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September 28, 2015 / Leo Hollis

Russian edition of CITIES ARE GOOD FOR YOU

Here is a Google translate version of the review of my books that I found here:


In September, the publishing house Strelka Press published a book by the British historian and urbanist Leo Hollis “Cities Are Good for You The genius of the metropolis. ” What more is said about the benefits and harms of cities, why simple models work everywhere except in Russia, and why citizens better to just leave it alone, in his review of the book said Stanislav Lviv.

In 2011, residents of cities in the world has become more than the others. You can probably say “more rural”, but the very meaning of the word “rural”, especially in Russian, so blur by 2011, which is not very clear how they now operate. This means that starting a completely new life, in which we, the citizens, are in a winning position. In the book, Leo Hollis, of which today we cited the report of the United Nations Population Fund 2007, which clearly states that “the best recipe for a life without sound needs are still – to grow up in the city.”

The main occupation of the author of the book “Cities in your favor” in the world is called the “urban history» (urbanhistory), and in Russia, where this discipline somehow did not work out – of “historical urban issues.” Hollis has written two books about London – “The Stones of London: The Story of twelve buildings” and “Phoenix: the people who created the modern London”, one of Paris and one for children – about England. “Cities Are Good For You,” which finally came out in Russian, is an attempt to summarize the extensive body of information on the city, which the author had to revise, and share the result with the reader.

The resulting book is a pleasant exception to the general background of popular science books about cities, published in the last ten years some preposterous amounts. Firstly, Hollis – a historian and he, unlike some urban planners really familiar with the subject. Second, he writes well – despite the fact that the book has high density of information, it does not seem difficult, even a person who does not familiar with the subject. Along the way, Hollis explains complicated things fairly simple language.

Third, this whole book. Modern urban studies is a difficult relationship with politics, critical theory, the ideology of one kind or another. And for this reason, many contemporary works on the city is a patchwork quilt: the authors or try to assume a more or less utilitarian considerations and combine poorly combined with each other recommendations or construct large areas of silence. Hollis is extremely consistent. At the heart of the book is a set of ideas known to us from the famous book by Jane Jacobs: authoritarian practices like Le Corbusier and the “high modernism” – a road to nowhere. A living city, where people like to live, grow and develop organically, much like biocenosis. It is the fruit of joint efforts by people who live in it for generations, not government measures, or even architects.

Hollis, in fact, speaks of spontaneous order, but never uses this term, preferring “self-organized complexity.” He sees the confirmation of the ideas of Jacobs in the later works of Mathematics and Physics Warren Weaver Jeffrey West, found that “if the city increased tenfold, it is certain indicators are rising compared with the starting level in seventeen times.” According to scientists, this refers to the economic strength of the city, its energy efficiency, even in the crime rate and morbidity. Oddly enough, the same law and subject to a creative activity: “Wages, income, domestic product, the volume of bank deposits, the degree of innovation, estimated the number of new patents and employment in the creative sectors – all this shows superlinear increase with an increase in the size of the city.”

All this – the effect of increasing the complexity of the system, rather than simply scaling it. It seems to be a simple position should be a lot of conclusions, sometimes unexpected, sometimes optimistic, sometimes – not. For example, the well-known comparison of Moscow with a vacuum cleaner, pulling people from the province and economic resources, it becomes clear: it is a process with positive feedback, colloquially formulated by how “money likes money.” If there is one country in the conurbation, substantially exceeds the size and level of complexity of the others, redistribute flows in favor of the other becomes more difficult. In addition, it is obvious that this kind of urbanization increases property and other inequalities. City all presently working as an amplifier, but enhances it all: good and bad.

However, things are not so bad: if people do not get in the way they arrange their lives so that they were good, not bad. Therefore, the author says, “the city is able to cure their own sores, but it can happen only from below.” In other words, we look really liberal in the truest sense of the word. Hollis believes that the key to solving social problems lies within society, and that such a solution can not be imposed upon him by those who know the right recipe of prosperity or happiness. Quite a large part of the book takes the criticism of the authoritarian approach – and to society in general, and to the cities. The object of this criticism are a variety of projects – from the “Radiant City” by Le Corbusier to Dubai and Beijing.

“Creativity – says Hollis – does not arise from a vacuum, of the official photo of the collective and state initiatives. No project was a success if he went contrary to the features of this place. The idea that economic revolution is taking place as soon build a business park and a good road to the airport, naive and fell into that trap a lot of cities that have embarked on the path of “creative” re-branding “.

The same approach allows Hollis see the potential hidden in the project Scott Burnham related to “economic sharing”, as well as the informal economy, which Hollis, quoting the journalist Robert Neuwirth writes that it is “the economy ingenuity, improvisation and relying on its own power economics “do it yourself” or DIY (Do It Yourself), without accounting, registration and regulation, with payment in cash and often evasion of income tax. ” Hollis says that in this economy today “employs 1.8 billion people around the world, and by 2020 it will cover two-thirds of all workers.”

In fact, when a couple of years ago, the vice-premier of the Russian government’s Olga Golodets told us that in Russia 38 million people of the 86 million “is not clear where the busy than busy as busy,” it was a question about what he says Hollis. From the point of view of the Russian government, these people say, “pose a threat to society.” But generally speaking, Hollis is right: the current situation in this economy dampens the burden on the social security system, and even if its participants do not pay taxes, they create a public good – goods and services, not to mention the effective demand. In the book, the story understands now taking place in relation to the scale of urbanization in the Third World: the informal economy creates a transition zone, which allows new citizens to adapt to a new lifestyle. It is important that Hollis optimism has its limits: we can not say that he sees reality in pink. In the book he provides details and examples of London, and the slums of Mumbai, and that happens very rarely, he does not shy away from discussing issues traditionally left part of the agenda: income inequality, lefevrovskoe “right to the city” and the need for public spaces.

However, in this book, it is conceptually coherent detected a certain flaw. For work that Hollis calls the self-organizing complexity, requires a very high level of trust in society, it is called social capital. It is clear that the condition is not running anywhere, and at some point, the author asks: “Are we able to design a trust, how to build and simulate other forms of behavior in the city?” Hollis is not that does not see the problematic nature of this “we”. The book begins by describing several architectural projects like the Reichstag and London City Hall, designed to reduce the distance between citizens and government, the author expresses reasonable doubts that the spatial forms created new social dispositions. “The spirit of the city – he writes – is not extravagant public buildings or architectural innovations designed to act as intermediaries in the inner relations. Personality and character of the city formed a plurality of communication and relationships of people gathered on its territory. ”

Hollis offers not “build models of behavior,” and give them a place, assuming that the appropriate model in the community are already present. And it is to some extent of the rights, but we all know a fantastic company with a low level of mutual trust, in which the model described in the book, and if work is not so good. And quite a significant increase in the number of public spaces as if Moscow does not yet led to increased levels of self-organization and solidarity. The question arises: how exactly all of what Hollis says, should appear in the annex to Russia? Almost at the very beginning of the book it states that “almost all the cities of the world arose not by the will of kings founding or capricious gods, and thanks to the geographical and other circumstances.” But even this is not about us. As he wrote more Klyuchevskii Basil, “the majority of new cities and towns of the Moscow State did not arise as a result of the economic needs of the country, but due to reasons of State, by order of the Government.” Hollis makes the assumption that the crystallization process can encourage mutual trust, and then due to natural human inclinations, he will go by itself, you only need to create the conditions. It would be nice to see how these considerations apply to the reality in which we live – Russian readers of this book.

In the “city of good for you,” a lot of entertaining and instructive stories, one of which I want to bring the end. Hollis tells the story of the artist Stefan Sagmeister installation established in Amsterdam – one of the most liberal cities in the world. We are talking about a street collage of 250,000 coins laid out across the street in the form of the inscription “Obsession spoils my life, but it helps to work.” Artist and curator of the “intention to ensure free access to the collage that people interact with it on your own, – if some coin disappear, then so be it. The police, however, looked at the situation differently, and within 12 hours after the opening of the exhibition was declared the theft. By early morning the police had swept cents bags, organizers said that by doing so they “provide security” installation. ” The moral here is that the proposed Hollis approach would require, in addition to localization, more and answer the question: how to teach the police – to start at least in Amsterdam – to distinguish spontaneous order from disorder. There is no sense that there exists a right answer here and so, at times.

Let us hope that we – in the city, and the city “helps us to show our best qualities: in it we begin to trust each other and to think not only about themselves, become part of a large and complex whole.” Well, at least partly.


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