cover image A History of Future Cities

A History of Future Cities

Daniel Brook. Norton, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-07812-1

In these deft portraits of St. Petersburg, Russia; Bombay, India; Shanghai, China; and Dubai, UAE; journalist Brook (The Trap) artfully condenses and illustrates three centuries of revolutionary urban development and globalizing impulses. From Peter the Great’s decree that brought St. Petersburg into being in 1703 to the recent creations of towering skyscrapers in the Persian Gulf, these “instant cities modeled on the West have been built in the developing world in audacious attempts to wrench a lagging region into the modern world,” with relative degrees of success and unforeseen consequences. Brook traces the commercial and authoritarian origins of these deliberately “dis-orient-ed” cities that slam West and East together. The intended goal of promoting commerce with the wider world inevitably created heady mixes of cultural and political mores: the Communist Party of China thrived in 1920s Shanghai, a portal to the West that sowed the seeds of the People’s Republic; Bombay (now Mumbai) played a crucial role in fostering the movement that led to India’s independence in 1947. While the ruling family of Dubai can now run it as a corporation—backed by studies and plans from McKinsey and Pricewaterhouse Coopers—Brook convincingly puts it in a continuum of cities that have taken on a life of their own, observing that “the only question is when, not if, its people will seize the opportunity its autocrats have unwittingly created.” Agent: Larry Weisman. (Feb.)