A History of Future Cities Paperback – 20 May 2014
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An intimate, canny comparative study . . . . Accessible, entertaining. . . . Enormously elucidating and relevant. --Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Daniel Brook is the author of The Trap and a journalist whose work has appeared in publications including Harper's, The Nation and Slate.
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Top Customer Reviews
ECONOMIC AND CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AND THEIR INHABITANTS UNDER VARIOUS REGIMES RANGING FROM WOULD BE BENEVOLENT COLONIAL RULE,TO AUTOCRACY,COMMUNIST REGIMES AND 21ST.CENTURY SHEIKS.THERE IS DETAILED TREATMENT OF THE ARCHITECTURE,PARTICULARLY IN THECONTEXT OF THE CLASH BETWEEN EAST AND WEST.
ALTHOUGH I KNEW SOME OF THE HISTORY OF THE FOUR CITIES THE DEPTH OF THE AUTHOR'S RESEARCH AND HIS ATTRACTIVE STYLE MAKE THIS BOOK NEAR A COMPULSIVE READ .A READER WITH A GENERAL INTEREST IN HISTORY
WOULD FIND THIS STORY FASCINATING AND LEAD TO FURTHER READING ABOUT THE FOUR CITIES.
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The premise of the city of tomorrow is a fascinating one, and this book is a wealth of information. Brook has a scholarly style and the reading is dense but accessable. I am familiar with all four cities, but was interested and surprised by many of the observations. Brooks compares and contrasts the cities through the years of their growth and development. In Dubai's case, there are not so many years. He discusses how the architecture reflects the philosophy of each period and traces the trends of building in context of politics. In the final section, he examines the status of each city and the ways it has or has not lived to the dream of its inception.
Most cogent to me was reading how each of the cities had the same startling appearance to the world in their birth as Dubai presents now. Each city has had a dream for its citizens, although mostly this dream was only meant for the wealthy and sometimes for some nationalities and not others. But in its day, each city depended for its growth on the huge numbers of refugees seeking work and shelter within its walls. It is a fascinating premise and a book well worth reading.
On to that intellectual ambition. As I see it, the book concerns two pressing questions.
First, when will we reach a point where "modernity" is no longer "Western" any more than agrarian culture is "Sumerian"? To some degree, the answer might lie elsewhere from the four cities the book considers: Tokyo and Seoul come to mind as cities that are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly non-Western (or at least that show the ability to assimilate Western influences on their own terms). But for much of the world, the legacies of colonialism and underdevelopment remain pressing realities. In describing the history of St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai, the book gives a clear impression of how the Russian, Chinese, Indian, and Emirati inhabitants of their global cities struggled with the implications of aspiring to foreign, modern ideals and contending with the power of foreign, modern institutions.
Second, what does it mean for a city to be "organic" in an age where powerful agents, whether the Chinese Community Party, Dubai Inc., or the private developers of Mumbai, can finance and project manage ready-made districts constituting entire cultural milieus. To the extent that the cities described in the book inflict on cultural vertigo their inhabitants, they are extreme examples of the scale on which urban development now happens throughout the world. In Atlanta, there might not be a need or demand for an English-themed suburban village complete with British-style public school, but there are developments on the scale of towns or even small cities that cater to buyers of homes in the $220,000 to $240,000 range. What does it mean for our social and cultural environments to be curated by powerful institutions? Implicit in the book's probing of the meaning of these Frankensteinian cities is the question of how residents of any contemporary city form their own genuine culture.
The quantity and quality of research is remarkable, a wide range of enlightening details being provided. Though some may judge certain sentences to be intricately constructed, the work is well written and well organized. Each chapter deals with a phase of development in a single city. Chapters are placed chronologically so that the reader lively moves from one city to the next as he plunges ahead.
Apart from changing its odd title, the only improvement that could be made to this work is with regards to illustrations. As things are, black and white maps are provided at the beginning of the book locating the four cities and giving some level of detail for each and a few black and white photos are inserted here and there. So much more pertinent information could be conveyed with an abundance of well positioned colour photos and maps!
Still, this fascinating book provides a unique point of view on the history of the past three centuries and is warmly recommended to all interested in the evolution of cities.
I am not sure if the author really concludes with a solid yes or no to the question of "blueprint or mirage?". But the information provided in the book leads me to believe that whatever and wherever the next glitzy star city that is yet to be born, it will be a sad repetition of these 4 cities. All 4 places strike me as inhumane places. Built at the expense of the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor for the pleasure of the wealthy and powerful. The reading emanates a surreal feel to these places. A sense that the lower economic classes of society are to be hidden from view, don't live by the same rules, and exist to service a higher class. These cities seem merely to be the playground of the rich where the poor struggle to survive. Frankly I found it to be an informative but depressing read. These cities are indeed gargantuan mirages where the pull of paradise will strip a person of his humanity.
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