One of The Washington Post's "Favorite Books of 2013"
A pioneering exploration of four cities where East meets West and past becomes future: St. Petersburg, Shanghai, Mumbai, and Dubai.
Every month, five million people move from the past to the future. Pouring into developing-world “instant cities” like Dubai and Shenzhen, these urban newcomers confront a modern world cobbled together from fragments of a West they have never seen. Do these fantastical boomtowns, where blueprints spring to life overnight on virgin land, represent the dawning of a brave new world? Or is their vaunted newness a mirage?
In a captivating blend of history and reportage, Daniel Brook travels to a series of major metropolitan hubs that were once themselves instant cities— St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Mumbai—to watch their “dress rehearsals for the twenty-first century.” Understanding today’s emerging global order, he argues, requires comprehending the West’s profound and conflicted influence on developing-world cities over the centuries.
In 1703, Tsar Peter the Great personally oversaw the construction of a new Russian capital, a “window on the West” carefully modeled on Amsterdam, that he believed would wrench Russia into the modern world. In the nineteenth century, Shanghai became the fastest-growing city on earth as it mushroomed into an English-speaking, Western-looking metropolis that just happened to be in the Far East. Meanwhile, Bombay, the cosmopolitan hub of the British Raj, morphed into a tropical London at the hands of its pith-helmeted imperialists.
Juxtaposing the stories of the architects and authoritarians, the artists and revolutionaries who seized the reins to transform each of these precociously modern places into avatars of the global future, Brook demonstrates that the drive for modernization was initially conflated with wholesale Westernization. He shows, too, the ambiguous legacy of that emulation—the birth (and rebirth) of Chinese capitalism in Shanghai, the origins of Bollywood in Bombay’s American-style movie palaces, the combustible mix of revolutionary culture and politics that rocked the Russian capital—and how it may be transcended today.
A fascinating, vivid look from the past out toward the horizon, A History of Future Cities is both a crucial reminder of globalization’s long march and an inspiring look into the possibilities of our Asian Century.
In these deft portraits of St. Petersburg, Russia; Bombay, India; Shanghai, China; and Dubai, UAE; journalist Brook (The Trap) artfully condenses and illustrates three centuries of revolutionary urban development and globalizing impulses. From Peter the Great s decree that brought St. Petersburg into being in 1703 to the recent creations of towering skyscrapers in the Persian Gulf, these instant cities modeled on the West have been built in the developing world in audacious attempts to wrench a lagging region into the modern world, with relative degrees of success and unforeseen consequences. Brook traces the commercial and authoritarian origins of these deliberately dis-orient-ed cities that slam West and East together. The intended goal of promoting commerce with the wider world inevitably created heady mixes of cultural and political mores: the Communist Party of China thrived in 1920s Shanghai, a portal to the West that sowed the seeds of the People s Republic; Bombay (now Mumbai) played a crucial role in fostering the movement that led to India s independence in 1947. While the ruling family of Dubai can now run it as a corporation backed by studies and plans from McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers Brook convincingly puts it in a continuum of cities that have taken on a life of their own, observing that the only question is when, not if, its people will seize the opportunity its autocrats have unwittingly created.