cover image The Seduction of Place: The City in the Twenty-First Century

The Seduction of Place: The City in the Twenty-First Century

Joseph Rykwert. Pantheon Books, $27.5 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-375-40048-3

The city is at the center of the modern world: whether we live in one or not, they affect our lives through commerce, culture and civitas. In this complexly argued, beautifully written and provocative meditation on the nature of cities, Rykerk (The Idea of a Town) investigates the intricate relationships between the individual and the urban. By examining the historical development of cities--from the invention of the water lock in mid-15th-century Italy that helped facilitate water transport, to the founding of U.S. utopian communities, such as New Harmony in the early 18th century, to the expansion of Manhattan into a grid of streets in the mid-19th century--he explores how cities grew to meet human needs, analyzing which needs remain unfulfilled. In full command of a wide range of knowledge, Rykwerk blithely moves from a discussion of how the aesthetics of John Ruskin and William Morris dovetailed with the political theories of Engles to how changes in tourism affected urban planning and development. These large themes match the ""grandiloquence"" of those great cities and the role they played in the development of the last three centuries. At the book's end, Rykwerk discusses how contemporary cities can be made more congenial, drawing upon examples such as the role of the car in modern China, the urban theories and activist agenda of Jane Jacobs and the place of museums in the urbanscape. Rykwerk uses nuance, practicality and foresight to show how, through ""little plans"" composed of ""sobriety and effective actions,"" cities can be useful and wholesome to those who inhabit them. (Sept.)