cover image Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City

Building and Dwelling: Ethics for the City

Richard Sennett. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-20033-6

The latest study from sociology professor Sennett (The Craftsman) focuses on the challenges of urban living throughout history with mixed results. Sennett begins by invoking the dichotomy between the city as built form (ville) and the city as lived experience (cité), before segueing to his central question: how should urban planners respond to the fundamental disjuncture between the built environment and the complex, messy social realities that spill over its manicured boundaries? Sennett explores the ways in which thinkers ranging from Ildefons Cerdà and Immanuel Kant to Jane Jacobs and Lewis Mumford sought to find a balance between an idealized provincial community and an indifferent cosmopolitan metropolis, weaving in insights from his own career as an urban planner, particularly pertaining to the concept of ethical urbanism. The book provides a lucid history of the major currents of urbanism, drawing different moments in planning history together around a series of problems that bear directly on contemporary debates. Later sections on building the ethical city are less successful, a ponderous mash-up of observations about “street-smarts” and philosophical musings that fail to illuminate the “open city” of the future. The book is a learned study of city life in the past but is less convincing about what the future might hold. [em](Apr.) [/em]