Urban development as a reflection of culture and politics

I found the reviewer’s last sentence, recommending the three books for those interested in issues of memory, history, and urban planning very interesting. Urban planning reflects both the values and dynamism of a society. Paris, for instance, along with many other European cities, remains fixated on the past; try building a skyscraper on the Champs-Élysées if you want a challenge. Other cities, like New York, promote their ostensibly forward-looking nature with hyper-modern architectural styles and a constant flow of major construction projects.

I believe cities should recognize the importance of change with regard to practical matters, including increasing populations, inadequate public services, and important cultural changes (e.g the dissolution of an old, popularly discredited order). I contend that, with urban planning as with history in general, we must not regret the past but question the future we choose.  Regarding this, I found the debate over Sevastopol particularly interesting, considering the conflict between “accommodation and agitation” and Moscow’s attempt to mythologize the city without paying attention to the actual needs of its citizens. It would appear that overconfidence in an assured victory posed as grave a danger to the Soviet Union as it did to Catholicism and Liberalism in the West. For all of his flaws, at least Chairman Mao understood that only revolutions within the revolution, fed by the blood and ingenuity of each successive generation, could keep the movement effective and relevant.

4 thoughts on “Urban development as a reflection of culture and politics

  1. I like how you brought a lot of your own ideas and example into the discussion about urban planning. This made the review article and the books themselves seem applicable to cities other than St. Petersburg and Sevastopol. I was a little unclear on wether you are arguing something or not. Is it that some cities embrace change while others do not? Is it that cities should embrace change?

  2. If we continue to acknowledge the past, do we really have any control over our future or is that sense of “free-will” in fact truly controlled by our previous conditions, specifically in the form of city planning. Based on the argument the author makes, it sounds as if there is always influence on attempts to rebuild and redesign cities. Sevestapol had it easier than some (based on the fact that much of it was destroyed), but cities are always dealing with these issues of rebuilding, redesigning and rethinking ways in which they are constructed. How do we deal with this problem in light of both the 21st century and based on the experiences of cities like Sevestapol?

  3. What should be addressed also, imho, is the decline of large cities over several hundreds of years. I believe there are not that many cities, from a historical perspective, that made it (as a metropolis, not a small hamlet only recently grown) over, say, a period of more than a thousand years. With e.g. all the urban infrastructure esp. in the richest states, q.v. the US, disintegrating, all these monster cities will eventually end like Rome did after the fall of the Roman empire.

  4. I am glad that you pointed out this aspect of the review because I think that the idea of urban planning would be a very interesting basis for future studies, despite the fact that it was somewhat underemphasized in the article. It is interesting to note the negotiations between practicality and historical preservation/sentimentality that are often apparent in urban architecture, especially since both modernity and a connection to a nationally-valued past have unique benefits. When discussing this subject, I tend to think of Berlin. Although its modern layout can seem somewhat out of place when compared with the centuries-old architecture in other parts of Germany, this modernity is a reflection of the need to rebuild after the tribulations of the second world war. In that sense, architectural modernity can in and of itself be a connection to the past.

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