Book Review: ‘Welcome to the Urban Revolution’ by Jeb Brugmann

Welcome to the Urban RevolutionWelcome to the Urban Revolution by Jeb Brugmann

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You should read this book for the perspective alone. Unlike a lot of the nonfiction I read, Brugmann isn’t a reporter coming at the topic as an outsider. Instead, he’s bringing decades of experience in the profession of urban planning (I think that’s the term) to this book, and a lot of his sources are primary, based on interviews and people he spoke to.

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Mumbai, somewhere near the Bandra-Kurla complex. Lots of mid- to high-range shops (especially clothing and accessories)…and a KFC and McDonald’s.

There are other references too, especially when he needs to cite numbers, but the parts that stand out the most center around places he visited, where he walked the city (Toronto, his city of residence, is one of the features); or talked to people in the situations he’s discussing.

I’ve never looked into urban planning. With that in mind, I thought his consideration of the ‘City’ as a sort of network linking all cities was a really different perspective. A lot of the books I read see urbanization as a problem and look for ways to counteract it; Brugmann is sanguine about cities, but also aware (with regards to the environment) that they’re not going away; in fact, they’ll double in size in the next 20-30 years. The only way to come up with a sustainable future is to work with, not against, cities, and Brugmann’s focus is from the side of the city rather than the needs of the environment. The third part discusses the use of communities to grow a city in the way most suited to what the culture has been historically.

The writing overall is a bit dense. I had to read this book in chunks with no sound (and the ongoing French Open didn’t help either…look, some of those points were awesome). He reiterates a number of concepts that are difficult to convey simply (‘in other words’ almost becomes a catchphrase here), so that helps a bit.

Brugmann’s description of stuff is definitely tailored to the progression of his thesis; going off the city I know best, Chicago has plenty of issues, and I was quite surprised when it came up as a positive example for how to promote urban growth without simply overriding the existing community structures. (Staying off the CTA was a good call.)

I wish I’d read this before going to India last year, as his perspective isn’t something I normally think about and it would’ve been interesting to see some of the principles in effect (especially master planning in Delhi…the veneer of clean, shiny, Europeanness over whole areas of slums and such is interesting; he doesn’t mention Delhi really, but Mumbai comes up a bunch, and I’ve spent more time there).

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