Metropolis unbound: the new city of the twentieth century - article ; n°1 ; vol.6, pg 43-55

Metropolis unbound: the new city of the twentieth century - article ; n°1 ; vol.6, pg 43-55

-

English
16 Pages
Read
Download
Downloading requires you to have access to the YouScribe library
Learn all about the services we offer

Description

Flux - Année 1990 - Volume 6 - Numéro 1 - Pages 43-55
Cet article met en évidence l'émergence d'un nouveau type de ville-réseau à la fin du XXième siècle: ni urbain, ni suburbain, ni rural dans le sens traditionnel des termes, mais combinant les trois éléments. A l'inverse de la ville ancienne qui occupait un espace définissable et comprenait un centre et une périphérie, la nouvelle ville se définit par le temps plutôt que par l'espace. Dans la nouvelle ville, chaque habitant crée sa propre ville en dehors de la multitude de destinations atteintes en voiture, en un temps donné. Ainsi, la nouvelle ville ne correspond à aucun espace précis mais se construit à travers les chevauchements des parcours des habitants. En outre, il n'y a aucun centre traditionnel. Par contre, les fonctions urbaines se répartissent entre trois réseaux enchevêtrés: le réseau familial composé des destinations propres à la vie privée; le réseau de consommation composé des centres commerciaux et de loisirs; et le réseau de production, lieu d'exercice des services de fabrication et de bureaux. Ces réseaux ne s'ordonnent pas selon des zones fonctionnelles mais se juxtaposent, permettant à un immense centre corporatif d'être bordé de petites maisons et à un important mega-mall de longer des champs de maïs. Après avoir présenté la structure de la nouvelle ville, l'auteur s'interroge sur cène forme urbaine. Peut-elle atteindre la complexité, la beauté et la diversité des grandes cités du passé ou est-elle vouée à une trop grande densité pour être efficace et à une trop importante dispersion pour être vraiment urbaine? R. FISHMAN se réfère aux grands prophètes américains de la décentralisation des années 1930, Frank LLOYD WRIGHT et Lewis MUMFORD dont la vision de la ville décentralisée est néanmoins capable d'embrasser les plus grandes valeurs des civilisations; puis l'auteur tente de montrer que la nouvelle ville peut se reconstruire peu à peu pour refléter cette vision. le réseau familial composé des destinations propres à la vie privée; le réseau de consommation composé des centres commerciaux et de loisirs; et le réseau de production, lieu d'exercice des services de fabrication et de bureaux. Ces réseaux ne s'ordonnent pas selon des zones fonctionnelles mais se juxtaposent, permettant à un immense centre corporatif d'être bordé de petites maisons et à un important mega-mall de longer des champs de maïs. Après avoir présenté la structure de la nouvelle ville, l'auteur s'interroge sur cène forme urbaine. Peut-elle atteindre la complexité, la beauté et la diversité des grandes cités du passé ou est-elle vouée à une trop grande densité pour être efficace et à une trop importante dispersion pour être vraiment urbaine? R. FISHMAN se réfère aux grands prophètes américains de la décentralisation des années 1930, Frank LLOYD WRIGHT et Lewis MUMFORD dont la vision de la ville décentralisée est néanmoins capable d'embrasser les plus grandes valeurs des civilisations; puis l'auteur tente de montrer que la nouvelle ville peut se reconstruire peu à peu pour refléter cette vision.
This paper argues that the late twentieth century has seen the emergence of a new kind of network city: neither urban, nor suburban, nor rural in the traditional senses, but combining elements of all three. Unlike an older city that occupied a definable space and had a clear center and periphery, the new city is defined by time rather than space. In the new city each citizen creates his or her own city out of the multitude of destinations that can be reached in a reasonable time by automobile. The new city thus corresponds to no particular space, but is formed by the overlapping journeys of the citizens. Moreover, there is no traditional center; instead, the urban functions are distributed among three overlapping networks: the household network composed of those destinations that support personal life; the network of consumption composed of shopping and leisure centers; and network of production where manufacturing and office services are performed. These networks do not sort themselves out into functional zones but juxtapose so that a huge corporate center might be bordered by small houses, and a massive mega-mall set down next to corn fields. Having put forward a structure for the new city, I then consider whether this new urban form can attain the complexity, beauty and diversity of the great cities of the past, or whether it is doomed to be too dense to be efficient and too dispersed to be genuinely urban. I return to the great American prophets of decentralization from the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright and Lewis Mumford, for a vision of a decentralized city that is nevertheless capable of embodying the highest values of civilizations; and I attempt to show how the new city can be gradually re-built to reflect this vision.
13 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.

Subjects

Informations

Published by
Published 01 January 1990
Reads 95
Language English
Document size 1 MB
Report a problem

Robert Fishman
Metropolis unbound: the new city of the twentieth century
In: Flux n°1, 1990. pp. 43-55.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Fishman Robert. Metropolis unbound: the new city of the twentieth century. In: Flux n°1, 1990. pp. 43-55.
doi : 10.3406/flux.1990.1172
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/flux_1154-2721_1990_num_6_1_1172Résumé
Cet article met en évidence l'émergence d'un nouveau type de "ville-réseau" à la fin du XXième siècle:
ni urbain, ni suburbain, ni rural dans le sens traditionnel des termes, mais combinant les trois éléments.
A l'inverse de la ville ancienne qui occupait un espace définissable et comprenait un centre et une
périphérie, la nouvelle ville se définit par le temps plutôt que par l'espace. Dans la nouvelle ville, chaque
habitant crée sa propre ville en dehors de la multitude de destinations atteintes en voiture, en un temps
donné. Ainsi, la nouvelle ville ne correspond à aucun espace précis mais se construit à travers les
chevauchements des parcours des habitants. En outre, il n'y a aucun centre traditionnel. Par contre, les
fonctions urbaines se répartissent entre trois réseaux enchevêtrés: le réseau familial composé des
destinations propres à la vie privée; le réseau de consommation composé des centres commerciaux et
de loisirs; et le réseau de production, lieu d'exercice des services de fabrication et de bureaux. Ces
réseaux ne s'ordonnent pas selon des zones fonctionnelles mais se juxtaposent, permettant à un
immense centre corporatif d'être bordé de petites maisons et à un important "mega-mall" de longer des
champs de maïs.
Après avoir présenté la structure de la nouvelle ville, l'auteur s'interroge sur cène forme urbaine. Peut-
elle atteindre la complexité, la beauté et la diversité des grandes cités du passé ou est-elle vouée à une
trop grande densité pour être efficace et à une trop importante dispersion pour être vraiment urbaine?
R. FISHMAN se réfère aux grands prophètes américains de la décentralisation des années 1930, Frank
LLOYD WRIGHT et Lewis MUMFORD dont la vision de la ville décentralisée est néanmoins capable
d'embrasser les plus grandes valeurs des civilisations; puis l'auteur tente de montrer que la nouvelle
ville peut se reconstruire peu à peu pour refléter cette vision. le réseau familial composé des
destinations propres à la vie privée; le réseau de consommation composé des centres commerciaux et
de loisirs; et le réseau de production, lieu d'exercice des services de fabrication et de bureaux. Ces
réseaux ne s'ordonnent pas selon des zones fonctionnelles mais se juxtaposent, permettant à un
immense centre corporatif d'être bordé de petites maisons et à un important "mega-mall" de longer des
champs de maïs.
Après avoir présenté la structure de la nouvelle ville, l'auteur s'interroge sur cène forme urbaine. Peut-
elle atteindre la complexité, la beauté et la diversité des grandes cités du passé ou est-elle vouée à une
trop grande densité pour être efficace et à une trop importante dispersion pour être vraiment urbaine?
R. FISHMAN se réfère aux grands prophètes américains de la décentralisation des années 1930, Frank
LLOYD WRIGHT et Lewis MUMFORD dont la vision de la ville décentralisée est néanmoins capable
d'embrasser les plus grandes valeurs des civilisations; puis l'auteur tente de montrer que la nouvelle
ville peut se reconstruire peu à peu pour refléter cette vision.
Abstract
This paper argues that the late twentieth century has seen the emergence of a new kind of "network
city:" neither urban, nor suburban, nor rural in the traditional senses, but combining elements of all
three. Unlike an older city that occupied a definable space and had a clear center and periphery, the
new city is defined by time rather than space. In the new city each citizen creates his or her own city out
of the multitude of destinations that can be reached in a reasonable time by automobile. The new city
thus corresponds to no particular space, but is formed by the overlapping journeys of the citizens.
Moreover, there is no traditional center; instead, the urban functions are distributed among three
overlapping networks: the household network composed of those destinations that support personal life;
the "network of consumption" composed of shopping and leisure centers; and "network of production"
where manufacturing and office services are performed. These networks do not sort themselves out into
functional zones but juxtapose so that a huge corporate center might be bordered by small houses, and
a massive "mega-mall set down next to corn fields.
Having put forward a structure for the new city, I then consider whether this new urban form can attain
the complexity, beauty and diversity of the great cities of the past, or whether it is doomed to be too
dense to be efficient and too dispersed to be genuinely urban. I return to the great American prophets of
decentralization from the 1930s, Frank Lloyd Wright and Lewis Mumford, for a vision of a decentralized
city that is nevertheless capable of embodying the highest values of civilizations; and I attempt to show
how the new city can be gradually re-built to reflect this vision.METROPOLIS UNBOUND:
THE NEW CITY OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
The big dty," Frank Lloyd Wright announced prophetically
in 1923, "is no longer modern." Although his forecast of a
coping age of urban decentralization was ignored by his
contemporaries, we can now see that Wright and few
Robert FISHMAN, is professor of his fellow-prophets understood the fragility of the great be
hemoth - the centralized industrial metropolis - that tory at Rutgers University, Camden,
New Jersey, where be is researching a seemed to embody and define the modernity of the twent
book on urban decentralization ten ieth century. These capital cities of the industrial revolut
tatively titled Metropolis Unbound: ion, with New York and Chicago at their head, were built
The New City of the Twentieth Cent to last. Their very form, as captured in the 1920s in the
ury. famous diagrams of the Chicago School of Sociology,
seemed to possess a logic that was permanent. At the core
was the "central business district," the skyscraper locale of
wealth, power and sophistication; surrounding the core was
the factory zone, the dense region of reinforced concrete
factories and crowded workers* housing; and finally, a small
ring of affluent middle class suburbs occupied the outskirts.
These were the triumphant cities whose allure was still
draining the countryside and small towns of the world of
their populations, catapulting millions into those urban-
industrial centers that were the heartland of modem life.
But modernism is a process of constant upheaval and self-
destruction. Just when the centralized metropolis was at its
zenith, a set of powerful social and economic forces was
combining to create an irresistible tide of decentralization
that would tear asunder the logic of its tight-knit circles and
distribute its prized functions over whole regions. The
urban history of the last half-century is a record of this
superficially, the process might be called "the rise of the
suburb." The term "suburb," however, inevitably suggests
the affluent and restricted "bedroom communities" such as
New York's Scandale or Chicago's North Shore that first
took shape on the edge of the nineteenth century metropoli
s. These nineteenth century suburbs established the model
of the single-family house on its own landscaped grounds as
the ideal middle-class residence, just as they establish-
FLUX 1 Spring 1990 44
ed the roles of commuter and housewife as social ways and tract houses, shopping malls and office
models for upper middle class men and women. parks, that Americans have built for themselves
But these archetypical suburbs were limited zones since 1945. As exemplified by such areas as
of privilege that strictly banned almost all industry Silicon Valley in northern California, Route 128
and commerce and excluded not only the working outside Boston, the Route One corridor between
class but even the bulk of the middle class. The Princeton and New Brunswick, New Jersey, Du
traditional suburb therefore remained an elite Page County west of Chicago, Route 285 north of
Atlanta, the northern Virginia district that surenclave completely dependent on the central dry
for its economic base and essential services. rounds Tysons Comer, or the immense region
that stretches along the southern California coast
Since 1945, however, the relationship between the from Los Angeles to San Diego, the new city
urban core and the suburban periphery has includes the most dynamic elements in our na
undergone a startling transformation. Where tional economy. It flourishes in the rocky soil of
suburbia had once been an exclusive refuge for a New Hampshire, the broad prairies outside Min
small elite, U.S. Census figures show that the neapolis, the rainy shores of Puget Sound and the
desert outside Tucson. From coast to coast the majority of the American population can now be
classified as "suburban." More surprisingly, manuf symbol of this new city is not the skyscraper
acturing employment has decentralized even skyline of the 1920s metropolis but the network
faster that population; the industrial park has of superhighways as seen from the air, crowded
displaced the old urban factory district as the in all directions, uniting a whole region into a
characteristic locale of American manufacturing. vast super-city.
Where suburbanites once depended on downtown
shopping, the malls have brought the bulk of Yet the seeming familiarity of the new city would
retail sales to the outskirts. In the 1970s and not blind us to its radical departures from all
1980s the urban peripheries outpaced the cores previous cities.The most obvious difference is
in that last bastion of downtown economic clout: scale. The basic unit of the new city is not the
office employment. More that 57% of the nation's street measured in blocks but the "growth cor
ridor" office space is now located outside the central stretching fifty to a hundred miles. Where
cities. Most significantly, the landscaped office the metropolises of the early twentieth century -
- New York, London, or Berlin - covered a hunparks and research centers on the urban peri
pheries have become the chosen sites for the dred square miles, the new city routinely encomp
asses two to three thousand square miles. most advanced high-technology laboratories and
Within such "urban regions," each element is production facilities, the national centers of
creativity and economic growth. The complex correspondingly enlarged. "Planned unit develop
ments" of cluster-housing are as large as townseconomy of the former suburbs has now reached
a critical mass, as a full array of specialized ser hips; office parks include thousands of land
vices ranging from xerox repairmen to gourmet scaped acres; and malls dwarf the downtowns
ethnic restaurants to corporate law firms have left they replaced. These massive units, moreover, are
the cities to establish themselves on the fringes. arrayed along the beltways or growth corridors in
In all these ways the peripheries have replaced seemingly random order, without the strict distinc
the urban cores as the heartland of our civiliza tions between residential, commercial and in
tion. These multi-functional late twentieth century dustrial zones that characterized the old city.
"suburbs" can no longer be comprehended in the Expensive single-family houses might be located
terms of the old bedroom communities. They have adjacent to a research-and-production center, and
become a new kind of city. a new mall filled with boutiques associated with
the great shopping streets of Europe could rise
The "new city of the twentieth century," is not next to com fields. The new city, moreover, lacks
some fantastic city of towers out of Fritz Lang's what gave shape and meaning to every urban
Metropolis or Paolo Soler's equally fantastic form of the past: a dominant single core and
"Arcology" planned for the Arizona desert It is, definable boundaries. At most, it contains a
multitude of partial centers, or "edge cities," more- rather, the familiar decentralized world of
FLUX 1 Spring 1990 45
or-less unified clusters of malls, office develop downfall of the old dty, no one imagined the
ments, and entertainment complexes that rise form of the new. Instead, it was built up piece
where major highways cross or converge. As meal by thousands of uncoordinated decisions
Washington Post writer Joel Garreau has ob made by developers, shopping mass operators,
served, Tysons Corner, perhaps the largest Ameri manufacturing enterprises, highway engineers and,
can edge dty, has more office space than down not least, the millions of Americans who have
town Miami, yet it remains only one of many such saved and sacrificed to purchase single-family
edge cities in its region. Even some old down homes. The construction of the new dty has been
equals" towns have been reduced to "first among so rapid and so unforeseen that we lack even a
the edge dties of their regions. Atlanta has commonly-accepted name to denote it. Or, rather, among
one of the most rapidly growing downtowns in we have too many names: exurb; spread dty;
the country, yet between 1978 and 1983 - the urban village; megalopolis; outtown; sprawl; slurb;
years of accelerated growth -the downtown's the burbs; nonplace urban field; polynucleated
share of regional office space shrank from 34% to dty; technoburb (my own coinage, I admit).
26%. Midtown Manhattan is the greatest of all Neither urban, nor rural, nor suburban but pos
downtowns, but northern New Jersey now ex sessing elements of all three, the new dty evades
ceeds it in office space. all the conventional terminology of the urban
planner or historian. Yet the phenomenon is too
If no one can find the center of the new city, its important to be allowed to fall through the cracks
borders are even more elusive. Low-density deve of our understanding. The success or failure of
lopment gains an inevitable momentum, as each the new dty will affect the quality of life for the
extension of a region's housing and economy into majority of Americans well into the twenty-first
previously rural areas becomes the base for century. At its best, one can discern the promise
further expansion. As successful areas fill up, land of a decentralized dty that fulfills its residents'
values and taxes rise explosively, pushing the less basic hopes for a spacious environment of good
affluent even further out. As Manhattan's "back homes with easy access to good schools, good
offices" moved thirty miles west into northern jobs, and a wide range of recreation. More amb
New Jersey along Interstates 78 and 80, people itiously, one might hope for a decentralized
moved forty miles further west along these growth dvilization that finally overcomes the old anti
corridors into the Pocono Mountains of eastern thesis of dty and countryside, that fulfills in daily
Pennsylvania. "By the time we left (New Jersey)," life the profound cultural need for an environ
one new resident of eastern Pennsylvania told the ment that combines the machine and nature in a
New York Times "there were handyman specials new unity.
in." Now for $150,000 you wouldn't put your dog
such formerly depressed and relatively inexpensive But the dangers of the new dty are perhaps more
areas as the Lehigh Valley are gaining population, obvious than the hopes. The immense power of
attracting high-tech and office employment, and modern construction techniques to cover ground
thus stimulating further dispersion. threatens to annihilate the natural environment
not just in dties but in whole regions. Those
Baltimore and Washington, once separated by a seeking natural beauty in the new dty often find
quiet rural greenbelt, are now connected by that it is always at least ten exits further away
virtually unbroken development. Census officials down the interstate. Moreover, the movement of
have now given up attempting to draw a boun urban functions to an environment never designed
dary between the two metropolitan areas and are for them has produced the anomaly of urban-
considering combining them into a single con style congestion in a decentralized setting.
solidated region. Indeed, as the automobile gives Through greed and ignorance we could destroy
rise to a complex pattern of multi-directional the very values that inspired the new dty and
travel that largely by-passes the old central cities, build instead a degenerate urban form that is too
the very concept of "center" and "periphery" congested to be efficient, too chaotic to be beauti
becomes obsolete. ful, but too dispersed to possess the diversity and
Although a few prophets like Wright foresaw the vitality of a great dty.
FLUX 1 Spring 1990 46
The new city is still under construction. like all Moralists regarded these crowded "monster metrop
olises" with horror, but, in their own time, new urban types, its early form is necessarily raw
and chaotic. The real test of the new dty as a concentration worked. The clustering of office
carrier of civilization will come when the first buildings in a central distria multiplied the op
portunities for rapid face-to-face communication flush of hectic building slows down and efforts
begin to reconstruct and re-design early efforts to of vital information, opportunities which gave the
a high standard This article is an attempt to big-city businessman a significant advantage over
understand the new urban world we are building his small-town colleagues. Similarly, the subways
and trolleys that delivered people from around with a view to improving it.
the region to a single "downtown" locale created
Perhaps the best way to grasp the innovations the dense mass of pedestrians that made possible
inherent in the new city is to contrast it systemati such urban institutions as the department store;
cally with the older metropolis which preceded it the vaudeville houses, movie palaces, and concert
Lewis Mumford, twentieth-century America's halls, the sports stadiums, and the big-city news
greatest urbanist and one of our best prophets of paper. In an age of rail transport, the complex
decentralization, expressed this contrast succinctly tangles of branch rail lines that served the faaory
in his classic work of 1938, The Culture of Cities. zone gave enterprises located there a significant
There he defined "the metropolis of old" as "a advantage over those anywhere else in the region.
single center" that becomes "the focal point of all Moreover, such zones developed their own net
regional advantages;" in the new decentralized work of suppliers and wholesale markets where
city, however, "the whole region becomes open faaories could obtain raw materials or specialized
for settlement." goods quickly. The faaory zone was also the
home of a large skilled and unskilled work force
One might identify the centralized industrial which only those enterprises within the zone
metropolis that flourished in the nineteenth and could tap. But the 1890s the metropolitan faaory
early twentieth centuries as the last in a series of zone thus became the natural environment for all
urban forms that go back ultimately to Ur and manufacturing firms attempting to become nationa
Babylon in the ancient Middle East At the heart l enterprises. Perhaps the group best served by
of urban form was the attempt by city-dwellers to metropolitan concentration were the middle class
solve the problem of slow and expensive- trans suburban elite, for they enjoyed all the economic
portation by concentrating people and resources benefits of the great city while living in a quiet,
at a single point. In an age of water and rail green, smoke-free environment at its edge.
transport, rail lines necessarily converged at those
privileged sites where rivers and topography had By the 1920s the centralized industrial city had
created the conditions for a port. The conver reached its zenith, so only a few lonely prophets
gence or rail lines amplified whatever natural noticed that a series of separate and uncoor
advantages a site like New York or Chicago might dinated technological innovations were converging
have possessed and raised such cities to national to undermine the special advantages of the core
centers. As major trunk rail lines were supple metropolis and "open the whole region for settl
ement." As Mumford suggests, these innovations all mented by a similarly converging network of
streetcar and subway lines, one saw the charact had in common the replacement of networks of
eristic pattern of a metropolis formed by its communication that focused advantage on the
transportation system into a centralized pattern of core with networks that distributed their advan
a hub and spokes. As Mumford argued, such a tages equally over a region. The great model of
pattern necessarily concentrated "regional ad such a network was the road system. Although
vantages" at the hub and disadvantaged all other early highway engineers attempted to model road
locations in the region. A familiar urban ecology building on the hub-and-spokes model of the
emerged, composed of concentric rings with the railroads, automobile owners soon discovered that
central business distria at the core, the factory radical innovation of the roads was opening up
zone, and then the suburban ring. areas remote from rail lines to settlement. In a
FLUX 1 Spring 1990 47
whose grid of wide streets like Wilshire and rail-dominated metropolis, most people in cities or
suburbs lived no further than a fifteen-minute Hollywood Boulevards remains the basic transport
walk from a train or trolley stop; with an automob ation system of the city even today.
ile, they could fill in the empty spaces between
the spokes of the regional rail system and still not By the mid- 1930s, both the Los Angeles down
be isolated town and the public transportation system that
sustained it were in rapid decline, but the city
lbe effect of trucking on industrial location was had established a unique pattern of dispersed
potentially as dramatic as the effect of the auto single-family housing and equally decentralized
mobile on housing location. Trucks, first used commerce and industry. The downtown was
extensively in the 1920s, made it possible for a supplanted by many smaller automobile-based
factory to leave the crowded streets of the in centers like the "Miracle Mile" along Wilshire
dustrial гопе for cheaper land on the periphery Boulevard, while the movie studios, the new
and still arrange for timely pickups and deliveries aircraft factories and other industry scattered
from suppliers that remained in the city. Thus the throughout the region. Los Angeles thus estab
road network established the conditions for a lished an alternate, decentralized form for the
massive re-settlement of the region. American city based on the automobile and the
single-family house.
These possibilities were first seen in Los Angeles
in the 1920s. As late as 1925, Los Angeles was a As this example shows, transportation was the
relatively-centralized city organized around a lively crucial innovation, but its revolutionary impact
and prosperous downtown served by a highly- was possible only in the context of other import
efficient system of public transportation. The ant new networks of decentralization. These
streetcars of the Pacific Electric system moved included:
quickly on more than a thousand miles of track
which connected the downtown to all parts of a ■ Electricity. Where reliable electrical power
largely agricultural region. In the mid-1920s, rarely went beyond the metropolis, the coming
of "giant power," i.e., regional electrical nethowever, the city was faced with two opposing
proposals for transportation, the first to maintain works in the 1920s gave plants and homes
and improve the public transportation system and throughout the region the same access to
the second (proposed by the Automobile Club of electrical power as those at the core.
Southern California), to invest in a massive new
grid of roads. ■ Telecommunications. The telephone network
was the harbinger of the great series of inven
In discussions among the urban elite, the issue tions - radio, television, computer systems •
was put with surprising clarity. Improving public that have increasingly substituted electronic for
transportation would save the downtown, but it face-to-face communication, thus reducing the
would limit residential development to the narrow necessity for daily personal contact with the
rail corridors of the Pacific Electric System. Los central business district
Angeles would thus come to resemble Eastern
cities of the time with most people living in multi- ■ Retailing. The flood of mass-produced con
family dwellings dose to public transportation. sumer goods that characterized twentieth
The road system might doom the downtown, but century production techniques created the
it would put virtually every acre of land in the potential for increasing the number of outlets
900 square miles of the Los Angeles region within and thus de-emphasizing the importance of the
a few blocks of a major road. This would open great downtown stores. No longer would one
have to go "downtown" to enjoy a wide selecthe whole region to low-density settlement Be
cause land speculation based on the sale of lots tion of goods.
for single-family suburban homes was the prin
■ Corporate organization. By the turn of the centcipal economic activity of the Los Angeles elite,
they unhesitatingly chose the road network, ury, growing corporate bureaucracies learned
FLUX 1 Spring 1990 48
to supervise a variety of plants, they also learn war period.
ed to them at a distance. As corporate
offices detached themselves from the factories ■ Highway Construction. During the twentieth
they controlled, these factories were now free to century, a fundamental disparity separated the
locate in the cheapest and most convenient growing highway network from the stagnant or
locations outside traditional urban factory zones. declining rail network. Highways were regarded
as a public responsibility and could draw direct
These new networks undermined the functional ly on the state's powers of taxation. Rail freight
underpinnings of metropolitan centralization, but (and often mass transit as well) was under the
the new city might have emerged slowly and control of private corporations that were after
partially if it had not found an unexpected ally: 1920 unable and unwilling to upgrade their
the American government Governments in Eur systems. As a result, highway engineers pre
ope, fearful of urban growth consuming the best sided over one of the massive construction
efforts in history, culminating in the 44,000 agricultural land, severely restricted decentraliza
tion wherever they could; for example, as early as miles of the federal interstate highway system
1938 the British government prohibited London built since 1958, while rail and mass transit
and the other large British cities from expanding declined as their proprietors staggered to
beyond their current boundaries and a decade bankruptcy. This meant a powerful tilt in the
later decreed permanent greenbelts around cities. transportation system toward highways that
In the United States, however, the federal govern served as the Main Streets of the emerging
ment (and other levels as well) was the indefat cities, while the decline of the railroads slowly
igable promoter of the urban expansion. Govern strangled the centralized industrial metropolis.
ment "planning" was largely unconscious and
unintended, but that did not lessen its effects. We ■ Local Government. After 1900 central cities
might discern four separate areas where state were generally unsuccessful in annexing their
intervention was crucial in the years from 1930 to suburbs. This means not only that they lost the
tax base of the most prosperous and rapidly- 1960.
expanding portions of the region; also, since
■ Housing. Although American preference for the zoning in the American system is essentially a
single-family suburban house was well-estab matter of local control, the power to regulate
lished by the 1920s, it took the New Deal's growth passed to those local suburban govern
Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934 ments who had the least interest in restraining
to reform the system of mortgage finance growth in the interest of a balanced metropoli
which made the American dream house a tan region. Developers soon learned that they
reality. As Kenneth Jackson has shown, FHA could play off the small local planning boards
regulations funnelled mortgage money to new- against each other, escaping all control. As the
ry-built suburbs which were considered good developer Sam Lefrak once observed, "there is
credit risks, while virtually denying such funds no zoning, only deals". Relieved of the task of
to the cities. delivering the full range of services required by
a great dty, suburbs could tailor their expendi
■ Defense Industries. In World War II, the new tures to the specific needs of their constituents.
production facilities built under the auspices Thus, suburban public school systems rose
of Defense Plants Corporation in such fields as surprisingly quickly to rival and surpass the
once-dominant urban schools. synthetics, alloys, and aircraft rarely located
within the central city. They tended to be
large-scale enterprises organized around the By combining all these governmental, social and
new pattern of keeping all production facili economic forces, we can understand the force
ties on a single level. Almost overnight they behind the great tide of decentralization that has
gave the metropolitan peripheries and decent washed irresistibly over American metropolis since
ralized sunbelt cities a substantial industrial 1945. It continued relentlessly, in booms and
base on which they could build in the recessions, under Democratic or Republican ad-
FLUX 1 Spring 1990 49
the "center" has been deconstructed into a poly- ministrations, until the dominance of the indust
rial metropolis was lost. centric city that encompasses whole regions.
The first significant sign was loss of population; But are these sprawling regions cities? Judged by
between 1950 and 1960, all the large established the standards of the centralized metropolis, the
answer is no. As I have suggested, this "dty" lacks cities lost population. Boston, the worst loser,
shrank by 13% while its suburbs gained 17%; New any definable borders, a center or a periphery, or
York and Chicago lost less than 2% each, but a dear distinction between residential, industrial
their suburbs gained over 70%. To these losses and commercial zones. Instead, shopping malls
were soon added shrinkage in the industrial base. with more floorspace than many downtowns,
Between 1947 and 1967, the sixteen largest and laboratory/production facilities, and corporate
oldest central cities lost an average of 34,000 headquarters all seem scattered in a sea of house
manufacturing jobs each, while their suburbs s. We can easily understand why urban planners
gained an average of 87,000. This trend continued and social sdentists trained on the dear functiona
through the 1970s, as these cities lost from 25% l logic of the centralized metropolis can see only
(Minneapolis) to 40% (Philadelphia) of the manuf disorder in these "nonplace urban fields", or why
ordinary citizens use the word "sprawl" to desacturing jobs that remained.
cribe their own neighborhoods. Nevertheless, I
On this base of population and jobs, entrepre believe that the new dty has a characteristic
neurs in the 1950s and 1960s began constructing structure, but one that departs radically not only
the new as a self-sufficient world. "We don't go from the old metropolis but from all other dties
downtown anymore", became the new city's mot in the past.
to as shopping centers displaced downtown de
partment stores, small merchants and repairmen To grasp this structure, we must return to the
deserted Main Street for shops "along the high prophetic insights of Frank Lloyd Wright. From
way", and even cardiologists and corporate law the 1920s to his death in 1959, Wright was preoc
yers moved their offices closer to their customers. cupied with his plan for an ideal decentralized
By the 1970s and 1980s, the new city found itself American dty which he called "Broadacres".
on the upside of a whole range of national and Although many elements of the plan were openly
even international trends. The movement from Utopian - he wished, for example, to ensure that
snowbelt to sunbelt meant a shift toward urban every American would be entitled to at least an
areas that had been "born decentralized" and acre per person, so that all of us would have the
organized on new city principles. The new city, opportunity for the economic independence and
moreover, moved quickly to dominance in those mental therapy derived from part-time farming -
Wright also had a remarkable insight into the rapidly expanding sections of the industrial eco
nomy ~ electronics, chemicals, Pharmaceuticals highway-based world that was developing around
and aircraft - leaving the old city which such him. Above all, he understood the consequences
sunset industries as textiles, iron and steel, and of dty based on a grid of highways rather than
automobiles. the hub-and-spokes of the older dties. Instead of
a single privileged center, there are multitude of
Finally, the new city in the 1970s successfully crossings, no one of which can assume priority.
challenged the urban core in the last area of The grid, moreover, is boundless by its very
central dty dominance, office employment The nature, capable of unlimited extension in all
"office park" of the 1970s became the locale of directions.
choice for a wide range of advanced service
functions. By the 1980s, even social scientists Such a grid, therefore, does not allow for the
emergence of an "imperial" metropolis to monopolcould not ignore that the whole terminology of
"suburb" and "central city" deriving from the era ize the life of a region. For Wright, this meant
of the industrial metropolis had become obsolete. that the family home would be freed from its
As Mumford had predicted, the single center has subjection to the dty and allowed to emerge as
lost its dominance. Instead, the very concept of the real center of American life. As he put it, "the
FLUX 1 Spring 1990