The Pleasures of Urban Cosmopolitanism

The Pleasures of Urban Cosmopolitanism

Boston.com

Racial difference is a constant, even unremarkable presence in city life — as simple as the way that, as you walk from one neighborhood to another, you’re aware of whether or not you “belong.” Racial differences, though, aren’t always cause for wariness or unease. Often, they’re invigorating. In The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, the Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson writes about those parts of the American city that allow “complete strangers to observe and appreciate one another” across racial barriers. Anderson calls these spaces “cosmopolitan canopies,” and says they let ordinary people become amateur anthropologists, watching and, eventually, reaching out to people of whom they’d be more wary in other places. His broader question: can we encourage the growth of cosmopolitan canopies? Or do they only grow from the bottom up?

President Obama in Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market.

Anderson’s book is focused on Philadelphia, and starts with a walking tour of that city from a racial point of view: he takes in the Philadelphia equivalents of Back Bay, Downtown Crossing, Faneuil Hall, and South Station. Walking through Philly’s neighborhoods, Anderson writes, often means having “a pervasive wariness towards strangers,” created by the feeling that each neighborhood “belongs” to one group or another. By and large, this proprietary feeling is the rule. But scattered throughout the city there are oases of cosmopolitanism — places characterized by “acceptance of the space as belonging to all kinds of people.”

Philly’s public spaces as a study in civility

Philly’s public spaces as a study in civility

philly.com

In his new book, The Cosmopolitan CanopyRace and Civility in Everyday Life, Elijah Anderson tells of a rainy afternoon at Reading Terminal Market. He was doing what he does best – conducting a bit of folk ethnography. People-watching, in layman’s terms.

Sociologist Elijah Anderson at Reading Terminal Market, from which he drew information for “The Cosmopolitan Canopy”

But anybody who knows this sociologist knows he’s anything but a layman. Though he teaches at Yale now, Philadelphia is who he is and where he still lives. The ethnographer spent most of his professional life at Penn, where he did the research for two of his acclaimed books, Streetwise and Code of the Street.

It’s fair to say Anderson has put together a body of work that rivals only W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Philadelphia Negro for its groundbreaking insights into the African American experience in Philly.