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Living in the Endless City

A lot of people, New York natives especially, call their home town the best city in the world, but after enduring a seven month-long winter and battling the excruciating heat and humidity of its summer, one has to wonder if the 24-hour access to culture and nightlife is really worth it. Of course, no city is perfect, but lately the daily and, frankly, exhausting struggle with my NY weather foes has left me begging the question, what makes a successful city?

As serendipity would have it, Phaidon is asking themselves the same question and doing quite a good job of answering it, too, with their new release “Living in the Endless City.” If the neon green cover doesn’t grab your attention this little tidbit will. Right now 53% of the population lives in cities, with an expected increase to 75% by 2050, yet only 2% of the Earth’s surface is occupied by cities. 2%! With the frightening thought of more and more people cramming into this tiny fraction of our available land mass the book’s contributors tried to figure out how you measure the success of a city by looking at factors like 1) affordable public transportation, 2) public spaces that spread the population density out over various public centers and 3) size. Yes, size does matter – a successful city is neither too big not too small.

In their first book “The Endless City,” authors Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic looked at six of the world’s major cities: New York City, Shanghai, London, Mexico City, Johannesburg and Berlin. London made good marks and was applauded for its low, evenly spread density as well as its diverse and thriving ethnic communities. For their follow up they focused on just three: Mumbai, Sao Paulo and Istanbul with a focus on security, democracy, climate change and globalization. With population on the rise (scientists have determined that population increase is going to be the cause of the Earth’s next mass extinction – just a fun fact) the ability of cities to adapt to its citizens ever growing demands is a huge issue and one that some places are doing better than others. While there’s a lot of information in the book I personally find downright harrowing, there’s also the uplifting idea that cities will never reach extinction or become obsolete simply because they are never complete. They’re an ever evolving, growing, some might say living organism, constantly decaying and rebuilding and always changing.