Modern Man in the Metropolis

In The Metropolis and Mental Life, Georg Simmel states an interesting viewpoint from his particular time period at the very beginning of the 20th century. He views the city several decades after the Industrial Revolution and reflects on the new urban centers that have been transformed into massive metropolis which now present new logics and affect their inhabitants in ways before unseen. He believes that cities have become overwhelming in their scale and complexity. They are demanding more of people than the rural environments; they stress the objective over the subjective. Due to the sheer number of people and intellect, cities have become a place of higher competition and specialization, which in turn leads to an increased dependence on the larger society. Furthermore, this leads to a blurring of social and cultural lines, which were historically prominent in rural communities. Although there is blurring of boundaries, urbanites feel more alone in the city. They are in a condition of seeing rather than hearing people. “Where the agoraphobia of the public realm becomes transformed into its natural complement, claustrophobia, now no longer confined to the private realm, the metropolitan dweller is equally a prisoner of both.” They are in a condition of simultaneously being in and out. And while urbanites feel alone in the city, they also feel restricted, socially and intellectually, in the rural. They are trapped, isolated within the bigness and inhumanity of the city but also discontented with the lack of freedom and culture of the rural.

Nearly one hundred years later, Vidler, in Agoraphobia: Spatial Estrangement in Georg Simmel and Siegfried Kracauer, reintroduces the arguments Simmel and his contemporaries and places them within a context. However, I do not believe he goes far enough relating his own time to that of the early 1900s. Are Simmel’s interpretations a broad oversimplification of urban living, a calculated oversimplification to push his own views on city and society? Has the experience of the urban dwellers changed in the last one hundred years? Especially with the advent of the automobile, has the feeling of isolation amid multitudes increased? What affect does that have on the city or on Simmel’s arguments? I believe these were missed opportunities on Vidler’s part.