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    In what sense can cities be said to be unsettling? Essay

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    What does the question imply when quoting unsettling, could it be the way that constantly changing city rhythms place pressure on how we see cities, as it changes and drive these movements from one status quo to the next. If cities are places of constant change what effect will this have on the relations that exist within the city in be they social, human, and natural, non-human, spheres of interaction or coexistence. What effect will one set of relations have upon the other?

    If cities are to be seen as unsettling then we need to understand the cause of this constant movement and change within and between different interconnections. We need to be aware that there are different relationships within a city whilst some groups never come into contact with other groups, some are totally dependant on others and all point in between.

    There is a need to understand that cities are full of tensions, tensions between different groups, communities and other formations and that the power relationships between these varied groups may lead to change in one direction over that chosen, or wanted by other group or groups. The direction a city heads in has to be decided by a person or group of individuals, it cannot choose it’s own direction, as the direction chosen is based upon how certain groups depending on their power see the city in the future, those in power choose the path that the city follows. We saw how Bangalore in India is taking advantage of its’ highly educated yet low paid workforce and move into the information technology industry, the city has decided to take this route, hoping it will bring prosperity and growth to the area.

    Cities are places that draw in migrants, regionally, nationally and internationally,as we can see in the example of Bangalore as each wave of immigration takes place a new set of relationships are formed, as the new arrivals remain connected to their previous homes, through communication, ethnicity, values and possibly the repatriation of funds.

    If we look for example at the waves of migrants arriving in New York, we can see that as one group bettered themselves another was quick to established itself and take their place, the Irish were replaced by the Italians who were replaced by the Eastern Europeans and now by migrants from African, Asian and South American origins.

    As each wave of migration arrives at a city it brings not only a new workforce but many other things, cultures, values, languages. This multiplicity of webs of interconnections add further to the city’s existing make up, new connections are formed that keep city life interesting and in a state of constant change, the new relationships establish themselves, in time they become accepted, again looking at New York we are more likely to see the Italian Mafia as American rather than as Italian migrants.

    As new groups arrive new associations are formed, as groups move further out into the city they too form new associations, perhaps changing established associations or merely starting a new off-shoot from a previously established association.

    The diversity and constant change that is found in cities is, as most of the writers agree, seen as beneficial. The chance for new cultures to meet leads to diversity, inclusiveness and understanding, and results in new ways of living and working.

    The flows of so many different lifestyles and people across a modern city leads to millions of random interactions occurring every day. Cities, in their size and variety, are freed from the boundaries of traditional social conduct and the pace of change is much greater than that found in other places outside of cities.

    Yet change is not seen as a good by all people, some residents of the city see difference as unwanted, they attempt to minimise their contact with others. These residents believe that their lives and the lives of those who are similar, should be protected, that they have a right to enclose themselves within gated communities where bylaws and residential committees, with private enforcement officers, maintain a status quo, a status quo set by the residents on the inside. These pockets of settlement as they seem to be are like islands in a sea of constant change, change that the enclaved residents see as bad and something to be protected from.

    But these gates communities are not one hundred percent watertight, otherness can enter the compounds, service staff, friends of children from school and media in its many forms can all creep into these preserved spaces and they can all have an effect in some way.

    So if all parts of a city are subject to constant change can we say that this is a sense of unsettling, even the most settled of places may have much going on under the surface, to maintain the apparent status quo.

    So if cities are places of constant change what are the consequences of such unsettling occurrences. What are the implications for social, human and natural, non-human relations within a city.

    As cities change the social upheaval following has resulted in a change in both the way that men and women relate to each other. Freed from the traditional ways that were necessary in smaller settlements people are now free to roam the public spaces of the city, the move to a city has reordered the spatial and social lives of residents.

    As people became more public then the importance of their public lives took over from their private lives, new opportunities for association developed and through these associations people were able to identify with and grade themselves against others. Yet in this new order people met by chance rather than by design, strangers together. Iris Young is a champion of greater diversity through the chance meetings of strangers, preferring this type of contact over the suffocating cosiness of community where diversity is stifled as people try to belong.

    “As the cities grew, and developed networks of sociability…. Places where strangers might regularly meet… that even the labouring classes began to adopt some of the habits of sociability, like promenades in the park, which were formerly the exclusive province of the elite.”

    (Sennett, 1977/1986, p17)

    The quote above typifies the type of new activities that city life brought about. Here Sennett gives an example of how freed from previous expectations and behavioural patterns the labouring classes act in the manner they wish, just as the elite have always done. In this way new associations are formed with strangers, through interaction in the many new open arenas.

    As the public sphere expanded the private sphere, that of family and home became a refuge with a higher value placed upon it than the public arena. The public space became a place where an individual could break the laws of respectability this lead to an increase of others being seen as strangers or in Sennetts words “…people determined to remain strangers to each other” (Sennett, 1977/1986, p23)

    We need to be aware that public spaces have an identity too, we may find it easier to place an identity on a stranger than on a space but it is crucial to understand that certain places have an affinity to certain individuals. This exclusivity of space may be through class, gender or age, to name but a few identities, but there are spaces where some individuals feel welcomed whilst others do not.

    This identification of space is a social construct, society has expectations of who should be where, and that these expectations may change depending on the time of day, if we look at the Balsall Heath example a woman walking during the day on the streets of the area would could be seen as respectable, yet a woman walking the notorious streets at night would be seen in a different light.

    As cities have become unsettled places the ability to identify certain areas with certain activities or groups makes life easier for the residents of the city who need to be able to recognise where they are and whether they should be there. The identity of place also provides a foundation for newly formed or formalised communities, this is evident in the gay communities found within cities.

    Following years of persecution the gay communities of major cities are establishing their own neighbourhoods to provide a sense of permanence to their lives. Whilst we may think of gay communities as a recent phenomenon George Chauncey (1995) had documented the New York gay community back to 1890. A policy of non intervention by the police, excluding the highly publicised Stonewall riots, resulted in the gay community becoming a part of the fabric of New York city.

    If human relations are constantly changing then can we also expect the non-human relationships to change to. Whilst there are some commentators who see nature and human city life as mutually exclusive, that nature is moved on as urban life takes over. There are also those who see nature within our cities and there are those who see this nature flourishing in an urban environment.

    Moving on with the evolutionary theme we were also asked to look at the effect such change may have on the natural relations within a city. We are given a couple of perspectives of how nature exists and has adapted within our cities, both see nature within our cities but from different standpoints. The first, W H Hudson (1898/1969, p5-6 and 89-92), comments on his dread of being forced to spend his summer away from the country, trapped in the city, expecting not to see any flora and fauna yet he is impressed by the birds that have created their homes in the green spaces within the urban environment. Hudson is anti-urban as can be seen in his negative references to the non natural features of the city. The discovery of nature does not enamour Hudson to the city but allows him to day dream and think of the countryside.

    The creation and preservation of small green spaces within our cities provide homes for many different species. Unlike Fig 4.3 (Page 147) where nature is excluded from the urban areas and only lives on the periphery Hudson sees nature cohabiting within the city, but still containerised within specific places, this is more apparent in Fig 4.4 (Page 152). Yet as the city has changed nature has not been excluded it has adapted, some species have been replaced by others changed their habits.

    Moving on from this containerisation of the natural within the other commentator, Elizabeth Wilson, sees things differently. Wilson sees nature as sharing our urban space, that the fox, and other less fondly thought of animals, enter our worlds, they have adapted to take advantage of the detritus produced by modern city living.

    This sharing of space smudges the lines between human and non-human worlds moving away from Lewis Mumfords view of spatially contained city life into a view of cities where the boundaries are more indistinct, where Mumford sees disorder and aims to correct this Wilson sees disorder as a form of order, a natural order that has found its own level, an ordered city nature formation that is perhaps not obvious to human senses.

    As cities grow the space they use increases greatly, space that may seem uninhabited to humans may be home to many other species. Two examples are given of frictions between city nature formations and urban rhythms, the first is the expansion of Greater London into the Rainham Marshes. The marches are currently seen as unmanaged and in a poor state yet there are many varied plants that are rare or only found here, in fact the area is classed as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). The developers promise to bring better management to the wildlife areas in return for the development of some of the land. Whilst the development was never realised, probably due to recession rather than ecological reasons, this shows how the need to provide space for cities can usurp the needs of natural relations.

    We are given an example where in North America the city nature formations and flows are now taken into account, where special nature friendly corridors are set up to allow nature to prosper. That the changing sensibilities of local populations are making greater allowance for nature rather than dominating it in the fashion told in many a foundational story.

    Cities have grown and evolved into the entities they are today, we can expect that they will continue to do so and that this sustained growth will be based on the intensity and variety of relationships within and outside of the city.

    Cities planners need to realise that it is the openness of cities and the random meetings of strangers that lead to new associations and that cities need to ensure that cities are inclusive rather than exclusive with free access to promote these activities.

    We need to be aware that there are relationships other than human within our urban spaces and that these natural worlds enter our own space at some time, there is no distinct border between human and non-human worlds. An awareness that nature can flourish within an urban environment should be taken into account when city planners are deciding in what direction to take the city, the North American approach of transspecies helping the natural world will surely increase the variety and diversity of non-human relations that is found in our cities, cities may well become megalopolis but they are far from becoming necropolis.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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