Life in the 21st Century City
Life in the 21st Century City is an occasional series of reviews, essays and travelogues. It seeks to explore the felt reality of world cities today and the experience of living in them on both large and small scales. The series’ remit is necessarily and intentionally broad; it makes no claims of completeness. Rather, in gathering together a thematically diverse collection of documents, it aims to explore and interrogate the varieties of city life around the world.
DETROIT: “THE COMPOSITE CITY” by Andrew Lees. Lees visits the North American town in search of Motown, Henry Ford, Diego Rivera, lawnmowers and urban gardeners to delve deeper into the post-industrial city’s history.
BERLIN: “BERLINER UNWILLE.” Sam Wiseman reviews Nicolas Hausdorf and Alexander Goller’s Super Structural Berlin: A Superstructural Tourist Guide to Berlin for the Visitor and the New Resident, which analyses the politics of “different infrastructures which today’s Berliners engage with and reproduce: specifically, those of drugs, clubbing, art, the ‘new economy’ of internet start-ups, and tourism.” In “challenging the ways in which Berlin’s infrastructures are ideologically justified through appeals to qualities like creativity, individualism, uniqueness, subversion and transgression,” the authors encourage readers to “be suspicious of any attempt to present the city’s latest incarnation – Europe’s capital of hedonistic tourism, start-ups, small galleries and hipster bars – as something that is necessarily politically/ethically positive, or even neutral.”
ISTANBUL: “A POLITICAL TOUR OF ISTANBUL.” Defne Çizakça reviews the translated short story collection The Book of Istanbul (Comma Press), edited by Jim Hinks and Gül Turner, published back in 2010, and argues in what ways the selection displays an understanding of the city at the Bosphorus as a place both bridging and dividing East and West, and how particular stories have become premonitions of the political unrest which was to ensue in Gezi Park in 2013.
GLASGOW: “IN THE NINETIES, WHEN THE WORLD WAS YOUNG.” R.A. Davis reviews Stuart David’s account of the Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian’s formative year, 1994, and explores the city’s cultural mythology over the last twenty years. A “memoir of a moment and a study in serendipity,” the book distills a very particular kind of magic, “Glasgow’s own. As much as In the All-Night Café demystifies the genesis of the band, it reveals the true magic of their origins. The magic is sociological, not fantastical.”
NEW YORK: “ENGELS AMONGST THE HIPSTERS.” Mark West reviews DW Gibson’s “oral history of gentrification in the twenty-first century,” which focuses on the changing values – both cultural and financial – of real estate in Brooklyn. Ultimately, the book charts “the creeping neoliberalisation of daily life since the 1960s.”