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Cities Are Good for You: The Genius of the Metropolis Hardcover – July 16, 2013
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From Mumbai to Shanghai, Hollis is the perfect guide to the art, science and even maths of what makes cities so great Marcus du Sautoy Extremely timely ... There are, though, some fascinating and thoroughly researched passages. Hollis's eludication on the garden city movement is a beautifully crafted study of the purpose-built, self-sufficient towns that sprung up in the 20th century as a riposte to unchecked urban sprawl Financial Times In Cities Are Good for You Leo Hollis aims to set the record straight on the places where more than half the world's population now lives. He does so with gusto ... An intriguing book The Times Leo Hollis has written an eloquent, nuanced, and learned account of the ways in which cities can serve as conduits for happiness. His wide-ranging and acute observations of the interaction of the social and the formal map an optimistic and incisive vision of an emergent - and indispensable - urbanism predicated on sustainability, equity, imagination and trust Michael Sorkin There's a persuasive energy to this optimistic celebration Metro Combing a wealth of info on cities the world over with anecdote and experience, Hollis's fascinating book touts the theory that our path to salvation is the city itself - ultimately justifying our unwavering desire to skip the mud for the metropolitan Fabric Magazine A useful counterpoint to those who would argue that the big bad city is to be escaped at all costs Observer Leo Hollis's book makes a persuasive case for thinking more about how we plan cities The Times Offers a surprisingly positive perspective on urban living Traveller Beautifully written and absorbing book ... This is an inspiring, richly illustrated, and thoroughly enjoyable read Good Book Guide --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
About the Author
Leo Hollis is a writer and historian. Born in London, he studied history of the University of East Anglia. He now works as an editor at Verso and is the critically acclaimed author of London Rising: The Men Who Made Modern London (published in the UK as The Phoenix: St Paul's Cathedral and the Men Who Made Modern London) and The Stones of London: A History in Twelve Buildings. He lives in West Hampstead, UK.
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Top Customer Reviews
The rest of the book reads like a summary of the last 3 years publications on the subject. If this is your first book on the subject of urbanism and economies then you should enjoy it. Otherwise, I feel that it might come across as awkward and clunky in parts. Furthermore, there is no real analysis or new ideas being developed. Ultimately, the author fails to prove that cities really are good for us (even though I am a proponent and believer) and instead relies on the assumptions that others have already formulated. I am left wondering why the author even wrote the book despite the fact that I generally enjoyed it
I approached (and enjoyed) this book as a “naïve reader”. I’m not an urban planner.
One of Hollis’s opening arguments pertains to “second tier” friends. He says city and country people have about the same number of “first tier” friends and relatives, the people with whom we work, play and live. But he asserts that city folks have more “second tier” friends – former colleagues, acquaintances, casual contacts, slightly known neighbors – and these people improve the quality of life. Evidently this can be documented in the job search arena.
Hollis moves on to discuss the city as a hive, and there, I think, violates logic. He references ant biologist E O Wilson in a discussion (over my head) of complexity theory. A few pages later, Hollis casually informs us that a beehive is a “democracy”. What?! The concept of “democracy” is so saturated with political and sociological assumptions that applying it to an insect (no bones, not much brain, etc.) is just wacko. It’s like hearing someone announce that they are going out to milk the cow, then seeing them walk off with a full set of welding tools. It’s not going to work…
So, who else turns up in Hollis’s book? He disliked Robert Moses, who so shaped (deformed?) New York City. I agree with him, but that’s based only on the Robert Caro biography of Moses. (New York City makes me particularly anxious…)
Hollis is uncritically approving of Cory Booker, about whom I am reserving judgment.
Hollis devotes an interesting chapter to creativity, using that term to apply broadly, to arts, technology and innovation in general. He discusses, with many examples, how cities re-invent themselves, which often seems to involve arts or information science. When it works, is it because someone made and implemented a good plan, or is it because the right number of bright, high-energy people were in the same place at the same time? Does it happen from the bottom up, or the top down? Do professional planners and architects help or hinder? I know some artists with whom I want to discuss this.
Hollis believes cities are more likely to save us from environmental destruction/climate change than country life. I agree. Living out in the country and “off the grid” either involves a standard of living most of us wouldn’t accept, or use of all kinds of high tech gadgetry (solar panels, batteries, wind turbines, etc.) that is produced elsewhere, always at some environmental cost. And you have to own a car. Cities allow for many efficiencies, most notably that one may have a well developed social life close at hand, just because there are so many people around.
When I went to college, I was surprised how much I enjoyed living in a dorm, and having friends – both close and casual – nearby. A college campus is often more like a city than a suburb, despite all that grass.
That said, I should make it clear that Hollis is ambivalent about cities, frequently citing situations gone wrong (riots, slums…) as well as examples of smart growth and strong communities. But he considers it inevitable that the human future will be largely urban. He can’t decide if cities are “organic” and sometimes self correcting, or if they must (at least some of the time) be organized from the top down.
Hollis cites so many other authors that you could spend months checking them all out. Two who intrigued me were Colin Beavan (No Impact Man) and Donald Shoup (The High Cost of Free Parking).
Beavan (and family) tried to live city life with “no impact”. He even turned off the electricity in his apartment. Ridiculous… Candles are too dangerous. He charged his computer elsewhere. How did he do laundry? And this was a one year experiment! Interesting, but not significant (to me).
Shoup’s book about parking interests me much more! Shoup argues that parking should never be free. This issue is close to my heart. I work on a college campus. I know what parking costs – it is not free, ANYWHERE. Free parking on a college campus sends the wrong message – use your car, don’t worry about the impact. I feel like I’m seeing (once again) something I remember from the early days of recycling. Why was the “container industry” allowed to introduce the aluminum can without taking responsibility for its disposal?? Individuals and municipalities and campuses struggled so hard to deal with single use cans, while the “container industry” got rich. Whether we talk about solid waste or parking, each technology needs to be viewed as a whole process, not a one-way dash towards profit and convenience.
However did Hollis miss John Francis (Planetwalker)??
Hollis suggests that cities (especially megacities like London or NYC or Hong Kong) will soon be more important than countries. Might this decrease the likelihood of war? In this case, what will global citizenship mean? Do I want to live in a megacity? NO! But what about my sons?
I recommend this book to people interested in the near future, climate change and planning/development. With all the talk currently heard about resilience and adaptation, that’s a lot of people.