An excellent article from the Wall Street Journal reviewing three new books about cities.
“America is becoming more European. It’s as if a recessive gene has become dominant, reshaping the American character. Never mind Obamacare, SmartCars and fussy foodcraft. Just look at the demographics and urban life of American cities and how they’re changing. Today, many American cities are safer and healthier than they have been in a half-century, vibrant and full of culture and street life. City-sponsored bike-sharing stations have begun to crop up on our shores, in cities such as Washington and (next spring, with luck) New York City.
“P.D. Smith’s “City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age” argues not so much that American cities are becoming European as that all cities converge upon a time-tested form. Taking a broad view of urban evolution, Mr. Smith considers an array of urban settlements throughout history—from Alexandria to “Futuropolis.” The author, an independent researcher, argues that there is a deep urban archetype toward which all cities are trending, although arriving by different routes. He notes that cities world-wide are not only attracting a steady flow of immigrants—”By 2050 . . . nearly three-quarters of the world’s inhabitants will be urbanites, some 6.4 billion people”—but that the arrivals always have and always will clamor for many of the same things, like parks, museums and street food.
“City” takes the conceit that it’s a guidebook. Not a guide to a specific city but “an imaginary ‘Everycity.’ ” The chapters are thus divvied up into familiar guidebook groupings—”Arrival,” “Getting Around,” “Where to Stay” in which the author scouts the globe and reports on shared traits across time and place. “Arrival,” for instance, highlights city gateways, from ancient Tenochtitlán in Mexico to more modern Ellis Island. It’s reminiscent of how Christopher Alexander took on architectural archetypes in “A Pattern Language” but from a much higher vantage point…