In Ernest W. Burgess’s most famous essay, “The Growth of the City: An Introduction to a Research Project,” he writes about the expansion process of a city. He starts off with defining what makes an area urban. He discusses many of the qualities we talked about in class, such as the skyscraper and subway. He includes the presence of a department store and a daily newspaper. What struck me most, though, was his inclusion of social work as a characteristic of urban life. I had never thought about this influence before, but after discussing the role of social reformers in the planning and reconstruction of cities I now appreciate this is as key element of an urban area. Burgess’ main idea was his construction of a model based on a series of concentric circles that divided Chicago into five zones. The center loop was the business district; then a transition area for business and light manufacture; then an area for workers to live; then a residential area of high-class apartment buildings; and finally the suburban areas. He wrote that there was a tendency for each inner zone to extend its area by the invasion of the next outer zone and for business to concentrate in the inner loop. We discussed in class that one of the flaws of this model is that there are often several business centers in a city. Still, Burgess’s model and terminology continue to be used today. On a side note, Burgess peppers his essay with vocabulary from the natural sciences. While this creates strong comparisons between the urban and natural worlds, for the reader unfamiliar with these specific terms, it can be jarring and confusing. Burgess’ exclusion of definitions prevents many readers from connecting to his arguments.

 David Harvey’s essay, “Contested Cities: Social Process and Spatial Form,” is a challenging read due to his theoretical and abstract arguments. He has several main ideas. One is that cities should be thought of as processes, not as things. This difference is vital to him since he argues that processes are shaped by time and place and as well as shaping time and place. Secondly, he talks about the creation and role of the community. Many writers have voiced concern about the lack of community in cities and the subsequent alienation that ensues. Harvey notes that racism, ethnic chauvinism and class devaluation can grow from the desire for community as it allows for a common identification as well as the exclusion of other groups. This observation fosters his arguments about community activism, which he feels cannot remain localized, but rather must spill over and become part of constructing a more universal set of values and changes. Finally, he discusses the relationship between the natural and built environment. He attacks the artificial distinction between these two realms, saying they cannot be separated. Additionally, he thinks they need to evolve together in forms such as green urbanism and ecological design movements, which are becoming increasingly popular. One of his most powerful message is, “Getting things economically right in our cities is the path towards economic change and economic development, even to economic growth” (p. 231). How important this is for today’s world!

 Fredrick Law Olmsted, famous for designing New York City’s Central Park, presented the essay, “Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns,” at a conference in 1870. I found this essay to be the most accessible to a novice of Urban Studies. While the editors label his writing as containing “somewhat convoluted Victorianisms” (p. 307), I found his prose clear and outright beautiful at times. (As an avid reader of Dickens, I very much enjoyed the Victorianisms.) Olmsted’s goal was to provide guidelines for parks and parkways and to offer ways to secure public funding for them. He makes his argument in three compelling parts. First, he argues that tress would combat air and water pollution, which would lead to an increase in public health; secondly, that parks would help fight vice and social degeneration, common among the poor; and, thirdly, that parks available to all would be democratic. He backs his arguments with emotional examples and persuasive language. I particularly liked the sentimental tone when he writes, “Is it doubtful that it does men good to come together in this way in pure air and under the light of heaven, or that it must have an influence directly counteractive to that of the ordinary hard, hustling working hours of town life?”

 Chapter Nine and Twenty in Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker were a delight to read. I lost track of the number of wry comments he makes about Long Island’s richest, all of which made me laugh out loud. Both of these chapters focused on Robert Moses’s creation and/or revitalization of parks in New York. Chapter Nine focused on the lack of accessible public space for recreational activities available for people living in the five boroughs. Moses turned his eye to Long Island and circumvented the fat cats and robber barons of the area who were determined to keep the poor out by any means. Moses meticulously tracked down available land that could contain hiking trails, sports areas, and swimming. One of my favorite anecdotes is when Moses went to survey Fire Island with a map and, noting a discrepancy, discovered six hundred acres no one had known about! Jones Beach, a popular destination for my own family, was created at this time, as well as the state park system. Chapter Twenty discusses Moses’ revamping of New York City parks, the building of the Central Park Zoo and the Triborough Bridge, as well as the plan to transform Randall’s and Ward’s Islands into parks. Moses’s ingenuity in terms of project organization and his vast knowledge of obscure law and city holdings is applauded by Caro. However, Caro does note that Moses’s desire to beautify Randall’s and Ward’s Island led to the eviction of inmates residing in the Hospital for the Feeble-Minded, resulting in their being crammed into overcrowded institutions. This offers a glimpse to the more ruthless component of Moses’s single-minded vision.