David Fleming, in the afterword of his book titled The City of Rhetoric, argues that if we wish to see any advancement in American society, we must no longer neglect the important relationship between a given space and socioeconomic trends. This chapter is unique in the sense that he begins by providing historical and political examples that many Americans are aware of. He references political bills, statistical data, and publicized orations. To clarify his argument, he remaps the arguments he developed throughout the course of the book. This way, we understand the relevance of what seemed like arbitrary detail in the part before. Finally, he stresses the relationship between space and socioeconomic issues is not coincidental. Before we can understand the complexity of the world we live in, we must examine our built environments. If we can understand the rhetoric of our built environments, we can prevent the further fragmentation of our society.
Fleming begins his argument by listing examples of major events that the American public has experienced, and this solidifies the connection between his work and the real world. For instance, Fleming begins this chapter with a quote from the U.S. Housing Act of 1949 which reads, “The Congress declares that the general welfare and security of the Nation and the health and living standards of its people require . . . the realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” (211). This allows Fleming a platform to introduce other historical examples of the American government addressing public planning, and their failure to address it well. He references how the Bush administration circa 2006 failed to uphold the standards set by the 1949 Housing Act and how hurricane Katrina revealed that the American government had tried to mask worsening socioeconomic trends as indicators of progress. To Fleming’s readers, such examples draw the connection between theory and practice. For lack of better terms, it simply becomes real.
To reinforce this concept, Fleming revisits and reflects on the examples he had explained in depth throughout his novel. He recalls the shortcomings of Cabrini Green, Chicago’s suburbia, and unforgiving high rises. After acknowledging them, David Fleming begins to answer the proverbial question, “So what?” And to that, he answers that design, by nature, is natural and countervailing to large-scale political and economic forces. Design is organic, and to force design to work differently and to separate people, the design is flawed. To further the concept of a relationship between a built environment and larger economic, social, and political issues, he appeals to a widely accepted cause–global warming. Fleming argues ironically, “dense, centered cities— as “un-natural” as they often seem to us— may be our best hope in fighting global warming and, ultimately, saving Earth as a habitable planet” (215). He references this because, one way or another, he is trying to convince his readers why these concepts are important. If one reason isn’t enough to convince his readers, then this might.
The overall message of Fleming’s afterword inspires a sense of activism. It is short, concise, and despondent. Fleming recognizes the fragmentation and polarization of American society is only increasing, and that he doesn’t have much hope even in newer generations to reverse this trend. However, Fleming isn’t entirely convinced there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Although he expects there is no point in placing the burden upon future generations to essentially reverse a trend that has been developing for centuries, he claims that the minds of youth are still malleable. I admire the way Fleming ends this last chapter. Fleming states, “Perhaps if young people experience, even just within the walls of a high school or college classroom, what it can be like to be members of a strong public, they will grow up and demand such publics in the ‘real world’” (214). And how are these “strong republics” formed? Well, the first step is to understand our built environment.