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Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City 1st Edition

18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199828265
ISBN-10: 0199828261
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Editorial Reviews


"Bird on Fire...has done something more than nail a list of fundamental problems, both societal and environmental, with our big city. Unlike author Richard Florida, who likes to lecture about what a city like Phoenix should be doing to set things right, Ross describes what led to our less-than-sustainable straits, then outlines what's in place for us to rectify the many mistakes local government has made." - The Phoenix New Times

"Ross's conclusion - that if sustainable urbanism is "not directed by and toward principles of equity, then they will almost certainly end up reinforcing patterns of eco-apartheid" - is a bracing challenge." Publishers Weekly

"If Phoenix could be greened, any place on earth could do it. And as this book makes clear, democracy and social justice will be every bit as key as solar panels."-Bill McKibben, author of Deep Economy

"Books by Andrew Ross are always exhilarating adventures at the cutting edge of social thought, but Bird on Fire is particularly fascinating. Rather than recounting the green virtues of some demi-paradise like Vermont or San Francisco, he descends directly into the ecological and economic hell fires of Phoenix. The result is a landmark study of the micropolitics of the struggle for urban sustainability where the stakes are the highest."-Mike Davis, author of City of Quartz

"Bird on Fire is a stunning report from the front lines. Ross vividly shows how and why our big cities are one of the top places where the fight to contain climate change will either be won or lost."-James Gustave Speth, author of The Bridge at the Edge of the World and co-founder of the National Resources Defense Council

"This is a superb and important book. With a sweeping command of the subject, Andrew Ross reads from the entrails of Phoenix a story with hopeful insights for all of humane civilization. His graceful prose and political clarity make Bird on Fire not only useful but also very compelling and pleasurable to read."-Christian Parenti, author of Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

"Bird on Fire is a triumph. The future and sustainability of Phoenix are not local questions, but ones of national and global importance. Andrew Ross examines them with a keen radar for the interplay of power, class, greed, prejudice and the mythology of both the American West and the great Sunbelt migration. In the process, he has also given us the finest history we have yet of modern Phoenix, a massive metropolis whose consequence is cloaked by its reputation for sun, golf and right-wing politics. This is a must-read."-Jon Talton, author of South Phoenix Rules and former columnist for The Arizona Republic

"A must-read for anyone who thinks that city transitions to more sustainable policies and practices are a snap." --American Scientist

"Examines the troubling prospects for sustainability in the sprawing city of Pheonix, Ariz.; draws on interviews with 200 planners, developers, politicians, and other influential residents."--The Chronicle Review

"...terrifying, maddening, depressing and hopeful all at once. Kind of like Phoenix itself." - Tucson Weekly

About the Author

Andrew Ross is Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University. He is the author of Fast Boat to China, The Celebration Chronicles, Nice Work if You Can Get It, and No-Collar. He has written for ArtForum, The Nation, and The Village Voice.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199828261
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199828265
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 1.1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #367,114 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 69 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on October 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Absolutely superb.

Whether in corporations, government or one's personal life, nothing matches an intelligent outsider's perceptive view of strengths, weaknesses and potentials of any enterprise. Phoenix has long typified mindless urban sprawl, which makes it an ideal candidate for a study of potential pathways to sustainability.

As a resident since 1972, I can vouch for Ross's conclusions. Compared to earlier histories, this is a gem that offers rare insight into why Phoenix is the nation's second hardest hit city in the Great Recession. However, it's not a Phoenix only book; his observations relate to every urban area. Fortunately, most readers may console themselves, "Well, at least we're not THAT bad."

In Southwest terms, this is a gem dropped into a patch of 'Teddy Bear' cholla (that's the "Jumping Cactus"). People stay clear of it because its barbs will cling to anyone who brushes past. Ross's "barbs" are very real, which is why Phoenix decision-makers will read, lament, denounce and stay clear of this book.

Why? The Phoenix elite have a very good life, and see no need to change. The one-in-six residents for whom hunger is an issue (according to local billboards) have no means to change or to be heard. Every week, a 53-foot trailer loaded with free food from St. Mary's Food Bank is parked in a church lot near my South Phoenix neighborhood. The downtown is overrun with homeless beggars who pack the main library and new trolley system to find some cool comfort in the summer.

The debilitating weakness of Phoenix is its uncaring government. Non-violent crime is among the highest in the nation; the Phoenix police, dubbed "cash registers" by others, tell victims, "We don't take reports of burglaries ...
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Susan Z on July 10, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Even though I had never heard of this author, this turned out to be one of the most important books I've read in the past few years.
Andrew Ross is a Professor of Social & Cultural Analysis at NY University. He lived in Phoenix for 2 years while researching this material, creating a well-written, broad-based study of the entire culture. It's an unblinking, hard look at the effects of climate change, immigration & poverty, land use, water rights (& future shortages), AZ history, and the short-sighted politics & social policies of the Phoenix area in particular & Arizona in general. He calls it "the world's least sustainable city" and clearly backs up this claim. He then expands the lesson to include the entire water-parched southwest and indeed all the world's arid regions, explaining what the future holds for us if the social & political problems are not addressed. It's definitely not a boring tome written by a climate change scientist.

As a 14 year resident I've often quipped, "Arizona is the most ignorant & politically corrupt state in the U.S." Ross not only confirms many things I had suspected, he exposes issues that I'd never even considered. Ross doesn't judge, he just states facts, but politicians in AZ will probably not want this book in wide circulation because it's very damning--it shines the light on many ugly practices.

If you're considering a move to "The Valley of the Sun" this is an absolute must-read--it will make you think twice.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By 50 something physician, teacher, scientist on June 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Andrew Ross really dove in and talked to many, many people, and captured the spirit here in Phoenix. I have lived here for 23 years and felt rather alone as a scientist who sees the air pollution and insanity of development here. (I risk my life by saying that!) In a short and intense stay here, Andrew Ross came forward with very powerful insights and recommendations.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By George Garrigues on July 19, 2015
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I agree with metzmatt. I skimmed and skipped and shut my eyes and fell asleep. It is LONG and overly burdened with details that simply don't belong there. Yes, Ross spent two years in Phoenix, and it is understandable that, as an academic, he wants to emphasize some important information that can't be found in the popular press or elsewhere, but too much is indeed too much. He needed a good editor, but I don't know of any academic who will easily admit such a fact. It is not an easy book to skim, either, because Ross does not organize his chapters with an understandable lead and a nice, crisp summing-up as a finish. As for his so-called "liberal bias," well, I myself am a liberal and, yes, a work of this sort SHOULD have a point of view, but, really, he simply scoffs at folks he doesn't agree with, and his snotty dismissal of tactics which he calls "greenwashing" (a description which might very well be accurate) is a bit off-putting. Nevertheless, the book has made me want to visit Phoenix just to see the renascence of the downtown area which he spends a great deal of time and ink in describing. I've lived off and on in California all 83 years, and I never before had been impelled to visit Arizona, not even to see the Grand Canyon. Chalk one up for "Bird on Fire" right there.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mary Louise Bustrin on September 8, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
As a third generation native of Phoenix, all I can say is that this book is required reading for anyone who loves Phoenix and the southwestern United States.
The era of ponzi-scheme growth ("building houses for people who build houses") is over. And so is the era of obsessive lawn care, and water-features, and city planning by real estate developers. If Phoenix is going to survive--much less, thrive--this book will be an important part of changing people's attitudes toward what it means to live in a desert and how to create an urban mentality which lives lightly in a fragile environment.

Phoenix could lead the way. But, as this book illustrates in so many ways, my beloved city will probably end up being an object lesson instead.
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