City Slickers: 5 Books About The Urban Experience

City SlickersHere is a brief excerpt from an article by Franklyn Cater for National Public Radio (NPR), “A thriving media organization at the forefront of digital innovation, NPR creates and distributes award-winning news, information, and music programming to a network of 975 independent stations. Through them, NPR programming reaches 26 million listeners every week.” To read the complete article, check out other resources, learn more about how to support NPR, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

Illustration credit: Andrew Bannecker

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At the NPR Cities Project, we’ve spent much of the summer reading, breathing, reporting on urban innovation. From smartphone apps such as NextBus and StreetBump, to citywide surveillance camera networks, to 911 texting and NASA-style command and control centers for city agencies, we’ve been exploring how cities are using technology in the 21st century. It’s a hot topic among urbanists everywhere.

There is no doubt that information technology is changing how we get around, how our governments work, and how we relate to the people in our neighborhoods. By 2050, the United Nations projects, almost 70 percent of people around the world will live in metropolitan areas. So lots of technologists are looking for solutions to urban puzzles with the hope that bigger, denser population centers of the future can also be more efficient and more pleasant places to live.

With these trends in mind, here is some of the year’s big thinking about the intersection of our increasingly digitized and citified lives.

[Here is the first of five recommendations.]

Future CitiesA History of Future Cities
Daniel Brook
W.W. Norton & Company (2013)

In some parts of the world — especially in developing countries — the trend toward urban living is so rapid that villages are turning into major metropolises in a matter of years. But it’s not a new development. Daniel Brook takes us back in history to explore four huge, well-established cities and how they once experienced their own population explosions: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai and Dubai.

In the 18th century, Peter the Great, captivated by the city of Amsterdam, decided to mimic the Dutch. He emulated their shipbuilding. He imported the printing press. But when he built a new city, St. Petersburg, as a copy of much of what he saw in Holland, he ordered it built by unpaid serfs. He did not offer them so much as a wheelbarrow in the way of technology to assist. He later boasted that 100,000 people had died in the city’s construction.

That theme of modernity for the privileged continued in the late 19th century. In Shanghai, American steamship technology helped to fuel the economy. The telegraph and electricity defined Shanghai as a modern city unlike the rest of China, but the modern life was for the elite and for foreign visitors only.

Brook points out that these are Eastern cities that westernized as they modernized. “Can,” Brook wonders, “modernization and globalization … ever be more than just euphemisms for Westernization[?]”

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To read the complete article, please click here.

Franklyn Cater is senior producer at NPR’s All Things Considered and editor of the NPR Cities Project.

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