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.





Photos from

The Problem With Our Public

In the chapter “The Placelessness of Political Theory” in City of Rhetoric, David Fleming describes the foundation for the idea that public discourse no longer exists as in our world due to the built environment. Public discourse, in the context of Fleming’s work, refers to civil and just speech and debate between people who make up a society. In Fleming’s eyes, the people of the public should have a way and a place to come together and discuss similarities and differences in a setting that is safe for all views. This place is what Fleming refers to as a “commonplace.” The goal of people coming together in these commonplaces is to have a physical shared experience of hashing out politics (note: politics is not used here in terms of Republican/Democrat). However, to have these interactions in these so-called “commonplaces,” we must step away from our idea of mobility and fluidity. In what Fleming refers to as the “postmodern public” we as humans focus on three main things: globalization, diaspora, and multipositionality. In other words, we try to be everywhere at once. We try to do everything and communicate with everyone. In this postmodern public, the things that connect us are mainly things from our collective imagination. This is not to say that we need to go back to republicanism or liberalism; we don’t. While these two places for politics have been used in the past, they have been just that– the past. With the technology and constantly-developing physical spaces we have today, we need to find a way to ground ourselves and construct a place for open discussion of the issues relevant to societies today. The main issue with this, as Fleming argues, is our current built environment. The ways we have set up our cities and towns are not inviting to unity. And this is not just on the larger scale of cities themselves. This disconnect can be seen in architecture too. The design of buildings themselves and their placements in their environments can dictate who is able to go where easily and vise versa. Because of this, the public has been separated, and there is no easy or convenient way to come together for public discourse. Even as we keep developing our world, we still need to communicate with the people around us; we need to communicate with the people who are affected by the same changes in society as us. Everyone has a say in at least one issue. If we could all come together and hash it out in a civil manner, then why don’t we? Without commonplaces and public discourse, we run the risk of giving up our civil liberties to those in power and we ourselves become a part of whatever collective imaginations we follow.