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City on a Hill

City on a Hill

Urban Idealism in America from the Puritans to the Present

Alex Krieger

ISBN 9780674987999

Publication date: 10/29/2019

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A sweeping history of American cities and towns, and the utopian aspirations that shaped them, by one of America’s leading urban planners and scholars.

The first European settlers saw America as a paradise regained. The continent seemed to offer a God-given opportunity to start again and build the perfect community. Those messianic days are gone. But as Alex Krieger argues in City on a Hill, any attempt at deep understanding of how the country has developed must recognize the persistent and dramatic consequences of utopian dreaming. Even as ideals have changed, idealism itself has for better and worse shaped our world of bricks and mortar, macadam, parks, and farmland. As he traces this uniquely American story from the Pilgrims to the “smart city,” Krieger delivers a striking new history of our built environment.

The Puritans were the first utopians, seeking a New Jerusalem in the New England villages that still stand as models of small-town life. In the Age of Revolution, Thomas Jefferson dreamed of citizen farmers tending plots laid out across the continent in a grid of enlightened rationality. As industrialization brought urbanization, reformers answered emerging slums with a zealous crusade of grand civic architecture and designed the vast urban parks vital to so many cities today. The twentieth century brought cycles of suburban dreaming and urban renewal—one generation’s utopia forming the next one’s nightmare—and experiments as diverse as Walt Disney’s EPCOT, hippie communes, and Las Vegas.

Krieger’s compelling and richly illustrated narrative reminds us, as we formulate new ideals today, that we chase our visions surrounded by the glories and failures of dreams gone by.

Praise

  • Provides us with a useful history of the influential ideals—some of them prophetic, some of them unrealistic, and others downright cruel and unjust—that have shaped American cities.

    —Shlomo Angel, Wall Street Journal

Author

  • Alex Krieger is Professor in Practice of Urban Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he has been honored repeatedly as one of Harvard’s most outstanding teachers. Krieger is coeditor of Mapping Boston and Towns and Town-Making Principles and coauthor of A Design Primer for Cities and Towns. He is also a Principal at NBBJ, a global firm offering services in architecture, urban design, and planning. He is a frequent advisor to mayors and their planning staffs, and has served on a number of national and regional boards and commissions, including the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.

Book Details

  • 464 pages
  • 1-1/2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Belknap Press

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