William A. Schwab Deciphering the City

ISBN 13: 9780131134959

Deciphering the City

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9780131134959: Deciphering the City

Well-written and extremely topical, Deciphering the City efficiently deals with the large and small issues facing cities today. A focus on globalization's impact on the role of cities, an explicit mission to drive home the applied nature of urban studies to students. This innovative text offers an exciting introduction to the history, issues, problems, potential solutions and challenges, facing cities―in the developed and the developing world―for the twenty-first century.

Globalization has changed the roles of cities in the global economy and this text begins with an introduction to the phenomenon of globalization, and how the changes it has brought about have affected the social, political, and economic institutions of societies. The second section of the text concentrates on the psychology of the city and the community-building process, while the book's third section illustrates the structure of cities and their historical and emerging patterns. Deciphering the City makes studying the city a relevant and interesting subject necessary in understanding the functioning of today's world.

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About the Author:

William A. Schwab is university professor of sociology, University of Arkansas.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Cities have always fascinated me. I remember as a young boy driving through the neighborhoods of Cincinnati on family outings wondering to myself why the people and buildings were located where they were. Although I pursued a degree in urban planning before choosing urban sociology for my doctoral work, it was the depth and scope of urban sociology that attracted me to the field. Where else can one study the historical development of cities, compare urban patterns across cultures, explore the behaviors associated with urban life, describe the contribution cities make to the global economy, examine the internal structure of cities, and study neighborhoods with the same techniques used by anthropologists to study preliterate tribes?

Although forty years have passed since those family outings, I am still fascinated with the city. I have been a sociologist for thirty years and have worked on international development projects for the past decade in Bolivia and Jordan. The urban sociological lens has served me well. Whether I am in Cairo, Damascus, Amman, or Irbid, Jordan, or La Paz, Santa Cruz, Sucre, or Cochabamba, Bolivia, the cultures are different, but the underlying physical and social patterns of these cities are the same. In fact, my work in the developing world motivated me to write this text. First, through my work in the Middle East and Latin America, I am convinced that we are in the midst of a revolution called globalization that is transforming our lives and cities. This is a theme I weave throughout the book. Second, my work abroad proves that the lens of sociology makes known the city's patterns and processes. And third, I want to share my sheer delight of applying this knowledge to deciphering the city. The book examines not only many of the central issues in urban sociology, but provides practical tools for the real world. For example, I apply this knowledge to everyday problems like reading the patterns of the city, making strangers known and safe, finding an apartment or buying a house, and not becoming a victim.

Following the introductory chapter "Why Study the City?," the first section of the book consists of two chapters designed to introduce you to the revolution of globalization. The global era began with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. Before the wall's fall, there were two competing ideologies in the world-one socialist and one capitalist. In the first years following the fall, many theorists thought that the competition had ended, and free-market capitalism and liberal democracy had become the dominant ideology shaping the world's societies and economies. Since September 11, 2001, thinking has changed. Many theorists now think that economic competition has been replaced by competition between civilizations. Chapter 2 explores globalization and its consequences for cities in the more-developed world. We will examine what forces made globalization possible; how these changes affect the social, political, and economic institutions of these societies; how globalization has changed the role of cities in the global economy; and who has won and who has lost in this new world order. Chapter 3 shifts this discussion to the less-developed world. In this chapter, we explore issues surrounding development, population change, and urbanization in these societies. We will see why population growth is the critical issue facing the world, the theories used to describe population change, the effects of rapid population growth on these societies, and how rapid growth shapes urban patterns—primacy and spontaneous settlements—in the less-developed world. We end the chapter by exploring theories of development, and why sociologists have trouble explaining development.

Section two consists of three chapters that introduce you to the psychology of the city and the community building process. In chapter 4 we explore the world of strangers and the techniques we use to make strangers known and less threatening. We all create and use mental maps of the city. We explore how we use these maps to add to our sense of community, safety, and well-being. We apply what we have learned to reduce your chances of becoming a crime victim, and I share some survival strategies that have kept my students and me safe all over the world.

Chapters 5 and 6 explore community—the social aspects of urban life. What is community? Are the images of the community of the past correct? Do members of modern societies have shallow and superficial relationships? Do we still have ties to kin and neighbors? These are some of the important questions facing sociologists. To answer them, I present the evolution of the concept of community over the past two centuries. In chapter 5, we explore the ideas and theories of community in the modern world. Chapter 6 addresses these same questions for the postmodern world in which we now live. I think you will find these chapters helpful in understanding how we cope in today's world and why we live our lives the way we do within our communities.

The third section of the book consists of five chapters that introduce you to the city's structure and the forces that shape it. In chapter 7, we learn how to read the patterns of the city. I present the early attempts by sociologists, economists, and geographers to develop urban models. We see how the assumptions of these models have changed and examine an alternative model developed by Michael White that provides a template for reading North American cities. We then turn to the work of social scientists who see the city through very different lenses. The first is the work of the political economist and geographer David Harvey. Harvey uses a Marxist lens to describe a group of powerful and influential actors who shape the cityscape for their own ends—profit. Next, we see the city through a lens provided by a group of social scientists from southern California known as the Los Angeles School. They use a postmodern lens to describe a decentered, decentralized, and randomly patterned cityscape made up of a series of new urban elements like edge cities and privatopias. They describe a city shaped by the forces of globalization.

Purchasing a new home is the largest investment most Americans make in their lifetimes. And most buyers know that if they make a bad home purchase, it will haunt them for decades. In chapter 8, we explore the how, why, when, and where of housing. We discuss how people make the decision to move, and what factors enter into this decision. We explore how, why, and where people search for a new home and where they eventually locate. And we see the consequences of these decisions on neighborhoods, communities, and society. Chapter 9 applies the principles learned in the previous chapter to a problem that I hope each of you will face—buying a home. I call chapter 9 a house-buying primer. We walk through the home-buying experiences of two young couples, my former students. We follow them through the home-buying process, uncover tips on being a good consumer, and discover how to get information on houses, neighborhoods, and communities using the Internet and other sources.

Sociologists study many urban patterns. In chapter 10, we look at the changing relationship between the central city and fringe. Are suburbs a new phenomenon, or do they represent the normal fringe development of a city? Are the images of the suburb as the bastion of the well-educated, white, affluent middle class, and the central city as the home of the poor, uneducated, and minorities correct? Are suburbs all alike or are there different suburban types? Does suburban growth intensify the political, social, and economic problems of the central cities, or is this a myth? Are the needs of women, the elderly, and minorities met in the suburbs? These questions are important to sociologists, and we use data from Census 2000 to answer them. We will also examine the problem of urban sprawl in this chapter.

Segregation is another important pattern of the city. Social scientists recognize that income, race, and ethnicity not only divide the nation, but also shape the residential structure of our cities. In chapter 11 we use data from Census 2000 to describe changes in the socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial segregation in this society. We discuss how segregation is measured; which theories attempt to describe it; which ecological, voluntary, and involuntary factors are responsible for segregation; and what the spatial outcomes of this process are. Segregation has its costs and benefits, and we end the chapter by looking at the consequence of this process for the most highly segregated group in our society—African Americans.

The final section consists of two chapters that explore urban problems and potential solutions. Most social problems are national in scope but play out in our cities. An entire book could be devoted to urban problems, but I have chosen three—inequality, homelessness, and crime. Nations no longer shape their economies, global forces do. The well-being of our citizens is no longer determined by economic changes within our national borders but by what economic groups in our society contribute to the global economy. The rules have changed and there are winners and losers. What happens to the losers? What are the consequences of downward social mobility for millions of Americans trapped in the margins of this revolution? How are these economic changes mirrored in our cities? The first section of chapter 12 explores one of the most important problems facing this society—what do we do for those left behind?

For some reason the plight of the homeless has slipped out of our national consciousness. What we do hear is that rates of homeownership are at record highs, and thirty year mortgage rates are at historic lows. But millions of Americans live in substandard dwellings, and somewhere between 350,000 and 2 million Americans are homeless. In this section, we ask, Where are the homeless? Who are they? Why are they homeless? Are the numbers changing?

Public safety is one of the most intractable problems facing city governments, and the fear of crime is one of the factors that motivated millions of Americans to leave central cities for the fringe. The interesting thing is that crime rates declined throughout the 1990s. We live in a far safer society than a generation ago. But most Americans are unaware of this trend, and the fear of crime has become a national obsession. Are police departments doing a better job, or are other forces at work? Who is responsible for our, at times, irrational fear of crime? Urban crime and our attempts to control comprise the third urban problem explored in chapter 12.

We have built 70 percent of all the structures that have ever existed in our nation in the past half-century. But what have we built? How have we built it? How has it shaped us? The answers to these questions are not always positive. In the final chapter of the book, we explore the work of a group of planners, researchers, and developers known as the new urbanists, and their attempts to address the problems of urban sprawl. The new urbanists apply the principles of the small town, village, and traditional neighborhood to new developments, whether they are in the central city or the suburban fringe. In the opening section of chapter 13, we describe urban sprawl, the social and environmental costs associated with it, and the economic and technological forces that shaped it. We will then turn to types of community planning in the United States. We describe the pragmatic character of American planning in its attempt to address the health, housing, social, and transportation problems of U.S. cities. We then examine society's most recent attempts to deal with urban problems, smart growth and the new urbanism. We outline the history of this movement, the forces that created it, the principles that guide it, and solutions it proposes for our urban problems. We provide a portrait of Kentlands and other new urbanist developments. We ask, Have these communities met their promise? Are consumers willing to pay more for them? Do they increase social interaction and create community? We end the chapter with a peek at the city of the future, and ask, What can we expect to see in the city of 2050?

I have decided to pursue a distinctively different perspective from many other texts. This book is decidedly applied and student oriented in its general outlook. I believe the knowledge conveyed here about cities can be used to the reader's benefit, not just as an urban scholar, but also as an urban resident. That is, knowledge provides a unique benefit. While ignorance may be said to create bliss, knowledge provides the reader with practical tools. Knowledge can be a useful resource if it can be applied to real-world problems. I hope that this book helps readers do just that. Cities are, in one sense, neutral media, providing potential opportunities as well as risks and problems for the resident. While clearly not everyone has the same access to these opportunities, knowledge of cities as opportunity spaces, as well as risk spaces, is especially useful in a changing urban world.

While I cover much of the same material commonly found in contemporary urban textbooks, I am influenced by a basic assumption in urban ecology. Urban ecology focuses on the growth and development of cities as unique social spaces. This assumption is that cities are a unique class of places, and that understanding their uniqueness is important to understanding how everyday life is structured in them. I believe that residence in these places matters to the everyday lives of people. Urban life is best understood by first defining what is unique about cities themselves. That idea is not without some controversy, and I discuss it in the first chapter.

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