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If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities

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  • Posted December 26, 2013

    another urbanist

    "The city, always the human habitat of first resort, ,has in today's globalizing world once again become democracy's best hope." p.3

    First page of the first chapter and I am already at odds with Ben. Life in cities represents a miniscule portion of human history not "the human habitat of first resort..." We evolved on savannahs and as mobile gathers, not a civilized creatures. Cities are an anomaly in human history ( so far ) and, while I don't see them disappearing anytime soon I don't see them as salvation either. Concentrations of humans may make the distribution of resources more efficient and that may be the strength of the arguments put forth in the "new urbanism". However, like all boosters, Ben neglects entirely the fact that cities are energy and resource sinks. Big cities ( read New York, Tokyo, London, etc. ) not self-supporting and probably will never be so. Smaller units that are sustainable are called for. Ben argues that there are communities with urban systems and in this he is doubtlessly correct, but a community in an unsupportable urban setting isn't of much use except as mutual support and as a vehicle for escape. We need to find community where we are, not in a massive urban migration. He does look into some problems associated with urban growth and tries to address the issues brought up by Mike Davis in "Planet of Slums " but doesn't dispel them because he can't. He tries because his argument that cities represent the last, best hope of democracy as national governments recede in relevance in a corporately controlled world hinges on a sustainable form of urbanism where mayors respond to citizens needs ( " mayors pick up the trash..." ). Big cities are not inherently sustainable and in a world of shrinking sources of high quality energy they are not likely to become so. Something of a flaw in Ben's reasoning.

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