Re: RARA-AVIS: Umberto Eco on Spillane

Mark Blumenthal (
Wed, 22 Dec 1999 12:52:23 -0600

Mark Sullivan wonders,
> 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?

I think most American cities this follow this pattern. In Philadelphia downtown is called 'center city.' In Chicago the term is generally 'the loop'. I think when you get to big cities built on the plains you keep the numbering idea but usually lose the literal meaning of 'downtown', but that is still the term generally usually used.

My wife suggests the idea that in England, as well as most of Europe, when an area was settled, most of the people initially lived in a castle which was built on the highest point. Therefore, the people would always be going down when they left the castle. As people began to settle around the castle and build up towns, the literal term would have been preserved. Maybe one of our English members could contribute on this. Mark

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