Liberal Dreams and Nature's Limits: Great Cities of North America since 1600

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9780195407938: Liberal Dreams and Nature's Limits: Great Cities of North America since 1600
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On the agricultural frontier and through technological progress, the descendants of North America's pioneers have sought to fulfill their dreams of improvement. Through business, governments, and other bodies, city dwellers expedited these desires by organizing settlement, communications, trade, finance, and manufacturing. In turn, cities grew mightily. To assess the present condition of cities, this book focuses on five large North American cities at various times in the past-- Philadelphia (about 1760), New York (1860), Chicago (1910), Los Angeles (1950), and Toronto (1975). Life inside these cities - specifically the economy, society and politics, public services, land development, and the geographies of circulation, workplaces, and residential districts--is the central concern of this book. Another concern is drawing contrasts and similarities between the American and Canadian urban experiences. North Americans, most now living in cities, face the challenge of a social frontier--how to maintain civility in a near-stagnant economy. Despite recent advances in cyberspace, nature has imposed limits on technological progress defined by speed, convenience, and comfort: Promethean gains through creative destruction are no longer possible. Increased preoccupation with money, status, and safety suggests that the striving inspired by liberalism is still appealing. Yet without growth, in order to achieve liberal dreams of freedom in thought and action, citizens and leaders in both the U.S. and Canada will have to commit themselves as never before to managing fairness through social democracy. Sustainable cities are not possible otherwise.

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About the Author:

James T. Lemon is a member of the Department of Geography at the University of Toronto. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a recipient of Canada Council and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants. His preparation for this book was based on teaching courses on North American
urban life, and on his various writings, notably Toronto Since 1918: An Illustrated History, a finalist for the Toronto book awards for 1985, and The Best Poor Man's Country: A Geographical Study of Early Southeastern Pennsylvania, which won the Beveridge Prize of the American Historical Association
for the best book on American history in 1972.

Review:


"This is a valuable book. Its repeated comparison of U.S. and Canadian patterns is a strong corrective to the American narrative of urbanization. Its chapter on "Urban Influences" updates standard models of social ecology by adding culture and ideology to the variables of population, environment, organization, and technology. And its strong and concise profiles are among the best introductions to the changing social and spatial structure of North American cities."--American Historical Review


"James Lemon's Liberal Dreams and Nature's Limits examines urban problems from the perspective of not just one city but many. In this ambitious work Lemon discusses the failure of policy makers to sustain the concept of livable cities and seeks to provide a structural underpinning for the history of cities in North America. He then uses that framework to draw some conclusions about the probable future of those cities. Lemon suggests that cities go through natural cycles of growth and stagnation and cites one U.S. city in each stage to illustrate his argument: Philadelphia in the 1760s represents the colonial city, New York in 1860 represents the height of the commercial city, Chicago in 1910 represents the fusion of industrialism and commerce in cities, and Los Angeles in 1950 exemplifies the evolution of the city into a metropolitan area. . . . Indeed, this work would be a valuable addition to the library of any student of urban studies."--Isis


"This is at once a textbook ... and a fervently argued polemic, a warning that 'the future cannot lie in liberal democracy as we have known it.' To bolster that claim, Lemon begins with a compelling survey of the 'stagnating metropolises' of late-twentieth-century North America. In the emptying landscapes of the central city, and in the growing disparities between America's richest and poorest citizens, he finds evidence of the passing of our cities' historically 'generative' character. ... Liberal Dreams suffers, in a way, from being too good: too thorough, too comprehensive in its scope and documentation. ... It's all in here: the census tract analysis, the close reading of city ordinances, the patient explanation of infrastructural development. ... As a text, the book stands up beside any other urban history survey in print. ... At its most fundamental level, Liberal Dreams reminds us that there is much at stake in the crisis of our cities."--Design Book Review


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