This little book begins with a big claim: the city is dead, and cyberspace killed it. But Mitchell, it turns out, is too intelligent an observer to really mean anything quite so drastic. Despite his weakness for bold, catchy statements (and it is a weakness), this MIT architecture professor has both feet planted in the long and much-studied history of urban spaces, and he draws from it a pragmatic optimism that keeps his argument both hopeful and nuanced. His real thesis: Under cyberspace's influence, the city is changing, no more or less radically than it did under the influence of postal systems, electricity, and cars. And if we ride the new changes carefully, he insists, the places we live and work in can become "e-topias--lean, green cities that work smarter, not harder."
As in his bestselling City of Bits: Space, Place, and the Infobahn, Mitchell floats his claims on a brisk stream of technological detail, much of it eye-opening, all of it clearly presented. Low-earth-orbit satellites; small-scale, wearable computer networks woven into underpants; artificially intelligent houses; and the logistics of high-tech pizza delivery are just a few of the phenomena that go into Mitchell's sketch of the emergent digital city. Casually erudite nods to urban theorists from Plato to Lewis Mumford to William H. Gates III round out the portrait. In the end, Mitchell shows us the city doing more or less what it has always done: evolving away from its simple, ancient roots toward increasingly mediated complexity. --Julian Dibbell
From Publishers Weekly
For readers who've been crouched over their Commodore 64s for the past two decades, here's a user's guide to the perils and pleasures of a digitally shaped future. In this extended postscript to his well-received City of Bits, Mitchell, dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning, chronicles the disparate effects of the digital revolution, arguing that we need to think of architecture and urban design in terms of virtual spaces and places. Offering short, evocative bitsAor perhaps they're bytesAof his trademark tongue-in-cheek prose, Mitchell discusses how hubs of networked information will transform our cities, just as rail hubs and highway off-ramps generated urban development in the past. In the world of online commerce and 24-hour chat rooms, we're challenged to reinvent public places and reknit our social fabric for the information age. Importantly, Mitchell notes, we'll need to contend with physical consequences of virtual reality, such as the clustering of affluent silicon communities and the marginalization of the poor to places such as crime-ridden East Palo Alto. Much of the book, however, dwells superfluously on techno-gadgetry from wrist-worn stock quote devices to telerobots that, via a dial-up connection and a robotic arm, will enable people to make remote toast. Veterans of the digital frontier will find little new ground here, and others may cavil at the author's habit of writing about "the late 1990s" in the past tense, as if we've already been stranded along some darkened byway of the infobahn. Nonetheless, Mitchell's remains a sensitive and cogent voice amid the mounting decibels of technological hype. (Oct.)
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