How to Create Rhetoric

Map of D.C.

Map of Chicago

In “Cities of Rhetoric”  in City of Rhetoric David Fleming concludes that perfect cities of rhetoric, or cities in which civilians can come together to hear each other out fairly and talk through disagreements, are difficult to create, but not impossible. Furthermore, Fleming argues that as part of our human nature, we keep striving to create these “strong publics.” In other words, Fleming ends his book by reflecting on the types of publics that thrive, such as “the urban district, a public with (prototypically speaking) a medium-sized population (50-100,000), settled in a medium-size space…” (201) compared to previously mentioned publics that survived but ultimately failed in creating successful spaces of rhetoric. More specifically, Fleming focuses on how we can try to, or even hope to try to, build strong publics; Fleming believes that by teaching “civic education,” or city-based education with a focus on community interactions, in public schools is the first step on changing the way our cities function. Essentially, the conclusion is that the physical space of cities can influence interactions between its civilians in ways we don’t think about, but we can teach our kids to think in ways which we do not. For example, Fleming says, “just as we need to make our schools more civic… we need to make our cities more educational…” (209). As Fleming states, we have the power to change how future generations view public spaces, and we also have the power to change our public spaces to educate us.

In a broader context, I believe that Fleming is onto something with his ideas in his final chapter. While we may not think about it that much, our cities do teach us a lot. Fleming uses Chicago in his book, but that’s not a city I’m overly familiar with. Instead, I’ll look at Washington D.C.. The nation’s capital is supposed to be a place where rhetoric occurs. It is supposed to the the place where all major national matters get hashed out. However, there are clear divides within the city. Georgetown, for example, has no metro stop to keep the lower class out. If we change this, we can change the message that sends to the public. Furthermore, if we take the time to educate our young on relevant matters such as civic discourse, we can look into the future at least hoping that younger generations will be able to create what we couldn’t.





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The Failure and Realization of Chicago’s Proposed Housing

In the chapter “Toward a New Sociospatial Dialect” in the book City of Rhetoric by David Fleming, the examples from chapters 4-7 are examined in terms of how discourse takes place and whether or not each “plan” was successful. In looking back at the ghetto, Schaumburg, the Near North Side, and 1230 North Burling Street, Fleming determined that while none of these proposals were perfect fixes, they may be a start to finding a way to create an environment that promotes public discourse. The most successful plan, 1230 North Burling Street, created an environment where its residents tried to act as one community. The issue with this was the homogeneity that came about. The second most successful proposal was the Near North Side. The idea of a diverse environment was promising, but ultimately, the majority of the power resided with the upper class residents. As for Schaumburg, it appeared promising for lower class citizens but ended up being another way to separate races. Finally, Cabrini Green, or the ghetto, was simply just segregated from the rest of Chicago and became known for all of it’s bad attributes.

The overall finding was that the environment of a society or community is influential on how the people in said community respond in three main ways. According to Fleming, the effects from the environment are “contingent,” “nonlinear,” and “dynamic.” In saying the responses from the people are contingent, Fleming suggests that the atmosphere and feel of a community is factor that dictates how people from different races, social classes, and socioeconomic status feel in the same setting. Similarly, Fleming’s idea of the effect of a place being nonlinear is essentially natural selection in terms of sociology. In other words, an environment responds to the extremes in terms of “good” and “bad” families. Finally, Fleming’s idea of environmental influence being dynamic suggests that one’s susceptibility to the influence of the environment changes over time. Essentially, from childhood to adulthood, the way in which we respond to our environment changes based on our interactions with our communities.

Using these three ways in which the environment affects the people, Fleming takes a different stance on ways in which we can create cities with genuine public discourse. While trying to create little utopian communities like 1230 North Burling Street may not be a sufficient way to go about this, Fleming suggests we focus on making sure everyone has equal opportunities in their communities. The people of Cabrini Green did not necessarily choose their situation, rather, they were not given the chance to escape or change it. In a similar manner, the upper class residents of North Town Village had many more choices of homes than the lower class residents did. Taking all of this into consideration, Fleming prompts us to find ways to make sure everyone gets the same opportunities, and in turn, people might be more inspired to participate in public discourse.

The North Side of Chicago (Yes, It’s a Thing!)

In the chapter “New Urbanism” in City of Rhetoric, David Fleming gives real-life examples of his views from earlier chapters on commonplaces and built environments in terms of Chicago, Illinois. With a focus on the North Town Village and the Near North Side, Fleming explains the difficulties the city faced while trying to erect mixed-income communities. Since, as Fleming explains, the “‘one-for-one’ replacement rule” had been removed, tearing down old infrastructure to rebuild new homes and communities was a lot easier (124). That being said, the city still faced challenges with getting different socioeconomic classes together. Chicago, a city known for its segregation and crime, would have to find a way to bring people together to coexist in a civil way.

One area of focus was Chicago’s Near North Side, and remodeling this part of the city meant changing the Cabrini Green housing that was known for its crime, drug use, and poverty. However, one way to combat this was with the idea of “New Urbanism” (125). This idea focused on public space, one of Fleming’s main topics in earlier chapters, and interaction through close proximity from people of all backgrounds. Furthermore, there is an emphasis placed on close-knit quarters, community living, and pedestrian activity, all of which promote discourse in one form or another. From 1993 up until 2002, various plans and companies were thrown around in the debate of how to best go about remodeling the north side of Chicago. As of 2002, the Near North Redevelopment Initiative (NNRI) had multiple projects underway.

Another area of focus was Chicago’s North Town Village (formerly known as Halsted North). This part of the city, with the help of Holsten Real Estate Development Corporation, quickly became a pinnacle of redevelopment and a center for public discourse. With the first tenants moving in in the Spring of 2001, the emphasis of community was quickly brought into the spotlight. This emphasis on community is a prime example of Fleming’s previous chapter. Fleming made the point that in the built environment around us helps to dictate discourse and interactions within the environment. As Fleming explains about the North Town Village, the focus of the mixed-income community was not individual families and their differences, but the community as a whole mixture of people. That being said, the world is not perfect, and there are some drawbacks to this type of community.

While Fleming commends public discourse, he also sees problems within the mixed-income communities of Chicago. The biggest issue, Fleming says, is the fact that higher-income community members have more power in their environment. Since low-income families may be living in the community since it is the only thing they can afford, they do not have the luxury of being able to say, “I don’t like [insert problem about the community]. Fix it, or I’m moving elsewhere.” Therefore, the people with money are the ones with the say. In addition to economic status, Fleming suggests that race is also an issue. According to Fleming, individuals of one race tend to do better overall if they grow up surrounded by people of the same race. Unfortunately, the world is not perfect, and we cannot fix every problem with mixed-income communities, but if we continue to participate in public discourse, like these communities help us to do, we can make these areas better places.