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MUMFORD Lewis - Autograph Letter Signed 1968 discussing civic centers and urban planning

  • £375.00

Lewis MUMFORD (1895-1990)

Autograph Letter Signed (“Lewis Mumford”) to “Dear Mrs. Meisel” [most likely the wife of the writer and professor of political science James H. Meisel], discussing civic centers and the issues surrounding urban planning.

2 pages large 8vo, together with autograph envelope, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 24 November 1968.                                                                                                   

I appreciate your story about the loud-speakers on the Leonardo: but the problem you put to me after that is not an easy one to answer at a distance, or indeed to answer at all. There are plenty of books that describe Civic Centers, old and new: but I know none that I could recommend as guides at this early stage. If I could sit down with your committee I would first ask them what they mean by a civic center, what functions and purposes it would serve, and why they believe the institutions they wish to bring together should be centralized, and for what reason should they be big. It’s some forty years or so since I was last in Ann Arbor: so I have no notion of what has gone on there – though, knowing many other American cities, I suspect it is mainly for the worse. What your city may really need is a number of small centers, with either a school or a shopping center as a formative nucleus. Most of the older civic centers (Springfield, Mass., San Francisco, Cleveland) were misconceived and have turned out to be disappointments.

My final advice is not to begin thinking about buildings – that is the last step. Think first about people and purposes.”

Lewis Mumford’s views were once described as focusing on “ecological urban planning” and a humanist point of view of the environment created by town planners and architects. During the 1960s, and particularly in the turbulent year of this letter, 1968, he drew attention to the importance of the environment in which people lived as a means of dealing with the discontent and problems faced by American cities. His ideas influenced writers such as E.F. Schumacher, and would resonate with many who today grapple with the ecological sustainability of our cities.


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