Reading on the City, Crash Course

These three books represent disparate interpretations of the city.  What is the role of the city in our global economy, daily life, and cultural development? How do the decisions of city planners effect quality of life for city dwellers?  Each of these books is a classic, taught in university Urban Studies courses around the world. For a good read and a deeper understanding of how the rise of the city is a phenomenon that is rapidly changing the history of the human race.

Saskia Sassen, “The Global City”

This classic work chronicles how New York, London, and Tokyo became command centers for the global economy and in the process underwent a series of massive and parallel changes. What distinguishes Sassen’s theoretical framework is the emphasis on the formation of cross-border dynamics through which these cities and the growing number of other global cities begin to form strategic transnational networks. All the core data in this new edition have been updated, while the preface and epilogue discuss the relevant trends in globalization since the book originally came out in 1991.

Mike Davis, “City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles”

No metropolis has been more loved or more hated. To its official boosters, “Los Angeles brings it all together.” To detractors, LA is a sunlit mortuary where “you can rot without feeling it.” To Mike Davis, the author of this fiercely elegant and wide- ranging work of social history, Los Angeles is both utopia and dystopia, a place where the last Joshua trees are being plowed under to make room for model communities in the desert, where the rich have hired their own police to fend off street gangs, as well as armed Beirut militias. In City of Quartz, Davis reconstructs LA’s shadow history and dissects its ethereal economy. He tells us who has the power and how they hold on to it. He gives us a city of Dickensian extremes, Pynchonesque conspiracies, and a desperation straight out of Nathaniel Westa city in which we may glimpse our own future mirrored with terrifying clarity.  In this new edition, Davis provides a dazzling update on the city’s current status.

Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

The Death and Life of Great American Cities was described by The New York Times as “perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning… . [It] can also be seen in a much larger context. It is first of all a work of literature; the descriptions of street life as a kind of ballet and the bitingly satiric account of traditional planning theory can still be read for pleasure even by those who long ago absorbed and appropriated the book’s arguments.” Jane Jacobs, an editor and writer on architecture in New York City in the early sixties, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners. Rigorous, sane, and delightfully epigrammatic, Jane Jacobs’s tour de force is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities. It remains sensible, knowledgeable, readable, and indispensable.