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.