Dr. Scott Roulier, the John Trimble Professor of Political Philosophy at Lyon College, has authored a new book, Shaping American Democracy: Landscapes and Urban Design. He is also the author of Kantian Virtue at the Intersection of Politics and Nature.
His new book explores how the design of built spaces influences civic attitudes, including prospects for social equality and integration, in America. In most books on American political thought, readers are not likely to encounter discussions of thinkers whose designs have profoundly impacted the built environment, such as Frederick Law Olmsted, Frank Lloyd Wright, Robert Moses, and the new urbanists. Roulier, however, looks at how design traditions can actually advance the democratic ideals of social equity and civic life.
Because the communal version of democracy is best, in Roulier’s view, at safeguarding individual liberty, cultivating citizens, and promoting the common good, he looks at various urban tableaus—suburban sprawl, urban modernism, and new urbanism—connects them to various strains of democracy, and measures the social outcomes associated with each model. Olmstead’s visions of public parks are more consistent with democratic ideals, for instance, than more individualistic designs, like suburbs, with their privacy fences and no sidewalks or usable front porches.
The book has garnered praise from urban design professionals like Bruce Katz, of the Brookings Institute, who says, “The challenge of the twenty-first century is to create spaces that emphasize shared community and prosperity, thus facilitating responses to social challenges. This book provides an important glimpse into the role of the physical environment in creating a civic-oriented democracy.”
Described as engaging and approachable, the book quotes such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Olmstead, Wright, Moses, and Jane Jacob, linking their ideas with contemporary political theory.
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