January 10, 2014

In memory of Marshall Berman: “Emerging from the Ruins”

Marshall Berman died this last September 11.  His life was always intertwined with New York City, notably his home borough of The Bronx.  He taught at the City College of New York and was the author,berman among other books, of All That Is Solid Melts into Air – an exploration of modernism, with a notable chapter on the building of the Cross-Bronx Expressway and the devastating impact it had on that community.

Appropriately, his last public lecture revisited that story, and drew larger lessons in the context of the revitalized city he loved.  It was adapted for an essay in Dissent, for which this was the last paragraph:

New York has a tradition of great dreams. Its urbicidal ruins felt like a cosmic mockery of them all. And yet, by the end of the twentieth century, our city of ruins turned out to be a place where people coming from everywhere were working together. Even as New York fell apart, it rose. People looked into each other’s eyes, learned to know each other face to face. If they could get that far, what else can they build?

The whole essay is, of course, worth reading – here.  It is part of one of the epic stories of 20th-century urbanism, of which Berman was an intimate participant and chronicler.

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