Much writing about New Economics focuses on small communities and rural areas. What then is the role of the city? For many, Lewis Mumford provided a guide to how cities can be designed to serve humanity and work in harmony with nature. His writings can be found in the collections of E. F. Schumacher, George Benello, The MANAS Journal, Richard Bliss, Martha Shaw, Hazel Henderson, and the General Collection.
In The Culture of Cities Mumford examines the development of cities from medieval times through industrialization to the early 20th century to illustrate the patterns and forces that created the modern “megalopolis” and the shortcomings of this form. He argues that cities have largely been developed according to military and industrial logic that centralizes power and control of resources and seeks profit to the detriment of environmental health and quality of life.
Prioritizing social relationships and environmental sustainability necessitates a rebuilding of cities according to new logic. This new logic of urban development focuses on the social and environment limits that cities must work within.
“Limitations on size, density, and area are absolutely necessary to effective social intercourse; and they are therefore the most important instruments of rational economic and civic planning.”
This leads Mumford to propose cities that exist, like organisms, in balance with their larger, regional environment, a precursor to the concept of the “bioregion” that would later be explored by authors such as Kirkpatrick Sale. Mumford asserts that the role of the countryside, agriculture, soils, and rivers must be considered in the development of cities.
“In conceiving a region, then. It is necessary to take an area large enough to embrace a sufficient range of interests, and small enough to keep these interests in focus and to make them a subject of direct collective concern.”
To create these new cities would require not only a new philosophy of planning but a change in the relation of people to the land:
“Modern civilization will not be able to use its collective energies and collective wisdom for the benefit of its members until the land goes back to the community from which it was originally derived and becomes part of the common stock.”