In this episode of The Archive Project, New Yorker columnist Brendan Gill examines city life in context of the writings of Lewis Mumford, an American historian, sociologist, philosopher, and critic best known for his studies of urban architecture. Gill reads from Mumford’s works, inserting his own concerns and humorous anecdotes along the way. He goes on to discuss urban influx, the integrity of cultural inheritance, and the importance of the survival of small cities.
Over the past couple of years, I have visited a number of American cities and have observed, nearly always with dismay, a contempt for those attributes of human life—coherence, orderliness, nobility of form—that Mumford spent a lifetime elegantly championing not merely as hallmarks of urban architecture, but of civilization itself.”
“The fear is that in their new colossal scale, these cities are becoming not merely unrecognizable, but uninhabitable.”
“As one might expect, boom towns tend to lack this integrity of cultural inheritance—either because they are too young to have achieved it or because they have ruthlessly disposed of it, along with other space-consuming heirlooms of little or no monetary value.”
“In this period of feverish urban bloat, can cities as small as I would like them to be prove themselves capable of surviving and prospering?”
Brendan Gill was an American critic best known for his writing in The New Yorker, where he critiqued film, drama, and architecture. Gill landed a job at The New Yorker straight out of college and served as the film critic from 1960 to 1967, the theatre critic from 1968 to 1987, and columnist of “Sky Line,” an architectural forum, from 1987 to 1997. His essays also appeared anonymously in the magazine’s “Talk of the Town” column. In total, he is credited with writing more than 1,200 pieces for The New Yorker and was known for being an outspoken advocate of the importance of architecture to New York City’s historical preservation, architectural excellence, and quality of life.
A New York Life, Gill’s 1990 nonfiction publication, contains sketches of many of his friends and acquaintances over the years, including Dorothy Parker, Eleanor Roosevelt, Alec Waugh, and Man Ray. His other nonfiction works include A Fair Land to Build In: The Architecture of the Empire State and The Dream Come True: Great Houses of Los Angeles. Gill also wrote biographies of Cole Porter, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Charles Lindbergh, as well as poems, novels, and plays. A year before his death, Gill published Late Bloomers, which comprised features of people who had achieved success during or after middle age, including Harry Truman, Charles Darwin, and Edith Wharton. Gill died in 1997, at the age of 83.