Literatures of Urban Possibility

Markku Salmela (Editor), Lieven Ameel (Editor), Jason Finch (Editor)

Research output: Book/Journal/ReportEdited Book/Edited JournalScientificpeer-review


A long continuum of cities that envision what might be possible – for the cities themselves, on the one hand, and the people living in them, on the other – runs through literary history, connecting early-modern utopian texts to modernist visions of urbanism and contemporary speculative fiction. These literatures of urban possibility are one of the central ways in which imaginative literature expresses the concerns of urban history and urban studies, from the late Medieval adage that ‘city air makes free’ (Park 12) to the more broadly felt sense that the density, diversity, specialisation, anonymity, and scale of city life could provide newcomers with the means for social or educational advancement, or at the very least a new identity and a possible fresh start. If the city appears on the individual scale as a site for personal or communal possibility, it has also become a symbol for possible societal change. From the time of Plato’s Republic, cities in writing have been the ‘symbol of conscious design in society,’ with a vivid utopian and dystopian tradition of city writing as result (Frye 27).

Literature of the city has been an important site where such engagements with possibility have been acted out. Some literary cities stage alternative futures conceivable at a specific moment in time, or stories that test the limits of egalitarian progress. Others depict individual discoveries and upward social trajectories made possible by the urban system. Yet others experiment directly with previously non-existent forms of urban community or the built environment, emphasising the capability of cities to foster powerful visions. All these patterns of city literature engage with the notion of the possible, and many of the narratives in which they manifest themselves indicate, specifically, how existing horizons of possibility might be expanded, either for individuals or for the city as blueprint of ordered society. In doing so, imaginative literature does not only document experiments with what is possible in the city, or envision speculative urban futures; it may provide the reader with an expanded ‘sense of the possible’ (Meretoja 90–97). It is this act of expansion of urban possibility through the literary imagination that Literatures of Urban Possibility seeks to address.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-030-70909-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-030-70908-2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
MoE publication typeC2 Edited work

Publication series

NameLiterary Urban Studies
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISSN (Print)2523-7888


  • possibility
  • urban
  • literature


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