The Concept of Gesellschaft

Dating its first use back to 1928 in Germany, Gesellschaft is defined by the Merriam Webster Dictionary as a rationally developed mechanistic type of social relationship characterized by impersonally contracted associations between persons and, also, a community or society characterized by this relationship.

Importance of Gesellschaft in City Planning

Unlike its polar extreme Gemeinschaft, Gesellschaft refers to large, complex, heterogeneous societies composed of individuals who differ in their racial, ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics. This description of Gesellschaft adequately describes the current state of large metropolis such as Hong Kong, London and New York. City planning must acknowledge that in large metropolis the social relationships become more contractual and driven by self-interest. As communal ties weaken and social solidarity decreases, city planners need to make critical decisions about the direction to take for public spaces and communal areas that have a large degree of Gesellschaft:

  • Should the public space have a design focused on efficiency, high level use and fast transactions?
  • Should the public space reflect the particular traditions, customs, conventions, standards, and language of the largest ethnic, local communities?
  • Should the public space stand as a self-sustaining unit with its own network of functional interdependence, or should it integrate to the larger surrounding community?

Social Construction of Communities

By acknowledging the concept of Gesellschaft, city planners need to include research about the social construction of the communities that would be affected by the public space. It is critical that the researcher fully understands the dynamic relationship of the local community with the larger society. Important areas to pay attention to are: recognizable names, public figures, and boundaries. Historical research may be necessary to fully discover the importance and relevance of these cultural items and determine whether they should be incorporated to the larger narrative of the metropolis.


City planners must be aware of the concept of Gesellschaft and determine how several different sub communities would be able to maintain their own distinctive way of life without endangering the vision of the larger community.

Reference: Schwab, W.A. (2005). Deciphering The City. Pearson Education, Inc. Chapter 5: Community in the Modern World. P. 120-136.

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