The Spirit of Cities, abroad

There are some chances in the next few days to hear Avner De-Shalit, co-author of The Spirit of Cities, speaking in the UK – on Monday 20th February and Tuesday 21st in London and on the Tuesday evening in Bristol. It’s a lovely book and I’m sure it will be worth getting to one of the talks if you can. I can’t but had chance to put a few questions to Avner.

Which are your favourite books about cities by other authors, and why?

If it’s a sociology of cities I like coming back to Georg Simmel’s classic book, but it’s because I think the opposite — he thought it was impossible to
create a sense of community in the city and I think it’s the only place where
a genuine community can rise. But my best cities book is Yehuda Amichai’s poems book on Jerusalem. I wish I could do the same: squeeze the entire city
into two to three sentences.

Of all the cities you’ve visited which are the most interesting to walk
around?

Well, I am biased. I am just in love with Jerusalem, and it’s such a lunatic
city. Half of its inhabitants believe they have a direct line to God. But
outside my city, I think Berlin is the most exciting city today. One can see
that the city simply changes every day, and that people are excited about it.
The combination of ultra modern architecture with the remains of the Communist
architecture, and the abundance of sites of collective memory — this is just
amazing. Not very easy for somebody Jewish like me, but still, terribly
interesting.

Your book advocates walking to imbibe the spirit of cities. Which group is winning the battle for control of urban space – people or vehicles? Are many cities becoming unwalkable?

Well, now that Time Square NYC is walkable, there is hope. In the US there is
a list of the 50 most walkable cities and the 50 which are most friendly to
cyclists. While cars still dominate today’s cities, at least planners and
mayors are well aware of the need to think differently.

If you had to choose another city to live in, which would it be?

Oxford, Oxford, Oxford. When I studied there one of my professors heard me
saying I liked it a lot, and he said: But you know it’s not a real place. Now
I know he was wrong. Oxford is a city which is full of life and energy and
creativity. Only one has to get away from the colleges, to walk in the
neighbourhoods. You can see artists, novelists, poets, and people who want to
be artists, novelists and poets.

Avner De-Shalit

By the by, I noticed that Ed Glaeser’s The Triumph of the City, another terrific read for lovers of the urban, is out in paperback. Worth a read if you haven’t so far.

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