Hostility to cities: The destruction of New York
New York has been depicted as being destroyed by:
• Earthquake
• Fire
• Flood
• Meteor
• Comet
• Martians
• Glaciers
• Ghosts
• Atom bombs
• Class warfare
• Terrorism
• Invasion
• Apes, wolves, dinosaurs
• Disease
• Warfare
Page, Max (2008). The city’s end: Two centuries of fantasies, fears,
• Nuclear fallout
and premonitions of New York’s destruction. New Haven: Yale
• Environmental degradation (p.4) University Press.
Why the interest in the destruction of New
York City?
As historically, the largest and most important American city
financially, culturally, and politically, NYC has an
international significance.
These destruction fantasies may be fueled or motivated by:
• Ambivalence toward cities
• Hostility to immigrants/racial diversity
• Fear of technology’s impact
• Apocalyptic strain in American religious life
• A variety of social, economic, political and physical
• Jealousy, envy, resentment?
Alienation: A Major Theme in 19th Century
• Emile Durkheim’s theory of
alienation: Suicide as
stemming from either too
much integration or too little
integration with society as
well as anomie
(normlessness) due to rapid
societal change.
• Karl Marx wrote that worker’s
had no control over their
work and lives and
experienced alienation from
other workers and the means
of production.
Georg Simmel
• An influential German
sociologist and
philosopher often cited
for his writing on the
psychological effects
of city living
• “The Metropolis and
Mental Life” (1903)
was a very influential
paper adopted and
updated by Milgram
Milgram’s Cognitive Overload Model:
Reactions to Overload
• Represents an updating of Simmel’s
explanation of the difference
between rural and urban life
• Long standing interest in
differentiating the city from the
Ferdinand Toënnies
• Ferdinand Toënnies described a
difference between Gemeinschaft
(community)and Gesellschaft
Milgram’s Cognitive Overload Model:
Reactions to Overload
• Allocate less time to each input (brusque manner)
• Disregard low priority inputs
• Redrawn boundaries in social transactions—shift
overload to others
• Receptor is blocked prior to entrance into system
(unlisted telephone numbers)
• Filtering devices diminish intensity of inputs
(answering machines)
• Creation of special institutions to absorb
inputs/shield the individual
Lofland’s Privacy Model: Symbolic
Source: Lofland, L. H. (1973). A world of strangers: Order and action in urban
public space. New York: Basic Books
• Rules for urban behaviour:
Minimize expressivity
Minimize body contact, keep to the right
Sit away from others
Minimize eye contact with strangers
When in doubt, flee
Disattend, pretend not to notice deviants
• Jane Jacobs (19162006) described
“eyes on the street”
as a crime
prevention strategy
• Security came from
pedestrians, and
residents of a streetoriented community
Marshall McLuhan
McLuhan made a
distinction between
North American and
Mediterranean cultures’
use of space related to
privacy and community.
This cultural difference
could explain the Kitty
Genovese incident.
Marshall McLuhan’s Explanation for
the Kitty Genovese Incident
• Kitty Genovese was
murdered while 38
witnesses failed to
• McLuhan’s explanation
was different from the
diffusion of
responsibility model of
social psychology:
cultural differences in
the perception and use
of space
Marshall McLuhan
Kitty Genovese
Marshall McLuhan’s Explanation for
the Kitty Genovese Incident
• In North America, people go outside for
privacy and inside when they seek
community—to socialize with others
• In Mediterranean cultures, the reverse
is true: people go outside when they
seek community and go inside when
they seek privacy
Marshall McLuhan’s Explanation for the Kitty
Genovese Incident
• Sidewalk cafes are an
example of people going
outdoors to be with
• Mediterranean cultures
take possession of the
• North Americans don’t
view the street as their
territory—public places
become a “no-man’s
The Street in Mediterranean Culture
Martina Franca, Italy
• Note the presence
of the chairs brought
to the street from
the home and the
umbrellas drying on
the street.
• Note also the
absence of litter on
the street
Rudofsky, B. (1969). Streets for people: A primer for
Americans. New York: Van Nostrand, p. 245.

Milgram`s Cognitive Overload Model: Reactions to Overload