Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Organic City

The Organic City: Urban Definition and Neighborhood Organization 1880--1920

Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Organic City
    Book Description:

    During the late nineteenth century rapid social and economic changes negated the prevailing conception of the city as a uniform whole. Confronted with this disparity between the old urban definition and the new city of the late nineteenth century, social thinkers searched for a new concept that would correspond more closely to the divided urban community around them. Borrowing an analogy from natural history, these thinkers conceived of the city as an organism composed of interdependent neighborhoods and sought to translate this concept into ways of dealing with the dislocations and problems in urban life.

    In this new study of American urban history Patricia Melvin traces the growth of the idea of the organic city and the developing emphasis on the neighborhood as the basic urban unit. An early expression of the idea was the settlement house movement, but the most effective application of the idea, Melvin shows, was the social unit organization scheme worked out by Wilbur C. Phillips. As a social planner and organizer, Phillips first tried his approach in New York, then in Milwaukee, and finally in Cincinnati. Although initially successful in dealing with specific issues, Phillips's efforts eventually foundered on friction among ethnic groups and on the opposition of city politicians. Finally, in the 1920s the whole concept of the organic city was supplanted by a new view of the city based not upon a cooperative but upon a competitive model.

    The Organic Citycontributes new understanding to an important period of American urban history. Moreover, it shows clearly how important is the role of concepts in shaping the perception of social realities and the attempts to deal with them.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6391-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Political Science, History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    In 1926 Ernest W. Burgess, a pioneer in urban sociology at the University of Chicago, wrote that although urban reformers in the first two decades of the twentieth century had turned the city into “ ‘the happy hunting ground’ of movements,” they had lacked a basic conception or understanding of the city. Social scientists during the 1920s, on the other hand, especially those at the University of Chicago, had such a conception. They, said Burgess, thought of the city as an organism and, using the notion of the organic city as a base, attempted to study the city “to bring...

  6. 1 Neighborhood in the Organic City
    (pp. 11-26)

    During the second half of the nineteenth century rapid social and economic changes negated the antebellum definition of the city as an undifferentiated whole. When confronted with the disparity between the old urban definition and the new city of the late nineteenth century with its specialized land use pattern and system of socioeconomic segregation, concerned Americans searched for a new definition of the city that corresponded more closely to the segmented urban community around them. Borrowing the organic analogy popular in descriptions of society, these Americans portrayed the city as an organism composed of an interdependent system of complementary parts...

  7. 2 Infant Health and Neighborhood Organization
    (pp. 27-56)

    Just as the notion of interdependence manifested itself in the definition of urban structure, it also influenced the nature of the attack on urban problems. This was particularly true in the field of public health. During the first decade of the twentieth century, many public health workers tended to view the human as an organism—a unitary and integrated structure that operated in a complementary manner with the total environment.¹ Viewing the human as an organism was not new in these early twentieth century discussions, but seeing it in relation to the environment was.

    Prior to the twentieth century, the...

  8. 3 The Social Unit Theory of Organization
    (pp. 57-76)

    After his departure from Milwaukee in 1912, Phillips reflected on his experiences with the New York Milk Committee and the Milwaukee Child Welfare Commission. During the next two years, supported largely by the generosity of numerous friends, Phillips shifted the focus of his concern from the development of neighborhood child health programs to the dynamics of social organization built on a well developed neighborhood base. In his 1914 treatise on the social unit theory of organization Phillips laid out his grand scheme. His social unit plan, as it was called, manifested his acceptance and conception of the notion of interdependence....

  9. 4 The Social Unit Comes to Cincinnati
    (pp. 77-97)

    The arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur C. Phillips in Cincinnati on January 2, 1917, launched the first year of the social unit demonstration. Immediately after checking in at the Hotel Sinton, the Phillipses began laying the groundwork for the social unit demonstration. After opening an office in the Bodman Building at 621 Main Street, they called their first meeting with the Cincinnati sponsors of the unit plan for January 4 at the headquarters of the Anti-Tuberculosis League. At this meeting the Phillipses sketched out what needed to be done in the months ahead. For the next three months the...

  10. 5 An Experiment in Neighborhood Health Care
    (pp. 98-123)

    After almost a full year of organizational activity, the practical services sponsored by the Mohawk-Brighton Social Unit Organization commenced on December 17, 1917. In keeping with the National Social Unit Organization’s suggestion that a public health program would provide an effective test of the efficiency of the organizational scheme, the MBSUO selected an infant health campaign as its pilot project. But as 1918 progressed, the social unit health station in Mohawk-Brighton expanded the scope of its activity. By mid-1919 the health center offered, in addition to its postnatal services, prenatal and postpartum supervision of neighborhood mothers, and preschool and adult...

  11. 6 Politics and the Social Unit, 1919-1920
    (pp. 124-158)

    The third year of the social unit experiment opened auspiciously. The MBSUO had carried out one of the most comprehensive neighborhood health care operations in the nation. Neighborhood interest and general participation in the MBSUO was high, and many observers of the experiment predicted further advances in neighborhood cooperative activity for the year ahead. Some even suggested that the organization would spread to other areas of Cincinnati by the end of 1919. But by the summer of that year these optimistic predictions lay shattered. As the contagion of suppression fostered by the aftermath ofworld War I spread across the nation,...

  12. 7 Metropolitan Community to Fragmented Metropolis, 1920-1940
    (pp. 159-173)

    When Phillips left Cincinnati, he did not abandon the social unit idea. The National Social Unit Organization remained intact, and Phillips began to work closely with the NSUO in New York City to promote the establishment of more social-unit-style community organizations. Accordingly, the NSUO entered into an agreement with the New York Community Councils (NYCC) in late 1919 and laid plans to establish another social unit laboratory. But within little more than a year both the NSUO and the NYCC disbanded. Although Phillips continued to champion the social unit theory of organization for another quarter century, he did so in...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 174-207)
  14. Bibliographic Essay
    (pp. 208-222)
  15. Index
    (pp. 223-227)