The Nature of Cities

For me, good urban sociology reminds us that cities are small, intimate things that won’t be around forever. They might seem vast and tall and solid and permanent, but they’re not. Cities are living, breathing organic matter, like a flower or a tree, which get experienced up close and under our feet; and that fact is precisely what sparked Americans to start doing sociology in the first place.

It’s what compelled (historian) W.E.B. Du Bois to leave his office at the University of Pennsylvania and go out into the neighborhoods of South Philly to document the lives of African-American men; and (literary critic and language specialist) W.I. Thomas to rifle through Polish immigrants’ trash on the South side of Chicago so he could find and curate their tossed off letters; and (journalist) Robert Park to, also in the city of Chicago, gather together an entire team of really smart, socially minded graduate students so he could map, well, pretty much every(social)thing.

Arun Venugopal’s WNYC’s series Micropolis, and, especially, his Tumblr, is this kind of sociology. Random and fragmented glimpses of what he, personally, stumbles upon in New York City everyday, his depictions and stories are also, (as academic urban sociology requires), locatable and makes me really wonder and care about things like this, this or this.

End Note: For some of my own little stories about New York City go here or here.


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