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5.0 von 5 Sternen A Brief Summary and Review, 10. Dezember 2013
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design (Gebundene Ausgabe)
*A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on Tuesday, December 17, 2013.

The modern city owes much of its current design to two major trends or ‘movements’ that have risen up since the time of the industrial revolution. The first trend traces back to the industrial revolution itself, when the appearance of smoke-billowing factories (and egregiously dirty slums) necessitated new solutions to the problem of how to organize city life. The answer—still reflected in cities all over the world—was to compartmentalize functions, such that industrial areas, shopping areas, office areas, and living areas were separated off from one another into distinct blocks of the city.

The second trend in urban design took full hold in the post-war era, with the rise of the suburbs. In a sense, the suburbs represent a continuation and intensification of the compartmentalization movement, as the living areas of the upper classes have been separated-off still further from the other areas of the city—out into sprawling districts miles away (as automobiles made it possible for certain city dwellers to escape to an idealized haven away from the hustle and bustle).

While the suburban movement has had the bulk of its impact on the landscape outside of the city proper, the city itself has not been spared of its influence. For indeed, the city has been gutted of many of the inhabitants that formerly occupied it; and, what’s more, it has been reshaped by the roads and freeways introduced to shuttle-in the suburbanites from their faraway destinations.

Now, it may well be the case that all this compartmentalization and suburbification was originally intended to benefit (most of) the city’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, however, the longer we live with these trends in urban design, the more it is becoming clear that this way of organizing the city leaves much to be desired.

Let us begin with the suburbs, and work our way inwards. In the first place, those who have fled to the suburbs have found that there is a steep price to pay for escaping the hustle and bustle of the city, and that price begins with all the driving. And the hellish commute is only half of it: virtually nothing that the average suburbanite wants and needs, and no place they want to go, is accessible without a car trip. Obviously, all this driving is unpleasant in itself, but this is just the beginning. Second, and even more important, it leaves less time for other things—including family life. Also, the piling up of time spent behind the wheel is just plain unhealthy, as it leads to both obesity and—by extension—several other health problems. Additionally, having to drive everywhere is expensive, and is only getting more so as the price of oil continues to rise. Finally, because suburbanites spend so little time actually walking through their neighborhoods, they tend to have little casual contact with neighbors, which at least partly explains why they tend to be more detached from their communities.

With all the negative consequences of suburban life, it is no surprise that many of those who had formerly fled to the burbs are now fleeing back to the city. Actually, in many cases, suburbanites have had little choice, as the rising price of oil—together with the housing crash of 2008—has left them with no way to afford their suburban nightmare regardless (thus many of the suburbs have become as abandoned as the inner city once was).

Unfortunately, life back in the city has seldom been much better. For one thing, outdated compartmentalization in the city has interfered with accessibility in a manner that is similar to the way that sprawl has interfered with accessibility out in the suburbs. Second, since transportation networks in the city have been rearranged to suit cars, alternative forms of transportation have largely been compromised, thus leaving citizens with less real choice when it comes to getting around. Also, because it has been so expensive for cities to service the suburbs (they being so far away, and so spread out), there has been less money to fund public goods that serve the city, such as public transit, parks and sociability-inviting squares—thus the city has actually become a less livable place in the suburban era.

Thankfully, at least some cities around the world (from Bogota to Copenhagen to Vancouver etc.) have begun taking efforts to remedy these issues, and are beginning to embrace a vision of the city which (according to the research) is both better-functioning and leads to happier citizens. In broad outline, the happy city is composed of multi-use, multi-income communities; laced with parks and public squares of varying sizes; and tied together with transportation networks that reintroduce walking, cycling and public transport as real options. (This vision of the city is often referred to as the new urbanist movement.)

In his new book 'Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design' urbanist and writer Charles Montgomery takes us through the history of the modern city, and the latest efforts to reform over a century of ill-conceived design decisions.

Montgomery’s book is a fantastically informative and fun read, and the author does well to introduce the ideas of the new urbanist movement, and the efforts that are currently underway to implement it around the world (as well as the forces that continue to oppose it). If the stories and research presented here do not render you a full convert to the new urbanist movement, it will at least make you rethink where (and how) you’d like to live. Bravo Charles Montgomery! A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com on Tuesday, December 17; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
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Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design von Charles Montgomery (Gebundene Ausgabe - 12. November 2013)
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