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The Feel of the City

The Feel of the City: Experiences of Urban Transformation

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Feel of the City
    Book Description:

    At the start of the twentieth century, the modern metropolis was a riot of sensation. City dwellers lived in an environment filled with smoky factories, crowded homes, and lively thoroughfares. Sights, sounds, and smells flooded their senses, while changing conceptions of health and decorum forced many to rethink their most banal gestures, from the way they negotiated speeding traffic to the use they made of public washrooms.

    The Feel of the Cityexposes the sensory experiences of city-dwellers in Montreal and Brussels at the turn of the century and the ways in which these shaped the social and cultural significance of urban space. Using the experiences of municipal officials, urban planners, hygienists, workers, writers, artists, and ordinary citizens, Nicolas Kenny explores the implications of the senses for our understanding of modernity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6905-5
    Subjects: Geography, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction: The Body Urban
    (pp. 3-23)

    “There are hundreds of loads of rotten and foul matter carted away from this city of Montreal that would win a prize for sickening and pungent stench in competition with the whole world,” bemoaned a disgusted sanitary engineer in a plea for stricter hygienic measures in the late nineteenth century. For their part, the authors of a promotional brochure on Montreal adopted a decidedly more celebratory view of the city’s atmosphere, affirming that “the incessant noise, the brouhaha, the busy crowd hurrying along, the nonstop traffic in the streets” made visitors immediately aware that they had arrived in a great...

  7. Chapter One Comparable Cities
    (pp. 24-41)

    On 10 February 1883, Ferdinand Larcier, a well-known legal publisher whose printing presses were located in the shadows of Brussels’s gargantuan new courthouse, engaged his citizen’s prerogative and addressed a letter to the city council, protesting its plan to expropriate his property in order to move a school onto it. Indeed, the construction of this new temple of justice had taken such vast proportions and had so disrupted the urban fabric of the neighbourhood – displacing scores of the city’s poorest residents in the process – that municipal authorities now found themselves struggling to find a space in which the...

  8. Chapter Two Image Makers
    (pp. 42-77)

    Bourgeois commentators interested in the changing form of turn-of-the-century cities typically viewed them as organic entities comprising multiple, interconnected parts, upon each of which the moral and physical health of the citizenry depended. They portrayed cities in their totality, as the aggregate of the places, ideas, and activities that gave form to inhabitants’ aspirations and achievements. Panoramic representations, both written and visual, served these ends by showing the urban core from above and from a distance, and contributed to this totalizing ambition by displaying portraits of the city in which flaws were overlooked in favour of a coherent whole. Elevated...

  9. Chapter Three Encounters with Industrial Space
    (pp. 78-119)

    Upon completing his nearly twenty-year reign as first magistrate of Brussels, Charles Buls devoted himself to the study of urbanism and embarked on a series of trips that took him across Europe and around the world. In the late summer of 1903 he travelled to North America, first visiting New York, Toronto, and Niagara Falls. On 11 September, he described in his diary his “fantastical arrival” into Montreal. From the first moment of his encounter with the city’s industrial landscape, Buls’s senses were irritated and offended:

    The sun was setting and cast a red glow in the sky, the city,...

  10. Chapter Four Home for a Rest
    (pp. 120-155)

    In the self-assured spirit of the turn of the twentieth century, commentators in both Montreal and Brussels sought to liken the streets of their cities to the great Parisian boulevards, which were seen as the epitome of modern urban development.¹ But if the breadth and dimension of new thoroughfares could nourish this boastfulness, there also lurked in these cities another streetscape, considerably more troubling for many residents of all social backgrounds. Winding, narrow backstreets were cast as material evidence that modern planning’s grasp on the urban environment remained tenuous. Industrial cities of the day attracted large concentrations of working-class families,...

  11. Chapter Five Street Scenes
    (pp. 156-199)

    In the autumn months of 1914, as war raged in Europe, the Montreal women’s magazineLe foyerpublished the travel diary of an unnamed “friend” who had spent a few weeks in Belgium and Germany seven years earlier. The magazine’s intention was to provide its readers with additional perspective on some of the places they were hearing so much about in the news. The visitor had stayed three days in Brussels, apparently spending much of his time in Sainte-Gudule Cathedral, and expressed a rather positive overall impression of the city. To him, nothing in Brussels was more beautiful than its...

  12. Conclusion: Keeping in Touch
    (pp. 200-212)

    On 20 August 1914, the burgomaster of Brussels, Adolphe Max, accompanied by two aldermen, and the municipal secretary who carried a makeshift white flag, marched to the edge of the city to negotiate the terms of occupation with the German forces poised to enter the capital. Proud and defiant, Max sought to prevent their inevitable entrance from turning into a humiliating spectacle and assured the enemy that he fully intended to maintain his post and look after the interests of his constituents.¹ Though he was hailed as a courageous and patriotic leader, Max’s stance led to his arrest, and a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-254)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-294)
  15. Index
    (pp. 295-300)