There's a belief that the rise of technology will make cities obsolete, as more people live where they choose and telecommute to work. The advent of portable cell phones, easy air travel, and hotel time-sharing encourages a sense of "placelessness"--and that bodes ill for urban clusters. But Joel Kotkin thinks this conventional wisdom is unwise: "The importance of geography is not dwindling to nothing in the digital era; in fact, quite the opposite. In reality, place--geography--matters now more than ever before," he writes. Cities will no longer be industrial or corporate centers, but rather magnets for intelligence and talent in a way they haven't been for quite some time. The paradigm is an old one:
Like the postindustrial metropolis, the preindustrial city, existing before the era dominated by mass production of goods and services, flourished by capitalizing on functions--such as cross-cultural trades, the arts, and specialized craft-based production--that could not be adequately performed by the far more numerically superior hinterland.
In this sense, the future city may have more in common with Venice during the Renaissance than Detroit during the Henry Ford era.
Kotkin does not believe all cities will thrive in this environment. He's particularly down on what he calls the "midopolis"--suburbs built mainly in the 1950s and 1960s to service the old-city model. They are now afflicted by crumbling infrastructures, rising crime rates, and declining schools. He cites Long Island and the San Fernando Valley as examples. New forms of city--Kotkin calls then "nerdistans"--are already rising in their place. They are self-contained suburbs that have few of the problems associated with urban cores, and they attract companies and workers tuned into the technological revolution. He names Austin, Texas, and Raleigh, North Carolina, as prototypes. Kotkin is a veteran business journalist who writes for The New York Times and other publications. He's written several other books, including Tribes, but The New Geography is his best yet: a smart combination of the reportage one expects from a top-drawer magazine article and the thoughtfulness one expects from a book. It may come to be remembered as a classic, an information-age groundbreaker with the influence of Jane Jacobs's The Death and Life of Great American Cities. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
A prolific journalist and technology author (Tribes, etc.), Kotkin predicts how the Internet revolution will affect the cities, suburbs and towns where people workDin a study that will appeal mainly to those interested in urban planning and business prognostications. Many commentators have noted that as the information industry grows, physical factors such as location and access to raw materials become less important. But Kotkin declares, "if people, companies, or industries can truly live anywhere... where to locate becomes increasingly contingent on the peculiar attributes of any given location." Cities big and small must have aesthetic appeal and a pleasant quality of life to attract the high concentrations of human skill that mark strength in the new economy, he says. Though one need only consider the condition of, say, Detroit to see that many cities can no longer succeed as broad industrial centers, Kotkin points out that downtowns can restyle themselves as crucial niches for arts, entertainment and health care. He outlines the inevitable rise of "nerdistans" (among the jargon he coins), lifestyle-driven developments around those cities that have managed to attract knowledge workers in the new economy. Outside the city, he warns, struggling suburbs can't replace "the centrality of the marketplace" simply by building cultural centers. The book has the air of a compilation, with Kotkin's intriguing reportage (for publications like the New York Times and Inc.) and wide-ranging observations shoehorned into a calculatedly provocative thesis about a "new" geography. Author tour.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.