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The Resilient CityHow Modern Cities Recover from Disaster$
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Lawrence J. Vale and Thomas J. Campanella

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780195175844

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195175844.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 04 December 2021

Making Progress: Disaster Narratives and the Art of Optimism in Modern America

Making Progress: Disaster Narratives and the Art of Optimism in Modern America

1 (p.27) Making Progress: Disaster Narratives and the Art of Optimism in Modern America
The Resilient City

Kevin Rozario

Oxford University Press

As the philosopher Martin Heidegger once revealed, there are etymological affinities linking the words building, dwelling, and thinking. The history of language, in this instance, teaches a profound lesson: that building is never simply a technical exercise, never solely a question of shelter, but also inevitably a forum for dwelling on life; it is nothing less, in many respects, than a form of thinking. Louis Sullivan famously described the architect as “a poet who uses not words but building materials as a medium of expression.”Certainly, when we build we are telling stories about the world, sculpting the cultural landscape even as we remold the physical one. But if buildings tell stories, it is also true that stories make buildings. When offices, stores, and homes are suddenly and unexpectedly annihilated, it is necessary not only to manufacture new material structures but also to repair torn cultural fabrics and damaged psyches. With this in mind, I propose to explore the relationship between the rebuilding of cities with mortar and bricks and the rebuilding of cultural environments with words and images in the aftermath of great urban disasters—a double process neatly caught in the twin meanings of the word reconstruction as “remaking” and as “retelling.” The reconstruction of events in our minds, the stories we hear and tell about disasters, the way we see and imagine destruction—all of these things have a decisive bearing on how we reconstruct damaged buildings, neighborhoods, or cities. Construction, in this sense, is always cultural. We cannot build what we cannot imagine. We create worlds with words. We build stories with stories. Certainly we cannot build with any confidence or ambition without some faith in the future. So when we consider the extraordinary endurance of American cities over the past couple of centuries when confronting fires, floods, earthquakes, and wars, one of our tasks must be to ask how people have perceived and described the disasters that have befallen them. In this chapter, I will examine the role of disaster writings and what I amcalling a “narrative imagination” in helping Americans to conceive of disasters as instruments of progress, and I will argue that this expectation has contributed greatly to this nation’s renowned resilience in the face of natural disasters.

Keywords:   Baudrillard, Jean, Erikson, Kai, Freud, Sigmund, Libeskind, Daniel

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