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“Machines. Inventions. Power. Black out the past.”*…

 

The City

 

“The City” is a shape-shifting work of social criticism, radical in its rage, reactionary in its solutions. Financed largely by a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation and produced under the aegis of the American Institute of Planners, “The City” could be described as a propaganda film promoting the benefits and aims of city planning, but it was about more than that. Its scope encompassed a whole diseased society, its citizens divorced from their own identities and their own destinies—all on account of the march of unrestrained progress. “The City” was that rare thing—the prestige picture that tackled poverty and degradation, a sociological tract that aspired to poetry. It boasted the finest pedigree of any America documentary made up to that time: an outline from documentary master Pare Lorentz (“The Plow That Broke the Plains,” “The River”), commentary written by literary critic and prominent urbanist Lewis Mumford, and the first film score from composer Aaron Copland. Its directors, Ralph Steiner and Willard van Dyke, were both veterans of the American avant-garde…

Produced to be shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as part of the “City of Tomorrow” exhibit, “The City” was a passionate argument for innovative housing design and community planning– for restoring to modern city life a semblance of healthy living and social well-being rooted in community-based “garden cities.”

A pioneering documentary that makes a beguiling argument:

 

[Quote and image above: Library of Congress]

* “Machines. Inventions. Power. Black out the past. Forget the quiet cities. Bring in the steam and steel. The iron men. The giants. Open the throttle. All aboard, the promised land. Pillars of smoke by day. Pillars of fire by night. Pillars of progress. Machines to make machines. Production to expand production. There’s wood and wheat and kitchen sinks and calico all ready made in tonnes enough for tens, thousands, millions. Millions! Faster and faster, better and better!”   —  Lewis Mumford, The City

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As we reconsider urbanism, we might recall that it was on this date (N.S.) in 1607 that the first permanent English settlement in the Americas was created, when the Virginia Company of London established “James Fort”– which became Jamestown– on the bank of the James (Powhatan) River, 2.5 miles from what is now the center of Williamsburg.

220px-Colonial_Jamestown_About_1614

Colonial Jamestown About 1614

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