Review of Daniel Kemmis’ The Good City and the Good Life

James A. Throgmorton. 1997. Journal of the American Planning Association 63, 2 (Spring): 295.

This essay reviews Daniel Kemmis’ 1995 book, The Good City and the Good Life. I find much to admire in Kemmis’ effort to reconceptualize politics and the mutual roles of citizen and politician. The book as a whole resonates powerfully with my work on planning as persuasive storytelling and my political efforts as a progressive green. I admire it a lot. Nonetheless, I find much to question. Kemmis relies very heavily on the metaphor of organic wholeness and presumes a shared understanding of the whole. Whose whole? What of other metaphors, especially those of the city as a machine or as a node in a computerized network? What of the people who believe that the good city emerges from the interaction of self-interested individuals trying to maximize their own welfare? Kemmis drastically downplays the extent to which those hostile to his view can and will obstruct it at every turn. He also displays little awareness of how market trends frequently (or typically) work against the wholeness he argues for.

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