- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Scribner (October 10, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684825295
- ISBN-13: 978-0684825298
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #614,995 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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City Life Paperback – October 10, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Rybczynski presents a historical survey of the development of American cities.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Architectural and urban historian Rybczynski (The Most Beautiful House in the World, LJ 4/1/89) has something to say about the shape of American cities, how they got that way, and how they inevitably contrast with their counterparts in Europe given the development of this country and our distincitve set of values. In succinct, accessible style, he moves from the flourishing of towns and cities in Europe to Tocqueville's assessment of the New World's urban efforts, to a sharp condemnation of urban planning in the last decades as a violation of America's values of spaciousness, choice, and self-sufficiency. At times the book seems a bit breezy, but Rybczynski can toss of terrific insights, e.g., conditions in the New World "gave American towns an independence of spirit, but also reinforced the general assumption that urban self-sufficiency was was the normal state of affairs"?which was certainly not true in the rest of the world and, he points out, has created some of the problems we have today. A fine book; recommended for most collections.?Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book focuses mostly upon the development of cities in the United States and Canada. European cities are occasionally mentioned and discussed, but only in how they compare to their North American cousins. It's a history of cities, which combines modern-day thoughts on their development as well as some historical comments from what the people of the time thought of how their cities were emerging. Rybczynski also manages to touch on the roles of commercialism, art, and the unique qualities of North America that have helped to define our cities. Cities did not spring fully-formed, nor were they all laid out at the same time, and the author takes time to explore how different approaches to city planning created vastly differing results. He compares the many different approaches, from the organized and structured to the evolving and improvised.
The absolute biggest flaw with this text is that it is indeed just a text. Outside of the cover (featuring a sketching of a 19th Century street-scene and a poignant pre-9/11 photograph of the New York City skyline), there are no illustrations. No pictures, no diagrams, no maps, no charts, no blueprints, no photos -- nothing. Like Alice, I couldn't understand why someone would write a book such as this without including pictures. Rybczynski, therefore, spends far too much time describing city layouts, maps, street diagrams and other visual artifacts, leaving the reader without a pictorial aid. Photographs and maps are described rather than included. It's very frustrating. A picture is worth a thousand words, and in a book that is this heavily involved concerned with what things look like, some pictures would have been invaluable.
Rybczynski's writing style is relatively engaging, though he does have an unfortunate tendency to lapse into dry lists of various items (usually one word mentions of various architects and city planners). This can be infrequently distracting, leading one to wonder if perhaps some of the information could have been conveyed in a more interesting way. Still, the history of cities as well as the philosophy behind their growth makes for fascinating subjects, so whatever faults may lie in the book, it is still well worth reading.
In just over 200 pages Rybczynski glides through the history of North American urbanization, from Anasazi cliff towns to suburban Levittown. In the process, he examines the failures of urban renewal, the surprising virtues of shopping malls and the enduring livability of "garden suburbs" such as Lake Forest, Illinois and Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania. Throughout, he is insightful and refreshingly open-minded, never resorting to the simple-minded cities good/suburbs bad dichotomy that characterizes much writing about urbanism today. While conscientious readers may go away with plenty of ideas on how to improve their own streets, towns and cities, Rybczynski's task is to describe, rather than proscribe.
I've read two other books by Mr. Rybczyncki, "Looking Around" and "The Look of Architecture". Both were fine reads, written and littered with pleasant insight. The same can be said of "City Life".
Rybczyncki obviously knows what he's talking about. And I think that's ultimately his problem. He sticks to what he knows. The book is clean, scrubbed of the messiness that makes cities so interesting. There aren't even any diagrams or illustrations. Instead he briskly walks you through the history of the American city in 200 pages. One of the reviewers here said he read this book for a high school history class. That seems about right. Facts and trends are revealed, but only one idea surfaces. In some ways this primacy of focus must be commended. The information is conveyed clearly and concisely. Rybczynski runs no risk of being called out on a theory that might prove wrong. The closet he treads to controversy is admitting a fondness for the mall.
Outlandish theories need not be the goal. But there the book offer so little to disagree with you almost feel like you didn't learn anything. It seems Rybczyncki with his gentile sensibility, has no wish to offend.
Portland's all clean lines, small blocks and mixed usage. The perfect city. Walkable and drivable. As I was strolling around, wasting time I should have been spending at the conference, the city tried to seduce me. Climbing the hills into the Rose Garden, I actually heard the city whisper to me, "Move here. Move here. Look around you. How nice is this? Leave dirty, loud New York. You can live here. You can be upper middle class too; drive an SUV Volvo, live in a pretty wood house painted dark green, go running in the hills, shop at the organic farmers market." My stomach warmed over the fantasy, as if I just drank a full glass of warm water. It seemed life would have no problems, if I lived in Portland. I would forget about Lisa; my career would trundle along; I would go to more dinner parties. Everything had been thought out. And that would kind of suck. Plus, I remembered: I hate driving, I don't run and I never cook. But the city plan is good.
And somehow "City Life" reminds me of this feeling. The prose whisks you along, laying facts before you. I actually underlined quite a bit. But then I got to the last twenty pages, realized there's not much left and asked, "That's it?"
I met a city planner out in Portland who extolled to me, "Portland has more jazz clubs than any other city in the U.S. other than New York." Which made me think, jazz may be dead.