In the preface of his City of Rhetoric, David Fleming outlines the course he will take in his book regarding the relationship between public discourse and built environments in the United States. I have noticed that Fleming structures his argument three parts. The first part of his argument in the preface is the rejection of implicit judgement of his topic. He establishes that his work is unique in this part. In the second part of his argument, Fleming introduces the perspectives he uses to come to his conclusions and gives historical examples, thereby convincing his audience to read further into his piece. The last part of the preface, however, indirectly makes the claim that if we can change the environment around us, we can change the politics it produces.
Fleming does make clear that he doesn’t wish to take a traditional work of view, but a commentary on existing built environments and how the influence public discourse. Fleming states that his book is a “verbal portrait of contemporary civic life in the United States” (xi). He emphasizes this because he feels it is important to communicate to his audience the uniqueness of his perspective. By offering this “verbal portrait,” he isn’t trying to explain deep historical trends rooted in sociological studies. Instead, Fleming reaffirms that he is offering commentary on existing trends of community development and political activity. Fleming states that, with his book, he will attempt to “crack open the visible world of our local lives and find within it a specifically political rationale” (xi). Once again, he is making clear to his audience what his purpose is and why his perspective is unique from other people who have contributed to similar conversations.
Subsequently, Fleming introduces the tools and techniques he wishes to explore the relationship between discourse and environments. In order to achieve his goal, Fleming says he will bring together “three traditions of thought not usually linked: political philosophy, urban design, and rhetorical theory” (xii). The mixture of these three perspectives when trying to understand the effect place has on discourse contributes new material to existing conversations in each of the three traditions individually. Fleming then develops this part of the preface by offering historical examples regarding how actors like ancient Greeks, the founders of democracy, utilized principles of urban planning to promote democracy. With the various examples Fleming offers, he builds trust within his audience because readers will then start to trust there is indeed a relationship between space and discourse. This helps to draw attention to Fleming’s argument in the rest of his book.
As the preface comes to a close, Fleming suggests that if we can understand these relationships, we can actively reshape them to influence the politics of our environment. Fleming makes sure to emphasize the importance of studying the relationship between public discourse and the built environment. Fleming states, “if we continue to design our landscape so that we need not have contact with people who are different from us, we should not be surprised when the political life that results is impoverished” (xiv). By saying so, he is suggesting that the opposite approach will have an adverse affect. To elaborate, Fleming is hinting that if we design our landscape to have us in contact with people that may be different than us, we may see a revitalization in public discourse and a surge in political participation.