08.06.2020 in Exploratory
Social Interaction and Inequality in Urban America

Theater of Social Interaction

City planning is one of the important aspects that influence people’s life, comfort, and way of living. Thus, city planning is an essential governmental task that demands to take into consideration the natural environment, economic functions, and physical design. There are many theories and propositions on city planning; however, each of them reflects only single aspect, either social, economic, political, or cultural. Lewis Mumford regarded the city as the theater of social interaction, taking into account families, neighborhoods, and characteristics of city life. Consequently, this essay intends to analyze Mumford’s theory on the city as the theater of social interaction and explain how zoning and transportation planning can shape this theater.

City as the Theater of Social Interaction

By regarding the city as the theater of social interaction, Mumford means that the city is preconditioned by the social structure of the community. Moreover, it is alive, as families and neighborhoods are the basement of its soul. The social interaction of the city presupposes the unity of commerce, education, politics, and art, which encourages social actions. Mumford believes that the city is a social institution as it is the result of the interrelationships of schools, community centers, theaters, and libraries. He writes, ‘The city … is a geographic plexus, an economic organization, an institutional process, a theater of social action’, which means that the city is a multifunction structure.

One should say that the city in its social aspect creates different opportunities for a collective drama and a common life. Moreover, the social facts related to the city are the primary ones, and the physical organization of the city is the secondary one. Not without a reason, Mumford regards the city as the social theater as it is the collection of groups and associations that support themselves, interact, and influence one another. Thus, they determine the state of affairs in the city and influence the characteristics of city life. Consequently, for them, the city can fulfill many roles, like shelter and the fixed site, and perform numerous functions, serving the cultural life and economic processes.

How Zoning Shapes the City

Zoning dictates form and functionality of the city, which means that it can shape people’s life, making it better or worse. People associate zoning with districts and neighborhoods; however, it is also based on the use of buildings and lands. For example, the enterprise zoning and financial districts are popular in the cities. They separate employers and residents who live in the specific neighborhood. It means that zoning dictates the sequences and rhythms, dividing city’s parts according to the geographical aspects.

Crane and Manville insist that zoning is preconditioned by the economic development as officials make the decision whether to fight poverty and unemployment in disadvantaged areas or implement the enterprise zones. One should mention that enterprise zones can benefit people’s life and can harm it if the employees’ wages are low. ‘Other local workers may suffer as a result of the enterprise zone, if property values and prices rise’. Consequently, everything depends on the character of zoning. One can conclude that zoning is the separation of the districts according to economic, social, and cultural characteristics that can harm or bring benefits to the city and its residents, enlarge the city’s possibilities or lead to its decline.

How Transportation Planning Shapes the City

Transportation is another factor that influences cities. First, urban growth presupposes the development of infrastructure. Consequently, transportation planning is inevitable when it comes to making the changes in the city. Second, transportation planning is necessary to solve the social problems, particularly the environmental ones. Although many people use private transport, they are ready to pay taxes to support public transportation as an important part of the city’s growth. It is necessary to say that transportation transforms cities, making them more organized. However, private cars, which are everywhere, bring some chaos in the city organization.

Manville and Cummins insist, ‘Transit provides mobility for people who cannot afford or operate private vehicles’. It means that transportation planning helps the poor and socially excluded people. Moreover, the proper transportation planning results in a better usage of the public transport, especially during rush hours when vehicles pollute the environment the most. It means that transportation planning is one of the ways to decrease the level of greenhouse gas emission.


The city is a theater of social interaction because it is influenced by the social status of its residents and it performs many social roles. Zoning shapes the city in its way, dividing it into economic, geographical, and enterprise districts. Transportation planning is another important aspect of city life that makes it cleaner and less polluted. Moreover, transportation is a good way to help those who cannot afford private automobiles.

Inequality in Urban America

Inequality remains the problem in urban America that perpetuates its cities. First, it is related to the racial differences that make people of one race live in one district. Moreover, poverty is another factor that contributes to the inequality in urban America. It makes people who cannot afford expensive clothes, cars, and houses live on the streets or look for the shelter in the districts where the same people live. One should say that they undergo harassment and abuse because of the inability to afford expensive things. Consequently, this essay intends to analyze the problem of inequality in urban America through the cases of street harassment of females, race, and poverty.

Street Harassment

Females remain the objects of street harassment in urban America, which means that gender inequality exists and it is difficult to root out. Flores writes, ‘Harassers comment on my appearance … reinforcing the message that as a woman in public, my very presence makes me fair game for unsolicited and undesired attention’. This example underlines the gender inequality and uncertain position of females in the progressive American society. Street harassment is one of the ways to underline that men are superior to women. Moreover, it is the most common in large cities where females are defenseless.

It is worth stating that women who experience street harassment try to cross the streets to avoid the group of men, not to be in public alone, return home early, and jog with headphones. It means that big cities remain dangerous places for females. Street harassment occurs in public spaces like parks, sidewalks, streets, and public transportation. Consequently, the problem of gender inequality can also become the challenge for city planners, making the places where there are cases of harassment safer. Women should feel safety and comfort in the big cities and not face harassment and abuse.

Racial Inequality

Racial inequality is another kind of discrimination in the urban locations. One can underline that Latino immigrants continue to experience unequal treatments in the American society. For example, the land use conflict in Orange County, California proves that city planning takes place in the face of anti-immigrant sentiment. Stacy Harwood writes, ‘Specific practices and uses of space have become the focus of planning – often discriminating against low-income communities of color and immigrant populations’. This statement proves that city planners make the choices based on discriminatory practices.

As mentioned above, anti-immigrant spirits are revealed when it comes to the land use. Consequently, the land use conflict is more than a disagreement between both parties; rather, it is the struggle for the right to the city. It means that American community does not regard Latinos as its residents who have equal rights. Modern racism is hidden, but it is evident during the city planning processes. The government should recognize the role of differences in planning practices to demonstrate its desire for the equality in urban America. The use of space should not become a hindrance to achieving peaceful and harmonic relationships between diverse groups. However, the situation is not positive as city councils have prohibited street vending to reduce the number of immigrants.


ncome inequality is another problem of urban America. The situation with the level of poverty has been changing rapidly. There is a belief that most poor people live in the rural areas, and people with a higher income reside in cities. However, Rebecca Blank argues, ‘Images of the poor which we often receive in the media – that the poor are mostly black or Latino, are single mothers, live in urban ghetto areas, and don’t work – are not accurate pictures’. It means that some underprivileged can live in urban ghetto neighborhoods, but they can also reside in prestigious areas of the city. Consequently, their homes act as hurdles for neighbors with higher incomes and city planners who find the ways to locate them in other areas. Some poor people are engaged in gang activities or crimes or they can take drugs. However, this does not mean that all underprivileged individuals engage in unlawful activities. Thus, all poor people are not the same, and city planners should take this fact into consideration. Another stereotype is that most poor people do not work. However, in reality, the majority of poor people lives in families where at least one person works.


The inequality in urban America is a usual thing, especially when it comes to the city planning. Street harassment, poverty, and racial inequality are the most common cases of discrimination that are ignored by the city planners. In particular, street harassment creates the atmosphere of the lack of comfort and safety for females in the big cities. Poverty leads to wrong stereotypes about the people with low incomes and their inability to live in the big cities. Finally, racial inequality results in the conflicts concerning the land use in the urban areas.

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