I love wandering about in cities. But what makes them so attractive, not just for me as a visitor, but for an increasing number of people to move into them, especially into the rapidly growing megacities of the developing world? Can the cultural history of "the city" be generalised to reveal insights into this form of human cohabitation and cooperation?
PD Smith has attempted this generalisation for cities throughout history and around the world. Like one of my random walks through a city, the book explores many avenues and sights, sometimes via unexpected passageways, and the author invites us to peruse the book in nonlinear fashion. Like the districts of a city, the book has themed section, but within their confines, surprise encounters may happen.
Smith highlights the advantages of a compact, walkable, people-friendly city (I might have mentioned Cologne as an example, where people walk, rollerskate, cycle etc. across the entire North-South extent of the city area on the marvellous river promenade), as opposed to the sprawling, car-friendly city (LA, Brasilia, Milton Keynes). People-friendly cities with adequate public transport and energy-efficient buildings are in fact more environmentally benign on a per-person basis than country lifestyles that heavily depend on driving.
Smith draws on an astonishing treasure trove of sources - including the many volumes that have been written about specific, much-loved cities such as Paris, Venice or New York, and on studies of specific topics like commuting, suburbia, or street art. Like any traveller, he always tends to gravitate back home to London, which for a time was the biggest and most powerful city of the world. He concludes the weighty tome with an outlook on the future of the city and with a memento mori, reminding us that all cities will fall to ruins one day.
Highly recommended for anybody who can appreciate cities as more than just the place they commute to.
Brilliant, everything you ever wanted to know about cities, but didn't know what to ask. This is a book everyone should read. From skylines of New York to ancient towers of Babylon, and world wide too.Well laid out,with sections on Arrival, History Customs, Where to Stay, Getting around, Money, Time out, Beyond the City, it is readable learned and fun! The pictures are stunning and the short anecdotal sections are informative. The topic was covered in detail yet never boring. I picked it up by accident when looking for something else, what a happy accident! I have recommended it to my tutor to buy for the University.
A wonderful book. The author advises strolling through it like a real city, visiting the chapters out of order as and when one takes your fancy. I read it cover to cover on my first visit, but now follow his advice whenever I return, taking in favourite chapters like returning to favourite areas of a real city.
I enjoyed reading this book as it introduced me to a number of facts that will stand me in good stead come pub quiz time, though unfortunately that does not necessarily grant it a high overall rating. It is an interesting study of various elements of how cities have come to be formed, an overview of major historical stakeholders and events, and a summary view on where we need to be in the future. Perhaps my expectations were not appropriate for the content of the book but I felt that any conclusions drawn were already quite well established views on sustainability. Unfortunately the author also began to introduce a number of self-defeating examples towards the end a la "Everyone who has predicted the future in the past has failed, but I'm going to do it again anyway..."
In sum, an interesting enough read to dip into from time to time but just don't expect to come away with any mind blowing revelations about the future of urban living.