Tuesday, May 28, 2013

John Kenneth Galbraith's "Age of Uncertainty: The Metropolis"

Continuing with John Kenneth Galbraith's 1977 documentary series, The Age of Uncertainty, Episode 11, The Metropolis:

As the title implies, this segment deals with urbanization.

In the book, Galbraith makes this point, one that we don't hear much these days:

As a legacy of classical liberalism there is a marked unwillingness to socialize design, to specify overall architectural styles to which the subordinate units must conform. It is an unjust interference with property rights and personal preference. But there is no place where the substitution of social for classical liberal expression is more urgent and where, paradoxically, the result serves better the classical utilitarian goal of the greatest good for the greatest number.

The interference with property rights is real. One solution lies in extending the public ownership of urban land. This too accords with the inherently social character of the city and the inescapably socialist character of housing. I've long wondered why European socialists or American liberals, when gathering on occasions of high ceremony to affirm their faith , give so little attention to the public ownership of urban land. For no other form of property is the public case so clear.
He also makes this historical point about the evolution of cities:

With the Industrial Revolution the Industrial City became synonymous with the city. In consequence, the very connotation of the word city changed. Before 1776, the word had an overtone of grandeur. Dick Whittington's first glimpse of London was of the promised land. Dr. Johnson was even more affirmative : "No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." The American Republic was launched in Philadelphia, then the second largest city in the English-speaking world. It was regarded by all as beautifully planned and admirably built, and what was then built is so regarded today. This was near the end of urban beauty; soon thereafter a reference to a city became a reference to something not grand, not beautiful, not even solid but something mean, ill-built and dirty. The Industrial City became the characteristic city, and all cities came to be thought somewhat sordid.
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