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How big should local units be? Leonardo's figure is perhaps as good as any, but others have been mentioned. Jane Jacobs, an astute urban gadfly (The Death and Life of Great American Cities), says New York should be divided into units of 100,000. A recent Royal Commission recommended reorganizing London into boroughs of about 200,000 (London already has limited decentralization). Author Lewis Mumford, one of the foremost students of the city, is more flexible. A "humanly lovable city," he says, "must range somewhere between 30,000 and 300,000 people."
Bigger and Tougher
In some respects, modern society will require even more centralization than now exists; in some respects, to make it bearable as well as workable, it will require more decentralization. Achieving a balance between these two needs is perhaps the most important and difficult problem for the near future, reaching far beyond schools or other services to the heart of government. No American city has yet achieved the balance. New York has hardly given it a try. Describing his own organization's key role in helping to finance the Ocean Hill-Brownsville experiment, Ford Foundation President McGeorge Bundy acknowledged last week that "the problem was bigger and tougher" than his planners had thought. "If we had to do it over again, we would be in it earlier to get to know people better and make them more responsive."
Since the founding of such cities as Eridu and Kish in the valleys of Mesopotamia 5,500 years ago, the city has been the nerve and growth center of civilization. Despite their seemingly insoluble problems, cities are more than ever the creative heart of American society. Indeed, the city and its compounded quandariesfrom the problem of race to the issue of law and orderdominate almost all social and political debate in the country today. Ultimately, no city can solve the problems alone, for they belong to the whole society.
Cities are immensely vulnerable; their technology is fragile and their massed populations are interdependent. Yet they also possess a stubborn, stunning and almost blind will to endure. New York did not dissolve in chaos last week. It will probably not fall apart this week or next, or the week after that. With luck, it will never break down entirely. Nonetheless, a nation that prides itself on pragmatism and problem-solving can afford only at its peril to ignore the immenseand immensely complexchallenge of making its cities habitable, enjoyable and governable. Mumford told a Senate committee last year, "Unless human needs and human interactions and human responses are the first consideration, the city, in any valid sense, cannot be said to exist. As Sophocles long ago said: The city is people.' "