A History of Future Cities

David Brook’s A History of Future Cities looks at four Eurasian cities modeled after the West. I’m interested in what Brook says about regional influence in this interview.

He recalls seeing two commercial spaces stacked on a corner — a restaurant above a vegetable market — in Flushing, the “Chinatown of Queens.” This orientation means the establishment can feed more people than either space could on its own. This contemporary urbanism brought from China, he says, is the reverse of what happened 150 years ago, when Americans brought their architecture to Shanghai. (China’s Shanghai Tower, an example of sustainable vertical urbanism, takes “urban stacking” to a new level.)

I’m fascinated by innovation’s ability to rewrite itself across place and time — how the interplay of globalization, connectivity and multiculturalism recycles some ideas but not others. On the histories of Dubai, Mumbai, Shanghai and St. Petersburg, Brook says, “While these cities all initially hoped to impersonate the West and thereby catch up to it, they were also free of some of the historical constraints of the Western places they copied, which gave them the capacity to leapfrog into the future.”

What can we learn from vastly different places and times? Brook says, “We can build a global future that is neither neocolonial nor placeless… adopting site-specific best practices that may have initially arisen on the other side of the world rather than forms imposed from above.”