There are many opinions in the text that follows and various conclusions are reached about how cities should move forward. Where do these judgements come from, what is their basis and what is the evidence?2 What I have laid out comes from my experience of observing cities; from participating in projects in cities from the small to the large; from talking to city leaders and the more powerful about how they want to make their cities better; and from talking to activists and the less powerful about what they want to change and how they are going to do it.
This has made me even more curious about cities - I want to know how they work and how and why they succeed or fail. I have reflected on these encounters and am left with many unanswered questions. As an example, I keep on thinking of the balances that need to be achieved and then worry that this leads to compromise and blandness: creating urban delights or curtailing urban misery; focusing on density or being lax with sprawl; worrying about what the world thinks of your city or just getting on with it regardless. Alternatively I have been thinking of questions like: Is it possible to create places where people from different backgrounds intermingle and where segregation is reduced? How can you tap the dormant energy of people that coexists side by side with pervasive passivity? What skills, talents, insight and knowledge are needed to make cities work? What qualities are needed to be a good city-maker? Imagination, for sure, but what about courage, commitment and cleverness? Is it worth having lofty aims about cities and does this provide the motivation, energy and will to change things?
My intention is to start a conversation with whoever is reading this as if we were mutually critical friends. Because of that I have tried to write in a conversational style. I know many academics will find this irritating. Yet I have a reader in mind who is probably responsible for some field of city-making, someone who is somewhat ground down by the difficulties of getting things done, who has high-flown ideals, who wants to be active yet feels they should stand back and contemplate, but who does not want to engage with a weighty tome. I have tried to switch between the evocative, the conceptual, the anecdotal and the exemplary and I hope this rhythm works. This is not a step-by-step guide. It is an exploration that proposes we think of cities in enriched ways and in which I try to highlight things I think are important yet hidden.
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