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December 27th, 2012

Reading List: Most-read urban studies book reviews 2012

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Blog Admin

December 27th, 2012

Reading List: Most-read urban studies book reviews 2012

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Since launching in April 2012 we’ve published reviews of over 350 books from across the social sciences. Here are the top three most-read reviews from architecture and urban studies.

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City, Street and Citizen: the Measure of the Ordinary by Suzanne Hall

Though authorised surveys, media representations and the current political dogma around multiculturalism have tended to produce a portrayal that purports cultural containment and social division, the speed of change in the contemporary city has never been more accelerated, nor has its populations been more variegated. Based on two years of ethnographic research in London, Suzanne Hall offers a nuanced account of urban life, alongside the underlying economic and political structure of society. Ben Campkin admires the book’s ethnographic-architectural approach.

Suzanne Hall makes explicit that her excellent new book, City, Street and Citizen: the Measure of the Ordinary, reflects her own biographical story in its subject, methods and preoccupations. Having trained and worked as an architect in South Africa in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hall moved to London to embark on a career as an urban ethnographer at the LSE. Responding to London’s social diversity, and heightened to questions of difference and its spatialisation because of her background, Hall’s research sought to understand how multiculturalism operates. Rather than consider this at the macro scale, however, she choses to examine ‘urban multiculture’ at the humble scale of streets and shops. The Walworth Road, the south-east London street Hall selected, she construes as ‘at once a global and local street’ (31). Emphatically ordinary, exceptionally diverse, its evident promise as the site for the research was first realized by Hall as she looked out through the bus window on her way to the LSE each day. How is social diversity reflected and expressed within the everyday settings and encounters of this street and its workspaces? This is the key question the ensuing research asked, and which its final output, this book, articulates and explores engagingly. Read the full review…

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Utopian Adventure: The Corviale Void by Victoria Watson

Karl Baker considers this unique book on contemporary issues in architecture and urbanism, centring on The Corviale Void project: a one kilometre long strip of urban space, immured in the notorious Corviale housing development in southwest Rome. Author Victoria Watson opens questions about the role of the aesthetic and the monumental in the city, challenging materialist and economically rationalist ideas of city making.

Amidst the demolition of South London’s Heygate Estate, artist Marcus Coates recently released his film Vision Quest: a ritual for Elephant and Castle. Critiquing the ‘visioning’ that accompanies urban regeneration schemes such as the Lend Lease-led redevelopment of the Heygate, Coates produced a “shamanic music-fuelled ritual” evoking animal spirits to guide an alternative future for the abandoned 1974 brutalist megastructure that once housed thousands.

Similarly engaging with the plight of neglected utopian ruins, Victoria Watson’s new book Utopian Adventure: the Corviale Void imagines new prospects for the Corviale: an infamous one-kilometre long, eleven-storey housing block built on the outskirts of Rome and conceived in the 1970s as a communal living space for 8000 people. Read the full review…

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Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong by Gordon Mathews

There is nowhere else in the world quite like Chungking Mansions, a dilapidated seventeen-storey commercial and residential structure in the heart of Hong Kong, home to Pakistani phone stall operators, Chinese guesthouse workers, backpacking tourists, Nepalese heroin addicts, Indonesian sex workers – possibly the most globalized spot on the planet. Gordon Mathews shows us that Chungking Mansions is emblematic of the way globalization actually works for most of the world’s people. Hyun Bang Shinfinds Ghetto at the Center of the World to be a fascinating peek into the future of life on our shrinking planet. 

In recent decades, we increasingly hear about cities striving to capture increasingly mobile capital and international visitors, and to become global or world-class cities. Academics such as John Friedmann, Saskia Sassen, Peter Taylor and so on have also long been discussing the rise of a handful number of cities as global/world cities, their interconnectedness, and the impact of their interconnectedness on the world economy. Discussions have evolved around the issue of identifying what makes world-class or global cities. For the global city discourse, it has been the uneven shares of finance and business services and corporate headquarters that made cities such as New York, London and Tokyo at the apex of the global city hierarchy. Similarly, the literature on world cities positions cities in the hierarchy of cities network on the basis of how cities have come to possess capacity to generate knowledge flows. This capacity is measured by the extent to which each city sees the presence of globalised service firms in key sectors such as finance, management consultancy, accountancy and so on. Read the full review…

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This work by LSE Review of Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales.