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The idea of a great city never has occupied a comfortable place in the American imagination. Much of the country's political and literary history suggests that the city stands as a metaphor for depravity — the port of entry for things foreign and obnoxious, likely to pollute the pure streams of American innocence. Virtue proverbially resides in villages and small towns, and for at least two hundred years the rhetoric of urban reform has borrowed its images from the Bible and the visionary poets. Under the open sky (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) the faithful gather by the firelight to denounce the metropolitan sewers of crime and vice, and every now and then a knight errant — Jimmy Carter, Ralph Nader, Gary Hart, Ross Perot, et al. — rides off toward the dark horizon under the banners of redemption....

The movies and television series delight in showing the city as a killing ground. Predators of every known species (pimps, real estate speculators, drug addicts, prostitutes, dissolute prosecuting attorneys, and venal police captains) roam the streets as if they were beasts drifting across the Serengeti plain. The successful protagonists learn to rely on their animal instincts. If they make the mistake of remaining human (trusting to the civilize