Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Changes in the City

More on Harvie Conn's Urban Ministry: The Kingdom, the City and the People of God  (Leicester, Inter-Varsity, 2001).

Chapter 12, Urban Constancy and Change 

Cities change.

City and civilization are not synonymous, but the city has a unique power to reflect and preserve the culture of which it is a part. Cities are not bounded sets but subsystems, local displays of that supralocal context we call culture or society. They are link, mirroring dynamically a worldview, a lifestyle larger than themselves. They are symbolic centers that concentrate, intensify and orchestrate culture’s re-creating forces (222).

Redfield and Singer (1980 [1954]) sought to explain the role cities play in the development of civilizations. “The authors proposed,” says Conn, “a typology of two cities, a distinction between orthogenetic, largely preindustrial cities of moral order out of which came the Great Tradition and heterogenetic, postindustrial cities of technical order and differing little traditions. The orthogenetic city, the authors argued, safeguarded, sophisticated and elaborated social traditions and cultural stability. The heterogenetic city sought to change them” (222)

My study of the city of Lalitpur in Nepal was of what Redfield and Singer would have called an orthogenetic city. In fact the city developed as various disparate groups of migrants arrived, bringing their cultural artifacts and religious traditions with them. The genius of the city was to incorporate them into the whole without demanding religious conformity. But the festivals unite the city in a powerful and tangible way even today as modernity adds another layer of complexity.