The City and the City
of the Classical in the Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century City
Modern cities have the past lurking within them, surviving
in the pockets that escape the continuous redevelopment, in monuments, and in
memories. It is not quite true that modernity turns ‘all that is solid into
dust’. The past exists in the built environment, but also in then ideologies of
the city, in the minds and memories of the citizens. That past is an integral
element of the social imaginary, providing citizens with an idea of the city as
it once was, but also how it could be again.
In the nineteenth century, the urban problem emerged as one
of the great contemporary issues of the industrial age, giving birth to the great
modern moments and movements of radicalism and liberal drives at social
improvement. These movements shaped the contemporary city and its ideologies.
The late nineteenth century saw a growing perception of the integral
relationship between built form and society, a perspective that gave rise to
the political demand for urban and social reform, the development of new
‘utopian’ and ‘reformist’ new town and urban renewal projects, and the birth of
new academic disciplines, notably sociology, emerging in the UK in parallel
with urban geography at Le Play House and in the University of London.
New cities/communities, however, as Jameson has argued, can
only be conceived within the social imaginary of an existing society. In the
case of the emerging debates of the nineteenth century, that social imaginary
had a strong Classical focus. That focus derived from both the imbuing of
contemporary political rhetorics with Classical models and the almost hegemonic
status of Classical history and thought as a paradigm. The focus of the
Classical on urban cultures (around poleis
and Roman exported urbanism) offered parallels for urban analysis not available
to the same extent from other contemporary or historical cultures. The Classical city had a profound
architectural influence in many of the great eighteenth and nineteenth century
urban restructurings and in the building of new cities. In the urban debates of the late nineteenth
century onwards, the Classical city was a profound interlocutor, not just in
the design of the urban form (morphological issues), but also in the social
design of the communities that were desired by urban reformers.
The project seeks to analyse the political, urban, and
social thought of the reformers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
through analysis of the Classical influences within their thought.
Areas of research
This project is sponsored by the Centre for the Reception of Greece and Rome.