In Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, architectural historian Reyner Banham points out that the twentieth-century flight from the centre of the city to the periphery didn't result in less dependence upon machines. Commuters were still heavily reliant upon the latest generation of ‘light, subtle, clean’ devices that were meant to be deployed ‘by thinking men in their own homes in the new electric suburbs’, a process that would later be accelerated by the introduction of ‘miniaturization, transistorization … television and the computer’. Topping this list of mechanisms as a potential agent of change was the automobile, an individually owned and operated piece of machinery that people could ‘literally’ ‘take into their own hands’. According to Edward Dimendberg, the motor-driven flow from the metropolitan core to the suburbs that resulted from increasing car ownership would have a massive impact upon the shape of the ‘post-1945 American city’. Since the latter's ‘spatial dispersion, increased automobile traffic, and large-scale federally supported construction projects differed fundamentally from earlier urban forms’, he would eventually conclude that the more densely concentrated ‘metropolis portrayed in the film noir cycle’ usually ‘emerges as a highly rationalized and alienating system of exploitative drudgery permitting few possibilities of escape’.
Yet during this period the city still had many prominent defenders, including the well-known American critic Lewis Mumford, who in an article published in the Architectural Record observed that urban agglomeration is much more likely to provide employment, cultural diversity, face-to-face social interaction and mutual co-operation than the much more thinly populated countryside. Towards the end of a landmark text that was first drafted during the 1930s, Mumford described the potential benefits of the large-scale ‘world city’ in the following glowing terms:
Metropolitan massiveness and congestion have a deeper justification, though it is not fully recognized … it has brought together, within a relatively narrow compass, the diversity and variety of special cultures: at least in token quantities all races and cultures can be found here, along with their languages [and] their customs … The complexity and cultural inclusiveness of the metropolis embody the complexity and variety of the world as a whole.
Sirk's cinematic depictions of New York, Mumford's only North American example of this kind of ‘metropolitanism’ in a subsequent work on municipal development, appear to bear these conclusions out.