Looking for books/movies/whatever diving deep into how cities work
November 26, 2016 11:46 PM   Subscribe

I have read Jane Jacobs, but what I'm looking for is a lot more detail... every time I travel, I wonder: how does this city work? What do people do? How do they organize themselves? I'm looking for books which answer these questions (an example of a book that is closer is City of Quartz, though still fairly high level). My holy grail is the unpublished book Lagos: How it Works. I realize this is fairly specific so anything coming close is certainly welcome...
posted by wooh to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Not a book, but if you haven't already browse around Loughborough University's GaWC (globalisation and world cities) website. The world according to GaWC.

The Guardian's story of cities series recently was also very good. MeFi post.
posted by plep at 12:34 AM on November 27, 2016

Lagos Wide & Close (2005; ~60 minutes per A/V track) is an interesting attempt to show Lagos at work. While watching, you can click to select alternative A/V tracks. The video tracks give you either a wide or a close perspective, and the audio tracks let you hear either sounds of the city, commentary by citizens of Lagos, or (the default) commentary by architect/urbanist Rem Koolhaas.

Here's a review [PDF] by a poli sci / African Studies specialist that gives the documentary some context. I'll add that I've enjoyed an unrelated book by Koolhaas, but personally, I switched to the citizens of Lagos track pretty quickly.
posted by Wobbuffet at 1:39 AM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not a whole city, but an analysis of how a poor neighbourhood (ie the parts that often are overlooked in studies that just look at government/licit dealings) 'works' is Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:19 AM on November 27, 2016

William Gibson has an essay called 'Metrophagy: The Art and Science of Digesting Great Cities', In it, he recommends Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography and Edward Seidensticker's Low City, High City for Tokyo.
posted by beijingbrown at 3:03 AM on November 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Tentative recommendation as I haven't read this yet, but saw it recommended in Scientific American. Language of Cities by Deyan Sudjic. Mixed review here.
posted by paduasoy at 4:42 AM on November 27, 2016

Came to recommend a new book: The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life by Jonathan F.P. Rose.
posted by rw at 7:59 AM on November 27, 2016

I recently read Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, which may or may not be a little breezy for your tastes but touches on the subjects you're interested in.
posted by bettafish at 11:56 AM on November 27, 2016

You might find reading your own city's -- or some other city's -- planning documents enlightening. They are usually posted online and/or available at a public library. For instance, at the page of my own city's general plan there's a drop-down menu at the right of all of the city's plans, to give you an idea of the range of subject matter. Reading these can give you a good sense of much of what's going on to make the city work. In addition to the 'visionary' planning sections, there are usually sections containing historical and current state-of-play exposition.

Also, the two big MOOC platforms have several courses in urbanism: at edx, at coursera. These are mostly free, or have a free auditing option, and are heavy on videos. So you can sign up, and just watch the videos without taking the tests, if you want.
posted by bertran at 2:56 PM on November 27, 2016

For Mumbai, India: Maximum City
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 1:53 AM on November 28, 2016

Aerotropolis may hit some of your requirements
posted by lalochezia at 11:51 AM on November 28, 2016

I think the only book I've ever read that fits this criteria is John Birmingham's Leviathan, about Sydney. It was pretty good!
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:33 PM on December 1, 2016

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