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Sterling Newberry on Citizenship

To be a citizen is, literally, to be “of the city” — the very fractiousness that makes a city means that a “civic sense” is going to be not a monument, but a river which is constantly carving out new channels, overflowing its banks, absorbing new tributaries and branching out into deltas. It is a spirit that pervades urban life at its best, which creates a sense of openness and possibity, and importantly a sense of the possibility of creating a community of choice — the hall mark of the city is that one may find, whatever ones interests and ideas, at least some small number of people who share them to an intensity that you may gather together as a group to advance them. The great urban flowerings of the past — for example Pharonic Thebes, Classical Athens, Hellenistic Alexandria, Moghul Dehli, Augustinian Rome, Renaissance Florence, Elizabethan London, Romantic Paris, Fin de la Siecle Vienna, Weimar Berlin, Modern New York – shows what it is capable of producing in its hey dey. The imperfection of civic life is, to me, part of the dynamic energy which makes it exciting. Utopian ideals are for idyllic rural colonies in the hills, where serenity reigns and there is a quiet exclusivity. Urbanity is the profane orgy of human excitement wrapped in the fine control of a sacred sense of polity.


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