant and creative minds of our time. The author first establishes some groundwork for his investigation by setting forth the concepts of the ville, the overall city, and the cité, or a particular place. For example, the “traffic jams at the poorly designed tunnels” into New York City represents the ville, while the “rat race driving many New Yorkers to the tunnels at dawn” is the cité. Sennett expertly synthesizes vast amounts of information on urban design and other matters and explains them metaphorically. He looks at how urbanism, the “professional practice of city-making,” has evolved by examining three 19th-century makers: architect Ildefons Cerdà in Barcelona; Baron Haussmann, who remade Paris; and Frederick Law Olmsted, who tried to assert the “social value of nature in the city” by creating Central Park. Sennett finds each’s plan “insufficient to solve the problems it addressed.” The author next discusses the Jane Jacobs–Lewis Mumford debate and their differing versions of the open city. Sennett’s quest to understand what an open city could look like takes him around the world, from Venice and Nehru Place in Delhi to Shanghai and Googleplex’s “lair” in New York City. He learns something new from all of them. As a writer and thinker, Sennett is as comfortable discussing Balzac and Stendhal as he is plumbing the depths of theorists like Gaston Bachelard and Louis Althusser.
A wide-ranging and learned work that celebrates the city as rich, engaged, tolerant, and alive.