Reading Analysis 5: “City of Rhetoric”

Why not end a book about the urban landscape with the most famous one in film. Poster art by Boris Bilinsky.

In his final, self-titled chapter of his book City of Rhetoric, David Fleming summarizes many of his prior arguments, as well as giving his closing thoughts on the ideal implementations of his thinking in regard to not only the division of neighborhoods but also the application in teaching, in regards to promoting a higher sense of self-government. After a brief introduction, in which he retells a version of the Greek creation myth saying that humans were granted the city as a method of survival, he goes over the majority of his prior arguments in the book, many of which I have covered in greater depth previously (Fleming 195). However, after this summary, Fleming goes into greater depths about his theory of the rhetorical space, or, as he puts it, “spheres” (Fleming 198). While these “public spheres” tend to be multi-faceted and overlapping, forming a wider landscape of beliefs, he notes that it’s extremely difficult to easily divide a proper public- everything from the level of local power to the size of a community can make or break a community (Flemming 199-200). As well as these problems, he also notices three specific rhetorical problems in cities: the development of a sense of “place,” the creation of spaces that allow publics to form, and avoidance of conflict at the cost of building the kind of tension necessary for political investment (Fleming 203-205). After this, he briefly turns his eye to the public school system in the US, which he states should focus more on the speaking skills necessary to resolve conflict rather than avoid it, a key difference to the “opinion formation” model he’s criticized previously. Moreover, Fleming argues that school should push four values in particular, something he proposes via model assignments: Memory, or more specifically local and family history, Mapping, or the synthesizing of data from your public space, Judgement, or practice ajudicating, and finally Design, or the development of problem solving skills (Fleming 207-209). He finally concludes this book with a bit of an ode to the lessons taught by the city, closing out a book devoted to studying them (Fleming 209-210).

Fleming’s book comes at an interesting time in our nation. As urbanization and gentrification increase at a rapid rate, we are building a new foundation in the cities that will likely define our relationship with our spaces for decades to come. Fleming’s idea, whether or not they are impractical, suggest a new way of dealing with our relationships to our spaces outside of traditional or emerging frameworks. Moreover, an increased self-government is likely the only to deal with the persistent political problems our modern urbanization has caused, where a clear majority of voters live in a minority of urban districts. Such problems, and the economic problems this also caused, can be pretty clearly linked to the rise of Donald Trump, yet another overreaching proponent of “small government” in office. Ultimately, we likely need much of the self-government Fleming promotes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *