For those residing in the industrial city in the early twentieth century, day-today interactions were still affected by the fragmentation of society heralded by nineteenth-century urbanisation. To live, work and socialise in Manchester or Chicago was to be brought into contact with a diverse range of people who did not necessarily share beliefs or values. This experience, sometimes dislocating yet often exciting, shaped both the theory and reality of modern citizenship. Foregrounding the importance of the city in this way encourages an appreciation of the urban as an independent factor or ‘variable’ – the idea that towns and cities were not just sites that reflected the wider societies that sustained them, but that those societies were themselves, in part, constituted through urban place, experience and identity. This study has, in common with those of other historians, acknowledged that this was especially the case in the nineteenth century: the zenith of the ‘shock of the new’. Cities both housed and catalysed rapid change, and so were in the front line when it came to rethinking society. In this assessment of the following decades however, and the 1920s and 1930s especially, it has been shown how the city continued to shape ideas about community and belonging long ‘after the shock’. Urban life and government was comparatively stable by the early twentieth century but cities continued to grow, and civic leaders did not consider urban problems to have been solved. In responding to new forms of leisure, conflict and social fragmentation they none the less still stressed the suitability of the city as the basis for good citizenship. Municipal councils, supported by a network of voluntary associations, public-minded businessmen and increasingly the central state, demonstrated considerable ambition in their attempts to build urban community. Their goal was to transcend ‘traditional politics’ by ‘steering’ urban-dwellers towards a shared identity – one where small interlocking communities created a larger civic whole.
Investing in the future of the city, both materially and emotionally, these leaders entwined intervention with a language of local belonging. Looking back to the shocking city from where they had come, they celebrated a narrative of resilience, progress and determination.