Urbanist Brugmann (Business and Environment/Cambridge Univ.) proposes a transformation in the way we view our cities.
“The City,” as defined in this academic text, is “a single, complex, connected, and still very unstable urban system” spreading across the entire planet. Growing metropolitan areas will add two billion to their populations in the next 25 years. Many of their future inhabitants will be transients abandoning rural life to forge new opportunities. In these environments, all residents have the “urban advantage” of density, scale, association and extension. Using these variables, communities naturally form ecosystems of interrelation, affecting not only their immediate locales, but also the integrated whole: “The City.” Thus, migrant populations find ways to flourish regardless of public authority’s exclusion of them from the civic structure, and the effects of their contributions are felt far and wide. The author provides several examples to defend his theories, from Dharavi, a thriving slum of disenfranchised newcomers within Mumbai, to the spread of the Los Angeles gang MS-13 throughout the United States and into Central America. While these examples are pertinent and initially absorbing, the details often become exhausting after a few pages. At the heart of Brugmann’s text is his argument that we must shape urbanism for the new millennium by incorporating all of an area’s citizens. The book’s middle section outlines some common models that stall forward progress, including capitalist and political disjointedness (“Cities of Crisis”) and narrow, single-project planning that fails to account for the metropolis as a whole (“Great Opportunities Cities”). Finally, the author addresses his ideal scenario: “The Strategic City,” shaped by a common, steadily evolving vision. His examples are Chicago, Barcelona and Curitiba, Brazil. These organic “citysystems” employ different techniques to define their paths, from Curitiba’s progressive officials to Chicago’s bottom-up restructuring, but each succeeds in crafting all-encompassing tactics to take the metropolises in distinct new directions.
Didactic prose and complex theorizing make for a tough slog, but it’s worth it for the author’s positive perspective on an extremely broad and challenging issue.