The absence of esthetic gratification—an outstanding characteristic of the architecture of our cities—has definite effects on the community as well as on individuals. The main effects become apparent through a multitude of symptoms, ambiguous enough to be seldom traced and related to their origin: without esthetic gratification man’s capacity to give meaning to his life atrophies. The untranscended life is not worth living, though it sputters on amorphously. The feeling of valuelessness, of futility—which oozes from our suburbs as much as it does from the city itself—is at the root of the tedium vitae, the listless and the restless boredom, the quiet or unquiet desperation which generates so many of our amusements, crimes and neuroses.
AMERICAN SLUMS never offered much esthetic gratification. Unlike many European slums, they are not, after all, neglected places through which the splendor of the past still shines. There is no splendor, no past. They were built as slums, as tenements, or, as ramshackle houses once sheltering the middle class. Buildings are monotonous rather than varied and picturesque. No one every bothered to adorn the streets on which they were built with monuments or fountains, or even trees. Nonetheless our slums at one time were neighborhoods which generated or permitted communal feelings, if we are to believe the memories of many writers who were brought up in them. There were perhaps two major reasons for this. First, the inhabit...
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