RE: RARA-AVIS: Umberto Eco on Spillane

Mark Sullivan (
Wed, 22 Dec 1999 11:40:23 -0500 (EST)

This has gotten me, an American, thinking about "downtown," also. Obviously, the term works literally with New York, where the city grew northward and Wall Street, the financial district, the power structure are all in the "down" of low numbered streets. In DC, the seat is in the low numbered streets, as with most east coast cities I can think of.

Of course, most river towns were built on rivers, for the transportation and formed in rings around this downtown center. Eventually, the rich move "up on the hill" so they will be "above" the work.

Is this uniform with US cities? That here is a downtown, often both in street numbering and elevation or was the term established in a few big cities and became the generic term, even for small towns? Speaking of which, "other side of the tracks" connotes a class dividing line based on the placement of the railroad in a town, not up and down.

Is this just a facet of modern, planned cities? Is it different in Europe, don't the rich still live up on the hill? And the European cities I know definitely have what an American would call downtown. What is it called there, the city center, perhaps?

I hope this bit of socio-geography isn't too far off topic, but it does deal with the colloquial language that is at the genre's core.


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