Hopeful Futures of the City [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Two]

January 25, 2020 Uncategorized 2 ★★★


I’ve just finished a second set of three books on urban planning, so someone should probably give me a city to design, right? Or perhaps I should just play some Sim City instead – that seems safer. These three books were quite optimistic about cities and their future, but didn’t gloss over the challenges of city planning either.

Hopeful Futures of the City [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Two]Title: Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier
Author: Edward L. Glaeser

This was an interesting book that included a ton of fascinating anecdotes and statistics about cities. The fact that it included so much interesting information is what kept me from giving it 2 stars, despite some major flaws. My main problem with this book is that it is, essentially, a collection of anecdotes. The author than goes on to draw conclusions from these one-off examples. This bothered me less in Jane Jacobs’ classic book on urban planning because she made convincing, logical arguments. I didn’t find this author as convincing. He did seem kind of hung up Jacobs himself though, harping on a small point where he disagreed with an ungenerous interpretation of her work. He even brings it up when captioning her picture in an insert! This despite the fact that he repeats many of her other main points without crediting her. That said, I did learn a lot of fun facts about cities from this book and it was generally an enjoyable read. I just wasn’t as impressed with the author’s commentary on the information he’s collected.

Hopeful Futures of the City [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Two]Title: A History of Future Cities
Author: Daniel Brook

This book was by far the best of this group of three. Although the content is based more in stories than statistics, the author spent long enough on the history of just four cities that they made for great case studies. He also avoided drawing conclusions that are too general on the basis of this small sampling of cities. That meant I was able to enjoy his book for what it was – a fascinating history. The author did a great job situating the development of each city within a broader cultural/historical context. As a result, I learned an embarrassing amount about the history of India, China, Russia, and the UAE. I can’t believe how little of this material I knew previously. I loved getting some of that history here and it left me excited to learn even more. The organization of this book, rotating between the cities and moving forward in time, was extremely clever. It helped me relate what I was learning about each city to the other three and highlighted some fun, surprising connections between them.

Hopeful Futures of the City [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Two]Title: Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia
Author: Anthony M. Townsend

This book was a bit better than Triumph of the City, but had some surprisingly similar problems. It was almost purely anecdotal, a bit scattered, and included some undeserved jabs at Jane Jacobs while simultaneously not crediting her for many of her ideas. However, the author’s rhetoric was more persuasive, so even though he largely relied on anecdotes instead of stats to make his points, I found myself generally won over. At times, the author seemed a little out of touch, overestimating the extent to which automation is a part of most people’s lives. He also spends 2 or 3 chapters talking about smart city building efforts of his own and his colleagues. Unless he’s straight-up lying to us, though, their efforts were early, formative parts of the smart city movement that were worth including. I was impressed with how well the author has thought out possible pitfalls of smart cities as well. I particularly enjoyed chapters on how technology can either increase or decrease class divides and on the possibility that smart city infrastructure might be buggy, counter to personal privacy, and/or hackable. Despite the similar problems compared to Triumph of the City, I thought this author brought a lot more to the table with his personal expertise and persuasive recommendations for future smart city planning.

2 Responses to “Hopeful Futures of the City [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Two]”

  1. Shay

    What makes for a good city is such a fascinating topic! I’ve read a couple of good ones, including Happy City by Charles Montgomery, and Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg, although that one is more about libraries, which are only one specific part of a city’s social infrastructure.
    Shay recently posted…She-WolvesMy Profile

    • DoingDewey

      It really is! I think I’ve gotten more interested since moving to the Bay Area, because we’re doing such a terrible job when it comes to providing housing. I think I already added Palaces for the People to my to-read list when you reviewed it 🙂

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