We are city dwellers, to paraphrase the Whole Earth Catalog, and we might as well get used to it.
Our appeal to the good old days usually looks to the countryside for inspiration. Yet, joining the literature of the new urbanism, British historian Hollis (Stones of London: A History in Twelve Buildings, 2011, etc.) argues that the city is a multifaceted, inexhaustible source of possibility for human achievement. Where others have argued for economic good (cities are engines of innovation and enrichment, à la Lewis Mumford) and cultural and social advancement (cities are where smart people congregate and create things, à la Richard Florida), Hollis opens with an intangible: “It is places like the High Line,” he writes of the newly opened Manhattan park, “that allow us to think again about the city and how it can make us happy.” Happy? Yes, happy, and Hollis does a solid job of showing how cities can buck many of the negative trends that so define the Western world in particular: Don’t like the fact that the United States hasn’t signed the Kyoto Protocol? No matter, Hollis suggests, since “It will be cities…rather than nations, which will be at the forefront of the climate-change challenge, driving initiatives, setting out practical policies and ensuring that they are followed through.” Don’t like the anonymity of the city dweller? Then, Hollis urges, redefine community and create a miniature village within the city where everyone knows everyone else. Hollis’ tone is optimistic but grounded, which is a nice switch from the usual doomsaying of trends analysts. Though he sometimes ventures out onto the scaffolding without much visible support—for instance, for his suggestion that the world’s future mega-regions “will not happen organically” (Why not? They did in the past)—he manages not to plummet to the sidewalk below.
A good read, popular without being condescending, for students of the modern city and the metropolises of the future.