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City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World

City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World research paper due and don’t know how to start it? How about like this?

In his book City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World, Witold Rybczynski examines the changing nature of American cities. He begins by describing a visit to Paris in 1992, noting the beauty and prosperity of the city and realizing that it had changed little since he visited the city thirty years earlier. When he returns to North America, he realizes how much the American cities have changed in the past thirty years. Cities had retired streetcar systems and built new subways, freeways, airports, and underground shopping malls. For Rybczynski, it is this quality of transformation that characterizes American cities.

City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World

Rybczynski believes the building and rebuilding of American cities since the 1950s shows how city planning is affected by changing fashions. He sites examples of family-owned business being replaced by franchise retailers and fast food outlets; landmark hotels converted to condominiums; and buildings converted to parking lots. He contends that many of the changes in North American cities also result from market forces that affect large numbers of individual citizens. Factors such as crime rates, economic opportunities, cost of living and quality of schools. These factors have changed the face of many cities because, according to Rybczynski, "The history of American cities has always been marked by citizens voting with their feet,". For example, people decide they want a house with a garden so they live urban centers for the suburbs. Shopping habits shift and large downtown department stores disappear. Victorian houses become popular and dilapidated old neighborhoods are refurbished.

Rybczynski compares the environment of American cities to a conglomeration of movie stages: A jumbled back lot with a cheek-by-jowl assortment of different sets for different productions –– the dusty back alleys of High Noon next to the tree-lined small-town streets of It's a Wonderful Life beside a drive-in highway strip of American Graffiti around the corner from the metropolitan nightmare of Blade Runner.

Rybczynski views cities as artifacts. In fact, he describes them as the world's largest man-made objects that can be viewed all at one time. Furthermore, he recognizes that cities and towns, like food and fashion, have always been local responses to local needs and desires. To truly understand American cities, Rybczynski contends that it is necessary to examine America's urban past. He traces these urban roots to the Hispanic, French and English colonial urbanization.

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