City on a Hill: Urban idealism in America from the Puritans to the Present
with Alex Krieger
The first European settlers saw America as a paradise regained. The continent seemed to offer a God-given opportunity to start again and build the perfect community. Those messianic days are gone. But as Alex Krieger argues in City on a Hill, any attempt at a deep understanding of how the country has developed must recognize the persistent and dramatic consequences of utopian dreaming. Even as ideals have changed, idealism itself has for better and worse shaped our world of bricks and mortar, macadam, parks, and farmland. As he traces this uniquely American story from the Pilgrims to the “smart city,” Krieger delivers a striking new history of our built environment.
The Puritans were the first utopians, seeking a New Jerusalem in the New England villages that still stand as models of small-town life. In the Age of Revolution, Thomas Jefferson dreamed of citizen farmers tending plots laid out across the continent in a grid of enlightened rationality. As industrialization brought urbanization, reformers answered emerging slums with a zealous crusade of grand civic architecture and designed the vast urban parks vital to so many cities today. The twentieth century brought cycles of suburban dreaming and urban renewal―one generation’s utopia forming the next one’s nightmare―and experiments as diverse as Walt Disney’s EPCOT, hippie communes, and Las Vegas.
Krieger’s compelling and richly illustrated narrative reminds us, as we formulate new ideals today, that we chase our visions surrounded by the glories and failures of dreams gone by.
Alex Krieger has combined a career of teaching and practice, dedicating himself in both to improving the quality of place and life in our major urban areas. Bringing 40 years of experience, Alex has served a broad array of clients in numerous cities worldwide. Alex is a Professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, where he has taught since 1977. During his career, he frequently advises mayors and their planning staff; serves on a number of boards and commissions, including the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He is published widely on American urbanization, including numerous essays and his most recent book, City on a Hill.