L.A. Election Post-Mortems

A quote from "The Culture of Cities," by Lewis Mumford, seems timely in this time of victory for Ruth Galanter, the neighborhood activist, over Pat Russell, who rightly or wrongly was perceived as the protagonist of the World Class City forces.

In the introduction of his book (1970 edition) Mumford says of Western cities and civilization since the 15th Century, "The new cities grew up without the benefit of coherent social knowledge or orderly social effort: they lacked the useful urban folkways of the Middle Ages or the confident aesthetic command of the Baroque period: indeed, a 17th Century Dutch peasant, in his little village, knew more about the art of living in communities than a 19th Century municipal councilor in London or Berlin. Statesmen who did not hesitate to weld together a diversity of regional interests into national states, or who wove together an empire that girdled the planet, failed to produce even a rough draft of a decent neighborhood."

It might be said in defense of these 19th Century municipal councilors that they were, in fact, living in the closing days of the Age of Exploration and were in fact riding the very crest of that age. The covered wagons crossing the Western prairies of the American continent and the blossoming of such cities as Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Pacific coast were the completion of that long process that began with the daring expeditions of such men as Vasco da Gama, Magellan and Columbus.

It might well be that we are now in a period of frustration. The speed and luxury of travel now would doubtlessly fill the old explorers and pioneers with envy--but then the magic of visiting far away places and strange people has greatly diminished too. Maybe we are all sitting in what is potentially the most wonderful place in the world to be: our own neighborhoods.



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