In a 1977 Daedalus article on “The Family and the City,” French historian Philippe Aries argued that “the real roots of the present domestic crisis lie not in our families, but in our cities.” As cities “deteriorated” and urban culture weakened, ”the omnipotent, omnipresent family took upon itself the task of trying to satisfy all the emotional and social needs of its members.” The stress on modern families, Aries says, is a result of overextension, an effort to compensate for the failure of cities: “People are demanding that the family do everything that the outside world in its indifference or hostility refuses to do. But we should now ask ourselves why people have come to expect the family to satisfy all their needs, as if it had some kind of omnipotent power.”
Leithart dives much farther into Aries’s analysis on family and community life, and I think illustrates an important way in which the segregation of city/community life into distinct zones (commercial/residential/educational/leisure/etc.) also resulted in the segregation of individual and family life into zones that were less than the sum of their parts.
Some of this is being rolled back in the return to what we’re now calling “mixed use development,” but even with the still-distant promise of a more physically distributed workforce through the internet, there’s the discouraging reality that for way too many people, their lives are worse off for having a home, a family, and a career that are too physically, intellectually, emotionally, and functionally separate.