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The City as Cultural Center - The Industrial City

cities social class capitalism

The industrial revolution led to a new wave of urbanization. Concentration in great metropolises and large industrial areas lent a different dynamic to cities, changing them both socially and physically: a new type of industrial city emerged in the nineteenth century—most often around coal mining, textiles, or iron and steel, then later chemicals, electricity, and mechanical engineering—enjoying an extraordinarily rapid growth fueled by immigration and leading to the formation of dense industrial regions and centers as in Britain, the German Ruhr, or the northeast of France—"Coketowns" as Lewis Mumford put it. The "tyranny of fixed cost" (transport) also supported the rise of industrial ports and the pace of concentration in large industrial cities such as Calcutta and, most decisively, in large U.S. cities of the Northeast and Midwest—New York and Chicago in particular. Cities became places Ideal City, c. 1470, by Piero della Francesca. Although cities are almost inevitably prone to incidents of violence and oppression, they have also historically been centers of progress and innovation where diversity, knowledge, and culture are celebrated concepts. © ARTE & IMMAGINI SRL/CORBIS where capital was tied up in major fixed assets, with labor forces that varied in composition and size, and with a high level of internal diversity.

The industrial city is first and foremost a place of social conflicts, inequalities, urban poverty, social segregation, and speculation. Karl Marx and his followers sketched a view of the city organized by capitalism, a place of class struggle determined to a large extent by the economy. The Marxist analysis was "urbanized" by David Harvey, who stressed the role of land and property for capital accumulation, investment together with the contradictions of capitalism in cities. He underlined both the role of the built environment in capitalism and the social struggle of social groups to prevent the disinvestment in industrial cities, which fed the dynamics of deindustrialization and urban crisis. Others have developed the role of class struggle to analyze the dynamics and culture of cities in different parts of the world. Changing forms of capitalism after 1945 gave rise to the analysis of the "Fordist city"—that is, the city organized around and for the needs of the large industry.

Industrial cities are characterized by their social structure and by their form and organization. Although U.S. cities had large firms and major entrepreneurs, they were above all workers' cities, sites of immense poverty and exploitation, and crucibles for working-class organization. The industrial city took the form of this combination of industries, workers' housing (slums, social housing, suburban houses), minimal communal amenities, transportation infrastructure, and, later, social democratic forms of urban government. Overpopulated workingclass districts mixed with factories in city centers, driving out the bourgeoisie (in a configuration that reversed that of the old European cities, where industrial activities and working populations had most often been pushed out to the periphery) into what became the suburbs. Social surveys were initiated in Britain, France, and Germany to assess poverty and the terrible conditions of public health. Working-class culture was organized around work, clubs, cafés, dances, and sport, although with considerable variations from one city to another. Even beyond the structural opposition between the bourgeoisie and the newly forming working class, these industrial cities were socially diverse places: artisans continued to exist and to develop, and the number of shops increased, if only to feed the abundant populations of vagrants, prostitutes, and white-collar office workers.

After the 1960s, the most industrialized cities declined in the United States and Western Europe, leading to a postindustrial landscape, a mix of derelict land and buildings and new cultural or housing activities. By contrast, other cities in the world—for instance, in rapidly urbanizing China—have become the new workshops of the world, comprising a high concentration of the working class in the manufacturing sector.

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