An intimate, canny comparative study of four of the great world cities—St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai—in terms of the imposition of Western influence and onslaught of modern currents.
All built from the outside in, rather than by organic native forces, and gradually transformed for better or worse by their situation within the “global crossroads,” these four cities all exhibit the tensions and contradictions of the exciting modern metropolis. Brook (The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, 2007, etc.) is not an academic, thus imparting a more accessible, entertaining generalist’s perspective on considerable research that goes only so deep. In each case, he traces the models on which construction of the city drew: Peter the Great fashioned his entirely new city after Amsterdam, infusing it with Western technology he had learned himself, industry and diversity—yet it was built by thousands of serfs and was essentially feudal and autocratic. Shanghai became a coastal trading post wrested from Chinese restrictions by the British East India Company and other interests, for whom “extraterritoriality” meant impunity to operate their enterprises in segregated concessions. The archipelago of Bombay attracted a stunning diversity of people and adopted a luxurious lifestyle that was harnessed by Sir Henry Bartle Frere in fantastic imperial construction design that achieved Britain’s urbs prima in Indis. Dubai, a laissez-faire trading center in the Gulf, only took off in the 1960s with the discovery of oil, guided by the Westernizing autocratic design of Sheikh Rashid to become a free-wheeling boomtown where “96 percent of the population came from somewhere else.” Revolution, world war, emigration and the financial bubble-burst would by turns devastate and help regenerate these cities. Brook looks at these metropolises as a testament to human imagination and as a barometer of future promise.
An enormously elucidating and relevant study.