Thursday, January 04, 2007

Book Review The City in Mind

This book I expected would be very informational because of the subtitle “ notes on the urban condition.” I had hoped that I would learn a lot about urban planning and city development. I have been critical of urban sprawl for a few years because of the rapid rate at which Fresno is expanding, and I hoped to read about some alternatives. The Author examines several cities: Berlin, Atlanta, Paris, Rome, Mexico City, Boston, London, and Las Vegas. I felt as though he spent far too much time discussing the history of a city rather than the actual structure of the city. While I appreciate history as it relates to the present (I am after all a history teacher), I felt that he went into far too much detail to the neglect of the current situation in some instances. In the chapter about Mexico City for instance the bulk of it was about the Aztecs and Cortez, not modern Mexico City. All he had to say about it was basically, it is a mess. Ditto Berlin and London. It also had a strong anti Christian theme which seemed out of place in a book about cities. He took time to criticize the Crusades even though it had only the most minimal contribution to the chapter on Rome, and also pontificated about the Inquisition which as far as I can tell had nothing to add to any chapter. He blasted Gothic architecture and attributed it to Christians rather than simply Europeans, a distinction which is unfairly critical of Christian culture while sparing European culture. I can summarize the book in a sentence: suburbs are a mess, Paris is the best city in the world because of a man who nobody liked, and Boston is the city of the future in the USA. I don’t really recommend it for a study of urban planning because it was difficult at times to wade through the elaborate descriptions of historical events to find the characteristics of city development.

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