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« A Few Thoughts on Modern Metaphysics | Main | Urbicide as 'Crime Against Humanity' »

Urban Destruction and Social Bonds

Hi Martin. Thank you for preparing your opening remarks, and thanks to Mike for sending me the articles, on which I will comment briefly.

I appreciate your emphasis on how human identity is created in respect to built thing in the city, and presumably elsewhere. Your description of how attacks on urban infrastructure seek to destroy this identity, whether in the form of the American "shock and awe attack" on Baghdad, or the 9/11 attacks on New York as an assault on complex urban infrastructure, is an interesting one.

As a sociologist though, I can¹t help wondering about what happens after the battle is finished? There is a small if scattered literature about how humans regroup after catastrophe, of which urbicide (or attempted urbicide) strikes me as being a prime example. Sometimes it seems that they become more anomic as a result of an attack. In other cases, they seem to pull together in the face of a shared attack/threat.

The first example is illustrated by Kai Erikson’s book Everything in its Path, which is a story about how a West Virginia town was flooded after a dam break in the early 1970s. This sudden urbicide (o.k. maybe townicide) meant that the people living there were relocated into trailers without reference to pre-existing social networks. They lived physically close to each other, but in trailer parks, and without reference to past relationships or communities. When Erikson and his students studied the nature of the social networks, they found that despite the attention to physical infrastructure, rates of alcoholism,
suicide, divorce, etc. had increased. It is Erikson's thesis that this resulted from the destruction of social bonds as a delayed consequence of the catastrophic event. Little attention was paid to the restoration of social bonds after the destruction of the town, and as a result the town's "social capital" evaporated.

But, having said that, catastrophe can also be the basis for a community pulling together. Military activity in particular can at times cause people to draw closer together both during the attacks, and after the attacks. This seems to have happened following the 9/11 attacks in New York on the United States. Americans pulled together in the context of the attacks, and even the crime rates in New York City declined. Those who write of cities under attack, or military units, often note the intense relationships that form in such contexts.

This is of course a bit outside of what you are writing about now. But, if you are ever looking to write another book (or two or three!), maybe it is something to consider! Congratulations on getting Urbicide published.

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