In his early twenties through his early forties, between the first and second World Wars, Mumford, like Hopper, often took long walks through cities, and the urban survey—or reconnaissance, as he often called it—became his fundamental research method.
About 100 years ago, the United States became a predominantly urban nation, and the percentage of Americans living in cities has steadily increased. But a careful study of the 1920s and 30s, when this trend became clear, reveals a powerful ambivalence in American culture, especially when it came to the environmental implications of urbanization. This talk juxtaposes the cityscapes of the painter Edward Hopper with the writings of urban critic Lewis Mumford (author of Technics and Civilization and The Culture of Cities) to explore that ambivalence. Both Hopper and Mumford had serious concerns about how atomizing and alienating life could be in a metropolis. But their work also suggests the potential for certain kinds of public-oriented urban environments to act as common ground, to help people rediscover their sense of connection.