The city, so are people

Robert Park, a sociologist writing in Chicago in the 192Os… put it this way about cities:

The city is man’s most consistent and, on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in , more after his heart’s desire.  The city is the world which man created; it is the world in which he is therefore condemned to live.  Thus indirectly, without a clear sense of the nature of his task, in remaking the city, man has remade himself.

In Capital, Marx… makes the dialectical point that we cannot change the world around us without changing ourselves and we cannot change ourselves without changing the world around us.  And so Marx sees the whole of human history of being the working out of the dialectic of transformations of who we are and what we are, along with the transformation of the world aruond us, the environment and everything else.

Park is making the same argument. The implication of Park’s argument is that the question “what of kind of cities do we want to live in?” cannot be divorced from the question of “what kind of people do we want to be,” “what kind of humanity we wish to create amongst ourselves” and “how do we want to create it?”

It is that mutual constitution of the city, of who we are and what we are, that is something which I think it is very important to reflect upon.  Particularly since we look back historically and ask, were we ever conscious of this task?  Were we ever conscious that we were doing this? I think the answer is that as the cities changed, we changed without us really being very conscious of it.

– David Harvey, City University of New York, Neoliberalism and The City, Studies in Social Justice, Volume 1, Number 1, Winter 2007.

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