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BOOK REVIEW-THE CITY-A Global History


by JOEL KOTKIN
Cities are the fulcrum of civilization. Urbanist Joel Kotkin in his book The city: A global
history creates interest in the origin and history of world cities from the oldest cities to the
modern post-industrial cities. He examines the evolution of cities and urban life over
thousands of years. He gives an introduction about the social context and urban geography
and the history of urbanity in his writing. He started his writing in chronological order
describing about the each in a detailed way introducing cities. He covered the earliest major
cities from Mohenjo-Daro to contemporary developing megacities like Mumbai and shanghai.
But he is only giving a brief introduction of each of these cities and the trends and factors
affecting each citys development. Despite this wide-breadth in temporal and geographic
scale. He concludes with a shrewd diagnosis of the problems and crises facing cities in the
21st-Century.
Unlike other books on cities, Kotkin's is truly global in scope (even Lewis Mumford
confined his vision to the West). For Kotkin, cities are not merely "machines for living" but
embodiments of the highest ideals: how we can live, cooperate and create together. In looking
at the history of city life as a continuous whole, The city is nothing less than a breath-taking
account of the human achievement itself.
Kotkins framework is summarized in the title of the first chapter Places Sacred, Safe,
and busy. Joel Kotkin argues that a citys prominence is due to three factors that determine
the overall health of citiesthe sacredness of place, the ability to provide security and project
power, and last, and the animating role of commerce. When these factors are present, a city
can be great, when they are not the city can wither and fade. The first three chapters
comprising the first section devoted to the ancient cities and how they set the standard of all
cities being a place of sacredness, security and commerce. He primarily focused on the cities
in Mesopotamia which is a progenitor to the modern civilizations. He explains the city and its
further development into his framework of sacred, safe, and busy with ancient examples.
Part two three and four deals with classical and renaissance civilizations. Here he
explains the development of the cities from the great Greek civilization starting from the
collapse of roman empires and the destruction of the classical city.in part three he shifted the
focus to the other cities of the east like china and India along with the Islamic civilizations. But
he had done his job effectively by highlighting the changes in terms of social and economic
that happens in the dark ages of Europe following the fall of Rome. In part four, Europe
reasserts its primacy as the hub of urbanity.

Chapter nine Opportunity Lost sets the stage for part four. In this chapter e pointed
out Prosperity as the culprit of Asian and Islamic stagnation and furtherly leading to its
decline. He pointed out the ethno centric attitude that evolves out in the century of political,
economic and social denomination. He describes about the limits of control of each king and
the autocracy among kingdoms which helped the European traders to easily start their
entrepreneurship in the cities. He describe the rise of power of the merchant at this stage
where urban merchants and the artesian classes were effectively counterweights to the elite
political peoples and influenced in making policy
In cities of Mammon and in fifth part he describes about Europes imperial cities,
Venice, Amsterdam and London through to industrialization and the creation of high rise
cities.kotkin explains the industrialization of UK and US as primary case study which
counterbalances other nations like imperial japan, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. He
point out the mistake of Western industrial cities as they overemphasis the industrialization
with the commercialism. He explains of the industrial cities changed the nature of the city in
terms of environmental and social degradation. He argues that the Soviet Union stripped
cities of their sacred function. When industrialization destroy the sacred religions and moral
order of the west. Soviet Union created cities with a destitute urban legacy.
The final section talks about the rush to suburbia and the population loss majorly of
whites that happens in the western cities throughout the century. Kotkin points to the
automobile, mass transportation (to a certain extent), the fear of crime in the inner city, and
prevailing cultural preferences for a six room house with a big yard. Of course, the ultimate
manifestation of this kind of city is Los Angeles. While suburbanization gripped the West, the
former colonies and imperial territories of Africa and Asia grappled with their colonial legacies.
In this chapter, Kotkin highlights the impact that Europeans had on the urban landscape of
conquered territories (often creating capitals despite an existing infrastructure elsewhere, like
Calcutta instead of Delhi). Importantly, Kotkin also discusses the dualistic nature of many
former colonial cities. This dualism is in the relative affluence for a small proportion of the
population, often very visible in social and international media (think of Mumbai and Cairo)
and the near destitution and poverty afflicting the vast majority of the rest of these urban
dwellers. In the concluding section to this chapter he describes these socially stratified cities
in the Middle East and Africa (in particular) as social time bombs.
He concludes by giving a brief description of the preceding chapter. Here he examines
the growth and success of the eastern cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. He deals with the
future of urbanity, particularly in the United States. Three points he coined here is Destruction
distance,Tele-commuting and Tele-working. With the discovery of these the concept of
city as a center of commerce and work is decreasing as with these facilities one will be able to
do work at home or wherever he lives. Obviously, this sort of phenomena is primarily oriented
to service-based economies in the West, rather than manufacturing centers elsewhere. This

destruction of distance also threatens the megacities of economically developing countries,


which have outrun their colonial infrastructure. In the West, it is becoming apparent that it is
no longer necessary for humanity to congregate in an area to maintain an economically viable
enterprise.
In response, Kotkin sees cities everywhere becoming ephemeral and relying on their
cultural industry to set trends and to become places for tourism and wonder. Perhaps most
interestingly, Kotkin sees a limit to gentrification by wealthy youths and relative social elites.
As middle-class urban families are priced out and banished to the suburbs, Kotkin sees a loss
of economic and social vitality characteristic of urban stagnation and decline. A word here
on gentrification as Kotkin sees it, rather than urban revitalization by young families; he
references older affluentwealthy cosmopolites' seeking to convert cities from economic
centers to residential resorts. The final threat is the lack of a common moral vision to hold
cities together. Kotkin points to the lack of religion or any other binding force in contemporary
cities as a serious problem to the lack of stable communities. Most interestingly in this regard,
he notes that academics and planners rarely discuss the lack of a powerful moral vision. In
quoting Daniel Bell he says that the fate of cities still revolves around a conception of public
virtue.'
Joel Kotkins The City provides a brief introduction to the geography and history of
humanitys urbanity. Using a framework emphasizing the city as sacred, secure, and
commercial places, he not only highlights the myriad cities that came to dominate the
surrounding landscape (sometimes the known world) but also provides useful insight into their
eventual decline. The book is important as, we tend to learn much more from our failures,
than our successes.
Moving beyond the city's functional aspects of politics, security, and economics, Kotkin
focuses on his theme of the city as a powerful moral and spiritual ethos to explain the rise and
fall of particular urban cultures. By focusing on the city's cultural and ethical dimension, Kotkin
gives readers a powerful lens for understanding the lifespan of historical cities and urban
cultures, and perhaps a tool to forecast the city of the future.
While Kotkin describes the story of urbanity Lewis Mumford in his book The city in
history describes the social history, it deals expansively with the form and function of the city
in western civilization from ancient times down to the present. Although the Mumford is
concerned in the larger sense with the city as a citadel of law and order, he is not concerned
in the narrower sense with the legal structure that lies behind planning and other municipal
functions.
Mumfords ideas are blurry at times even though he describes about the order of a city
and the organic factors that must take into account his major theme is not so clear. He is into
modern metropolis and prefers the intimacy of the medieval town. Throughout the book,
Mumford makes much of the necessity of limits on city sizes. He feels that there are

necessary organic limits to the size of any city, beyond which gigantism is the result and
decay sets in. He clearly deplores the overgrowth of the American megalopolis, which he
considers to be a formless mass beyond redemption.
He describes in details about the pros and cons of baroque and medieval period
planning. He says that in a baroque planned city the new plan distinguished itself from the
older medieval informality by the use of straight lines and regular block units as far as
possible of uniform dimensions. Washington DC is cited as a classical example. The planner
of the Washington DC didnt sacrifices the other functions of the city to space, positional
magnificence and movement.
With the growth of capitalism and the speculative order in commercial life came
another disturbing influence the speculative ground plan. Although the gridiron plan had
ancient origins and may have once served religious rather than speculative functions, gridiron
lot and block design in recent times has been closely associated with the commercial
exploitation of the city. Mumford has a divesting section on the destructive impact of the
gridiron system. What a grid iron pattern was supposed to full fill was the standardized lot and
block but what happen actually is traffic streets becoming too small and residential street
becoming too large and was waste due to a general overdose of paving.
Mumfords comments on the uniform dimensions of the baroque order and the
standardizing effects of the gridiron plan fit interestingly with legal notions of fair play that are
enshrined in the equal protection clauses of our federal and state constitutions. Equal
protection means equal treatment. As applied to the zoning and land use planning. Without
questioning the basic premise of equal protection clause, the argument could be made that
diversity rather than uniformity is needed in the urban environment. Mumford suggests as
much in his section on the Hellenic city and Jane Jacobs has made a strong plea for diversity
in her book the death and life of Great American cities.
Mumford himself offers no solution to the urban design problems. But his bias against
the grand and the formal is clear. While we cannot recreate the medieval form which Mumford
does seem to prefer, we can perhaps adapt some of its commendable features. Like
integrated neighbourhoods in which one can live near his work like in London. Mumford also
sees hope in the assembly of large aggregates of land for unified development as similar to
the garden cities of Ebenezer Howard. Mumford observed that the most successful urban
plans have been executed at one time by persons having control of the whole entity.
Mumford puts his preference for growth restriction on more than a liking for medieval
form. He sees to feel that any social organism is innately subject to growth limitations.
Mumford accepts Ebenezer theory that every city, every organ of the community, indeed

every association and organization has a limit of physical growth and every plan to overpass
that limit must be transposed into an etherealized form.
Mumford clearly prefers an urban environment in which growth controlled communities
are associated n a regional grid. These communities would reflect internally the functional
decentralization and close informality of the medieval town.
In short when Joel Kotkin talks in general about the different cities of east and west in
terms of their origin with a strong religious centers and its development in time with the
protection of a security force or an administration as a medieval time and its changes that
happen due to the industrialization in general. When Mumford is describing the conditions and
evaluating his ideas focusing to medieval cities.