65 pages 2 hours read

Marshall Berman

All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1982

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Part 5

Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 5, Introduction Summary: “In the Forest of Symbols: Some Notes on Modernism in New York”

Berman navigates the evolution of New York City as a modern metropolis, encapsulating its dynamic relationship with modernity through its architecture, urban planning, and symbolic cultural landscapes. He positions the city as a living exhibition of modern man’s capacity to reimagine and reconstruct their environment, thus turning New York into a global symbol of modern life and its possibilities.

Berman claims that central to this narrative is Robert Moses, a pivotal figure in shaping 20th-century New York, whose ambitious urban projects both created and destroyed, reflecting the dual nature of modernization. Berman contrasts Moses’s vision with that of Jane Jacobs and her contemporaries in the 1960s, who advocated for a more inclusive, human-scaled approach to urban planning, emphasizing community and the preservation of urban social fabrics over grandiose redevelopment schemes.

Berman further explores the city’s transformation in the 1970s, highlighting the emergence of new symbolic forms and spaces that continue to redefine New York’s identity. Through this journey, Berman personalizes the discourse, linking the city’s physical and symbolic transformations to the broader themes of modernity—creation, destruction, and renewal—and their impact on individual and collective identities.