The Spirit of Cities: Why The Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age.
THE SPIRIT OF CITIES: WHY
THE IDENTITY OF A CITY
MATTERS IN A GLOBAL AGE
Daniel A. Bell and Avner de-Shalit
(Princeton: Princeton University Press,
2011), 352 pages.
In their new book, The Spirit of Cities, Daniel Bell and Avner de-Shalit argue that cities are reemerging as important sites of cultural differentiation and resistance to the increasing anonymity of globalization. The authors see civism as a key virtue. They argue that citizens united through their "cosmopolitan communitarianism," are aware of their existence in a wider social milieu and show a commitment to the shared social and political values (i.e., the "spirit") of their particular city. This framework also embraces the reality that people may settle in different cities over the course of their lives.
The authors adopt a methodology of "strolling and storytelling" to document the essences of nine metropolises: Jerusalem, Montreal, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Oxford, Berlin, Paris and New York. Each city is identified with a core theme like religion (Jerusalem), language (Montreal) or ambition (New York). In some areas, the book resembles a Lonely Planet travel guide more than an academic publication.
While this approach provides an enjoyable introduction to some of the world's most influential cities, it feels superficial when the reader has personal knowledge of a place that contrasts with the authors' observations. However, Bell and de-Shalit intend for the material to be accessible, and they hope to spark debate on the topic of preserving local, urban identities in an increasingly homogenized world. They envision a world of cities that are connected and interacting, yet distinct in their spirits and identities.
They also make the point that a city's uniqueness can be promoted to attract tourism and investment. As such, the book is an important tool for urban planners and policy makers trying to balance economic development with the protection of a city's unique character.