A Walk with Richard Sennett

Richard Sennett writes about cities, labor and culture. He is famed for his classic accounts of the cultural transformations of urban life such as The Fall of Public Man (1977) and The Uses of Disorder (1970) as well as his analyses of the changes in the nature of work in modern capitalism, such as The Hidden Injuries of Class (written with Jonathan Cobb; 1972) and The Corrosion of Character (1998). Before he became a leading scholar of urbanism, he moved to the West Village as a music student in 1962. He took me on a tour of the area (on a very windy day), mixing reminiscences of the old neighborhood with thoughts on how his experience living there informed his writing. His observations touch on issues of adaptive reuse, architectural determinism and why he doesn’t like the word ‘sustainability.’ Urbanist texts shape our thoughts on cities and what to do about them, but rarely do we get the opportunity to hear an influential urbanist confront the built environment intimately and informally or to see the details to which he is reacting. In this audio-slideshow, we hear Sennett in his own words and see what he is noticing.

At Urban Omnibus, over the next several months, we plan to offer several such walks with architects, planners, designers, scholars, artists and citizens. If there’s a particular individual you’d like to take a walk with, drop us a line and maybe we can call him or her up, take a walk, and share the conversation, observations and imagery.

Richard Sennett writes about cities, labor, and culture. He teaches sociology at New York University and at the London School of Economics.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.


Don Wolfberg January 7, 2009

Thank you for this video — as a native New Yorker, I agreed with everything that Richard Sennett said.

Leslie Jill Hanson January 8, 2009

poetic, topical, thought provoking- thank you!

Craig Brookins January 8, 2009

Stimulating video! As a biologist, I truly appreciate Mr. Sennet’s comments on porosity and the ambiguity of boundaries. The sponge anatomy is essentially pores which welcomes the external environment to interact with the internal environment. Neither environment is defeated by the boundary.

Natasha Rosow January 8, 2009

i love this piece. sennett soothes. in such a beautifully thought-provoking and insightful way. with a little help from the imagery, no doubt… thanks urban omnibus!

Sachin Soni April 25, 2009

I think, Mr. Sennett has touched upon very essentials of urban existence like speed, touch and the extent you can reach something – porosity. Realizing the consequences of ecological disaster, the nature of urbanity has to change; the way it has been changing ever since.

Claire Weisz April 29, 2009

Agreeing with Richard Sennett doesn’t soothe enough to worry that he is lulling me along with what is essentially a nostalgic position on this particular neighborhood. I’d love to see him do a walk around a neighborhood less touched by the angels of preservation – sunset park, brownsville and others and see what he thinks is at stake there. We are at a moment where many in urban design have been working at the micro/detail scale for the last half decade or so and some of it is starting to have an impact.

Leni Schwendinger May 8, 2010

If you listen carefully, the orchestrated background sound to this interview is one of the more revealing “texts”.

Sennett’s comments on Cities and surprise and stimulation — that they should be out-of-joint with hidden aspects was revelatory. I needed these words.

If you live in the West Village, you would see that the story and pictures are 75% non-nostalgic. Most of the photography documents projects from the 1990’s and this decade. Funnily, the discussion of porosity features the brick columns of a building on Washington near Jane that although the porous accessibility is there, the courtyard indeed feels like a fortress! I would never wander in there as it seems a private development and uninviting.

For those readers interested in a Greenwich Village after-dark walk, pease view the 7-minute movie Night City — http://tiny.cc/NightCity