chapter  2
27 Pages

The city as human

WithRob Sullivan

The city has also been presented and/or represented as a human being, as if the being of the human is the thing most aligned with the being of the city. In this chapter I use Paris as our example and Balzac, Zola, Janet Flanner, Henry James, Louis Chevalier, and W. G. Sebald as our interpreters of Paris. How does it come about that cities are discussed as if they have moods, personalities, emotions, and a sense of agency? Cities are one of the most anthropomorphized entities in the world, the idea being that, because humans built and created them, the city is therefore human. And what I argue for here is that the city is indeed human, or that, at the least, one of its metaphysical aspects is human. This becomes especially clear when discussing agency, will, and the city, as it is quite transparent that cities seem to endow themselves with agency and will, as if the city could make decisions and act on its own. It is quite common to use language along the lines of “Rio has decided to host the Olympics” or “Dakar intends to pay back its debt by January” – constructions that explicitly imply that cities are things capable of making such decisions. We could easily rationalize this by stating that it is not the city which is doing these things, but the collective citizens or their government which are taking these actions. But the language itself belies such an easy rationalization and the language reflects reality, as cities, taken as whole entities, are things that can consider options and arrive at decisions, thus showing us that the city is human as well as creature.