Western ideas about good cities descend from Athens, Jerusalem and Rome. From Athens we inherit two seminal ideas: that the good life is the life of moral and intellectual excellence, and that the good city is one that makes this good life possible for its citizens. From Jerusalem comes a third idea: that a city’s excellence is also measured by the care it exhibits for its weakest members. And from Rome we inherit the idea that a city’s beauty is warranted by and represents its greatness. This ancient view of cities, though it acknowledged the central role of commerce, was essentially moral and aesthetic.
Today’s common wisdom is different. It views the city as governed by impersonal market forces, and devotes little thought to the good life or to the relation cities might have to the good life.
A. M. Stroud III, a former prosecutor in Louisiana, expresses regret for the role he played in sending Glenn Ford to death row in 1984. “I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.” Stroud says he presented dubious evidence from a forensic pathologist, precluded black jurors from the trial (Ford, since exonerated, is black), and ignored the fact that the appointed defense attorney had never before tried a criminal or capital case. “I . . . hope that providence will have more mercy for me than I showed Glenn Ford,” Stroud said in a letter to the editor of the Times of Shreveport. “But, I’m also sobered by the realization that I certainly am not deserving of it” (ABA Journal, March 25).