City Life

City Life

by Witold Rybczynski


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An elegant, provocative exploration of the fascinating, revelatory history of American city life by the renowned architect & social historian. Looks at what we want from cities, how they have evolved, & what accounts for their unique identities. Vivid descriptions of everything from the early colonial settlements to the advent of the skyscraper, to the changes wrought by the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, & telecommuting. Reveals how our urban spaces have been shaped by the landscapes & lifestyles of the New World. A graceful contribution to the literature of the city in the U.S. & of its late-20th century revival.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780684825298
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 10/28/1996
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 746,072
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Witold Rybczynski has written about architecture and urbanism for The New York Times, Time, The Atlantic, and The New Yorker. He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Home and the award-winning A Clearing in the Distance, as well as The Biography of a Building, The Mysteries of the Mall, and Now I Sit Me Down. The recipient of the National Building Museum’s 2007 Vincent Scully Prize, he lives with his wife in Philadelphia, where he is emeritus professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

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City Life 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
annbury on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cultural history about the development of cities in the U.S., with specific reference to several, from Boston to Williamsburg. As ever, Rybczynski's prose is a delight.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading Rybczynski is like spelling his name. Fascinating and frustrating at the same time. His rambling style, excursions and personal anecdotes are interesting but ultimately distracting from the topic at hand. Most vexing are the omissions in his narrative. Does he not know or does he not care?The book at hand deals with the development of the American city. His key question is: Why aren't North American cities like European ones? Frustratingly, he does not answer the question, presenting a history of urban development of the US in nine chapters: Kevin Lynch's types of cities (ch. 2); Spanish, French and English roots, grid and space (ch. 3); US individualism and aversion to public space (ch. 4); urban parks (ch. 5); railroad stations and public infrastructure (ch. 6); skyscrapers (Ch. 7); suburbs and public housing (ch. 8) and malls (ch. 9). The tenth chapter sees him moving from the Canadian border to Philly's suburbs.The reader is left to distill the answer to Rybczynski's question himself among the morsels and underdeveloped themes. Most elements that feature prominently in his chapters are present in Europe (and the ignored rest of world) too, so they can not be the answer. As Rybczynski writes himself covered shopping malls existed in Milano and Paris before the US started building them (although the Americans upped the scale). Barcelona has a grid. The love of private space is not uncommon in England and elsewhere ... My explaining factors are geography, energy and government. The availability of unbroken, empty land and cheap energy were enablers. The major cause why US cities look so different from European ones is weak government which could not prevent the worst (broken ghettos and insufficient public infrastructure) and the best (skyscrapers) of US cities.Overall, a rather weak book by Rybczynski.