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.

This photo, a statue of Raleigh, NC namesake Sir Walter Raleigh, was draped with a rainbow boa during protests over the infamous North Carolinian HB2. Photo was taken by Wikipedian “Indy beetle.”

In Suzanne Tick’s essay “His & Hers: Designing for a Post-Gender Society,” she argues that the more multifarious gender perspectives allowed by an increasing number of women in the workforce also correlates with an increased move towards gender neutral design and perhaps even a full acceptance of the theory of gender as a spectrum. Tick focuses her argument on three design fields: architecture, fashion, and interior design. In short, her argument stems from the concept that Modernism, a vague term for much of the design of the mid 20th century, was fundamentally tied up in a generally sexist paradigm of self-glorification and mass production, with women being consigned to ancillary roles (Tick). However, Tick believes that an increasing widespread internalization of feminism in the west is bringing about a move away from strict masculine industrial hardness to a more sustainable model focused on the feeling of living spaces. Furthermore, she argues that this has already picked up a fast pace in the fashion world, where this intersection is increasingly leading towards a uni-gender fashion scene, where feminine clothing for men and masculine clothing for women are becoming par course, leading to a stylistic androgyny that comes hand in hand with the increasing resistance against the gender binary (Tick). Tick ties this into what is by far the most symbolic fight over gender identity: bathrooms. Finally, Tick suggests that the move to have more gender neutral restrooms ties into a greater need for accessible design in regards to alternative and nontraditional gender identities, something she ties in with the Americans With Disabilities Act as worth enforcing through legislation.

Through this essay, Tick hits on some of the more interesting aspects of the “gender revolution” we’re on the brink of. While some of her points may be arguable academically, especially vis a vis the entire modernist movement being dominated purely by masculine ideals, Tick shines when she points that, on the more distant edges of society, we are increasingly moving to a more uniform acceptance of more diverse gender identities, which will define much of the subtler aspects of our world for decades afterwards. However, I must sadly note that these arguments do seem a bit overly optimistic in light of current political events. While the predominantly liberal artistic class will likely be quite accepting of these values in maybe even a decade, issues like racism and gay rights, which are issues spanning back beyond 60 years in American politics, still play an out-sized role in the problems of the U.S., which doesn’t suggest as much utopian progress will be made as Tick hopes. However, despite this, it’s still important to make the first step.

In this chapter, Fleming finally ties Chicago back the ideas of Plato.

The eighth chapter of Fleming’s book, “Toward a New Sociospatial Dialectic,” is his attempt to tie together what has been a rather confusing work- one ostensibly about rhetoric but primarily discussing sociology. This chapter, placed after the quadrilogy of “Ghetto,” “Surburbia,” “The New Urbanism,” and “Home,” is meant to restate what Fleming’s points were and to justify his method of inquiry in regards to his ultimate thesis. Fleming organizes this chapter into what I would consider roughly three logical sections: reiteration, response, and reflection.

Fleming devotes the first few pages of the chapter to summarizing the points he made in greater depth during his individual case studies. Following the structure of the book, he first restates the basic history, given in the first chapter, necessary for understanding the trends he’s rebelling against- the phenomenon of suburbanization, combined with discriminatory housing policies that effectively made the city and suburbs into two opposed homogenous communities. (Fleming 180) He proceeds to remind us of his thesis of the need for a more localized rhetorical space, centered on a modernization of the Grecian idea of the polis, as well as an improved rhetorical education to teach citizens to be willing to take a more hands on approach in causing change in their own government. (Fleming 180) He then turns from his generalized lens of examination to a more in-depth review of Part 2, which dealt with the past, present, and future of Cabrini Green. Going chronologically, he first returns to his descriptions of the historical policy, both public and private, that caused the endemic “ghettoization” surrounding the Cabrini Green housing project, and how this trend can be more or less directly attributed to the problems endemic at the complex today. He in particular attributes the continuation of these problems to a quashing of rhetorical freedom caused by the problems of “isolation, fear, and silence” (Fleming 181). He attributes a similar attitude to the suburbs he examined, which were seemingly built to prevent even these privileged escapees from the inner city from building any form of common rhetoric (Fleming 181). Having addressed the preliminary chapters, he now addresses the two plans he most heavily advocated for within the book- the North Town Village and the RMC, which he examines within the context of 1230 North Burling Street. The North Town Village, an integrated urban neighborhood, is in his opinion the most viable option- young professionals increasingly moving into the city would help subsidize it, and the attempt to bring local residents into the community would prevent many of the problems of the dispersal option (Fleming 182). However, he also sees problems with it: it’s far too tied to the whims of wealthy, mobile professionals, who tend to white, and presumes that problems of inter-group can simply be paved over and ignored (Fleming 182). This is in contrast to the RMC model of 1230 North Burling Street, which he sees as the best in terms of localized rhetoric, but far too dependent on homogeneity and likely simply an isolated pocket of organization in the greater project, though he acknowledges that a large amount of these communities could form a cohesive city (Fleming 182). Fleming concludes this section with the note that descriptions of the ultimate conclusions are found in the next chapter.

Fleming next turns his eye to what he believes are the most likely criticisms and disagreements with critics. He firsts cites an attitude that he seems to feel that will likely taint many responses to his thesis- the humanist concept of the “complete man,” if you will. Fleming describes this as an Enlightenment era idea of man as self-reliant and self-governing, independent of his environment, which he believes influenced beliefs like poverty and unemployment being tied to personal flaws rather than environmental factors (Fleming 185). He first refutes the emphasis on mobility and cosmopolitanism that influences much modern thinking, instead positioning that viewpoint as dependent on social class rather than universal as in often suggested (Fleming 185), and then proceeds to cite numerous examples of the influence of place on the individual, from the macro scale of Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel to studies on the influence of neighbors on the individual (Fleming 185-189). He concludes by noting in particular the influence of schools, which themselves are influenced by place in regards to their funding and quality of education, which can have longlasting effects on life outcomes as well as asserting rhetoric (Fleming 190). He then abruptly transitions to a reflection on his own points.

Fleming, as should most good academics, understands the need for self-reflection in regards to academic work. In particular, he examines the most obvious question of the work- how, in concrete fact, does the outside world influence rhetoric? While he can cite a handful of anecdotal examples, he’s quick to admit that these relationships are perhaps more complex than he makes them out to be (Fleming 191-192). He cites several reasons for this: the innumerable factors that constitute an environment, the more noticeable effects at the extreme ends of environmental quality, and even the fact that change is by no means instantaneous (Fleming 192). However, this does not mean he will not defend his belief in the rhetoric of the built environment. Fleming, citing another writer, conveys that he feels that, while good design (in his terms) can have an arguable effect, bad design has a quite clear one (Fleming 193). He ultimately concludes by completing this argument, stating that the effects on rhetoric are not the direct influence of the urban planner, but the effects on opportunities the plan had- what we consider “bad neighborhoods” are devalued to the point of creating a vicious cycle of lack of improvement (Fleming 194). And this fact means that we aren’t entirely powerless against the forces of context- no matter how powerless we may feel against it.

Fleming’s eighth chapter, divided into sections reiterating his previous work, refuting critics, and reflecting upon apparent flaws in his argument, is the crux of the book. The previous chapters, while clearly related, felt like they lacked much in the way of cohesion between chapters, or, more importantly, with the book’s thesis. While it’s quite clear he references his initial concepts throughout the chapters, he doesn’t explain the reasoning behind this sociological report on Chicago until the third and final part of the book. Moreover, he feels the need to conclude the second part before stating his actual conclusions, seemingly to pad the page length for no clear purpose. Nevertheless, Fleming finally explaining the “why” behind his argument is quite refreshing after 7 chapters of confusion.

1230 North Burling St, the ideal example of the RMC, was the last building standing in Cabrini Green, but was demolished on March 30, 2011.

In the seventh chapter of David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, succinctly titled “Home,” Fleming finally addresses his favored system for the future of Cabrini Green- self-governance, rather than suburban deportation or middle class importation, as he describes in the chapters “Suburbia” and “The New Urbanism.” Fleming, after restating his previous arguments, as described in my other classmates’ third Reading Analyses and my prior ones, begins this chapter by dissecting the rhetoric that surrounds descriptions of these housing projects, with an aim towards explaining not only how it is seen by the media, but how media depictions have shaped public perception. He takes particular exception to what he feels to be the reduction of the residents of the complex, and the numerous dimensions and nuances to their identity as humans, to the single catch-all of “the poor-” reducing factors often inherently tied to race to a negative descriptor of economic failure (Fleming 151). Fleming takes acute offense at this term because he sees it as a way of whitewashing poverty, giving people the gall to make bold claims about them “not working hard enough” or being a “drain on the government” (Fleming 151). He soon transitions from the perceptions of others about public housing to the perceptions of the residents of Cabrini Green. These are, understandably, more optimistic about the possibilities of the building and more worried about its fate.

Fleming relates the fact that, as much as politicians love to ignore it, people have built lives in this neighborhood, and are loathe to leave it simply because of what politicians tell their more affluent constituents is better for these residents (159). We are then given a short history lesson at this point, describing the efforts of the residents for the past several decades to form a structured local society while persevering against willful ignorance of their needs for resources on the part of the government and the racism that would snuff legitimate African American businesses, a system that would survive until untenable funding cuts in the 80s (Fleming 162). What Fleming suggests in all of this is that the people who lived in these housing projects formed a strong bond through their struggles to create a community despite the indifference of the local government, something that sparked Fleming’s ideal solution for the Cabrini Green housing project: resident management corporations. Fleming defines these assemblages as when “control of a public housing building is turned over to the residents of that building or project instead” (Fleming 166). He cites several successful examples of these: Cochran Gardens in St. Louis, Kenilworth-Parkside in DC, and, most relevant to Fleming, 1230 North Burling St within the Cabrini Green complex. Fleming describes the rehabilitation of the complex, an effort primarily lead by a volunteer force of women discontent to accept the present conditions of their community (169). He describes in glowing terms these women’s accomplishments- creating a community that not only provided for its residents, but had become an exemplar of what was possible among these supposed examples of blight. However, he relates that not all had turned up well for the building- an application to make the building its own unique financial entity was rejected by the state government, and it was now subject to the same fate of Cabrini Green. Fleming finishes the chapter by responding to criticisms of this policy as maintaining “ghettoization,” seen by many as an impediment to African American success and as maintaining the status quo. He argues that a community with sufficient engagement in their local community would be an improvement, and that, furthermore, forced integration is likely to only provoke latent racial tension, actively harming the tolerance many seek to cultivate (Fleming 174). Fleming ends by tying this concept back into his thesis of rhetoric, suggesting that these small, self-governing communities are the laboratories of the local-scale democracy he sees as the primary fix for the problems of modern politics.

Fleming’s reflection on his chosen solution of the RMC addresses not only the society that demonized these housing projects, but the ways in which much of the problems can be resolved without drastic measures. However, Fleming’s optimism seems countered by much of his own evidence. He himself admits that these structures need to originate from a grassroots desire of a community, not command from “on high” (Fleming 168). While it can be agreed that this model exists, the effort to spark the necessary leadership and energy to pull together something like an RMC is astronomical, making this solution surprisingly impractical. While I can agree it’s the ideal solution, the fact is that it’s not a model that works everywhere, making his touting of it as a great panacea to the evils of the other two solutions frankly absurd. I can only hope that he provides a better roadmap to the viable creation of a rhetorical environment later in this text.

The Roman forum was a prime example of the Commonplaces Fleming desires.

David Fleming, in his third chapter of City of Rhetoric, entitled “A New Civic Map For Our Time,” states his greatest concern about modern democracy- namely, its focus on the elected representative rather than the individual. On top of this, he turns his attention in particular to the various microcosms, namely the neighborhood and the city itself, that could feasibly fit his ideal polis, and discusses how they do and don’t fit the criteria necessary for this form of self-government.

To begin, Fleming addresses the prevailing arena of political expression in the modern United States- namely the nation-state. More specifically, Fleming argues that the prevalence of the federal, as opposed to more local, government has created a feedback loop in the education system, where the need for a shared national rhetoric feeds into ideas of what he calls a “weak public,” a body of political citizens whose mainly influence is that of opinion formation, being those “who [help] chose the problem-solvers, and [are], at worst, a mere onlooker of others’ problem-solving” (41). Furthermore, Fleming claims that this ties into American rhetorical education, something he sees as unique in form and content to the education systems of the US, which spend of their time on essays meant to influence one’s opinion, rather than spur anyone to action (41). The solution he sees is a need to move towards a more active form of rhetorical education, where the politics of organization and cooperation come into play.

After this, Fleming addresses the two potential bastions of the polis within our local spaces: the neighborhood and the metropolis. According to Fleming, while conceptions of the neighborhood in a non-formalized sense can be traced back to Classical Greece, the emergence of the modern neighborhood occurred in New York under the city planner Clarence Perry in 1929 (46). Fleming goes on to explain that while the neighborhood was arguably an ideal way of organization to comply with the arbitrary polis size he inherits from Aristotle, the lack of real political power and the trend towards homogeneity made it almost useless as an expression of local government. He contrasts this with the metropolis, the categorical combination of a city and its outlying areas. This, while diverse enough for the proper political heterogeneity necessary for a polis, is far too large. He ultimately proposes the concept of a district, an ideal bloc of 50,000 to 100,000 people which is large enough to foster debate but small enough to work for its own self interests (Fleming 57).

Fleming’s concepts of the polis leads to several discussions of how it is not reflected in any modern conception of government, including in modern neighborhoods, cities, or metropolitan areas, or why this system had proven faulty in the past. While it remains to be seen in this book as to how Fleming plans to apply his concepts to the wider world, it’s already readily apparent that he intends to demonstrate the problems associated with many concepts of local governments, and how these apply to the greater world at large. Ultimately, the strength of his argument will come down to the success of it in practice, rather than in baseless theory.

Works Cited

Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric. SUNY Press, 2008.

Noted philosopher John Locke had a theory of the mind as a tabula rasa– a “blank slate” engraved by one’s environment. While this is scientifically arguable, the fact is that our environments throughout life have a large impact on our life. However, while most would assume environment to include social factors or pollutants, Schindler suggests that even the physical structure of our built environment can have great effects on our lives, both intentional and unintentional.

London’s infamous Camden benches, well known for appearing to be a sub-par modern art project designed purely for sitting- and nothing else.

Schindler goes into depth about how one can shape behavior through the modification of built environments. One of her core arguments, the thing that makes this a legal paper rather than a psychological or architectural one, is the concept of architecture as a method of subtle rule-making or, as she puts it, “extra-legal regulation” (Schindler 1944). She describes several real world examples of this concept, most notably park benches, like the Camden benches pictured above, designed to prevent anything but sitting. This sort of design, described as “hostile architecture,” is often used to push agendas that are politically poisonous but economically desirable, such as removing the forms of shelter the homeless would typically use for sleeping, such as park benches and canopied store windows, by the creation of benches that make laying flat impossible and the placing of spikes on windowsills. She points out how even larger developments, such as the placing of a highway, can, purposefully or not, create cultural, economic, and often racial barriers between communities within a few blocks of each other.

Spikes placed into steps of a building of France to prevent them from being used for anything but a seeming decorative purpose.

Schindler’s thesis suggests a wide variety of inquiries, making us question whether the de facto segregation of the first half of the 20th century every really ended, or was just replaced by increasingly insidious patterns of building that geographically fenced in communities even when things like redlining were overturned. While the intentionality of this can be argued to death, even Schindler’s opening arguments leave massive room for further inquiry, and suggest a new paradigm in thoughts about urban planning and systematic inequality.

Works Cited:

Quinn, Ben. “Anti-homeless spikes are part of a wider phenomenon of ‘hostile architecture.’” The Guardian, 13 Jun. 2014.

Schindler, Sarah. “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation Through Physical Design of the Built Environment.” Yale Law Journal, vol. 124, no. 6, April 2015.