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City Life: Urban Expectations In A New World

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  246 ratings  ·  22 reviews
In City Life, Witold Rybczynski looks at what we want from cities, how they have evolved, and what accounts for their unique identities. In this vivid description of everything from the early colonial settlements to the advent of the skyscraper to the changes wrought by the automobile, the telephone, the airplane, and telecommuting, Rybczynski reveals how our urban spaces ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 11th 1995 by Scribner Book Company (first published January 1st 1995)
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Rybczynski sets out with the task to create a description of what makes American cities American. He begins with a premise that there is a sort of American exceptionalism—that American cities are distinct. At the book's outset he posits that our cities are unlike the cities from which the builders of American cities came: Europe. While the author principally contrasts America to Europe, he also devotes a number of pages of exploring pre-conquest cities of Native Americans.

By “traditional” (ie:
If I were more interested in urban planning, I'd keep this one on my shelf.
This book helped me clarify my interests in other world enterprises, such as linguistics: Russian/Chinese, and beauty: oboe performance/orthodontia.

Economics is a passing interest, as well, so before I gave it up I sought in the index what Rybczynski had to say about the Great Depression. It wasn't very descriptive, though.

I just like typing Rybczynski. It's not hard if you recall y is a vowel sometimes and cz is a commo
blue-collar mind

I liked Rybczynski’s first book “Home” which observed how comfort, family life, privacy, efficiency (damn those Victorians) and work have shaped the idea of home.

“City Life” is an excellent overview of how Americans have evolved the modern culture of cities which remains, I think, one of our few last exports to the rest of the world.

He makes many useful observations:

•The evolving definition of city, or town or burg. The word city comes from towns that had bishopric seats, and had nothing to do
Oct 12, 2008 Russ rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: City people, architects, history buffs
Recommended to Russ by: A professor in college assigned it
How did American cities develop? Why are they the way they are, and how did they get that way? How and why are they different from European cities?

All of these questions, and others, are answered in this history of urban America. The author sprinkles personal observations into his narrative, but the bulk of the writing is academic and historical.

This book isn't as dry as one would imagine. It's fascinating to read about the layout and (brief) history of cities you know, like Chicago, and citie
Jim Dressner
Every North American visiting Europe asks: "Why aren't our cities like theirs?" The author gives a clear, easily-read account of North American urban history, and shows that the roots of our cities' current situation are much deeper and more complex than simply the proliferation of the automobile. Surprising to me, the suburbs of the early 20th century were well-planned, had pedestrian scale, contributed to a sense of community, and accommodated automobiles. But unfortunately, the gap made by th ...more
Mary Catelli
Being a look at the history of how American cities came to be built the way they are -- unlike European ones.

It touches on everything from the three basic ways of laying out a city -- cosmic, where the structure is thought to mirror the universe in some way, and where you are bound to put important things on hills even if you build the hills as well as the structure; practical, with a neat grid pattern (though the intrusion of existing geography can often make it look less neat); and organic, wh
This was a good book. It was an interesting look at the history of how cities have developed. I really appreciated the realistic look at LeCorbusier. The guy wanted to tear down half of Paris and just start over. The history of the shopping mall at the end of the book probably wasn't necessary. I understand that shopping malls have had an effect on the city, but I don't think you need to know the entire history of shopping malls to understand their effect on cities. Also, at times, the book, whi ...more
Alan Fay
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 26, 2008 Jennie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: urban planning devotees who haven't actually studied urban planning yet.
I've had this on the shelf for years, and I finally got to it. Coincidentally, I had just been wondering why towns (like Champaign-Urbana, Illinois) behave so perversely, and this gave me some clues. It's a good, not-too-scholarly introduction to the evolution of the North American town/city/suburb (Canadian & U.S. at least, though not Mexican).

The only thing is, things have already changed a lot since it was published in 1995 (pbk. 1996)--little things like the Internet/telecommuting, CO2 e
witold writes about urban planning with an ease and grace that defies most writers of much simpler subjects. i picked up this gem on an overstocked table in denver and when i got home found out it was a signed copy! yay me. in addition, it's a very well-written book that nicely compares the american urban evolutionary path to the european -- but not in an overly judgemental way.
Some might think it's outdated because of references to 2000 as the 'future', but the concepts in general I think are applicable even now, in 2012, and beyond.

Very good read. It really put into perspective the American "city", and helps me understand a little better why I have such distaste for American suburbs, rural living and strip malls.
Ben Hughes
I love cities, and I love reading books that try to explain the appeal of cities. What makes a city great, how are the cities of 19th century Europe different from today's modern counterparts? It's all in this short book.
Jul 03, 2013 Dan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: history
A decent, non-academic overview of the forces that have shaped the built environment in the United States, although there's little for the reader to really sink his or her teeth into.
Anthrodiva Stommen
Jun 30, 2007 Anthrodiva Stommen rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who don't know much about urban history
Pretty much a round up of the classics, maybe it is jist dated (1995?) but there was nothing new here for me: white city, check; garden city, check; Le Corbusier is a dick, check.
Really interesting cultural history of American cities and city planning. Tries to figure out why American cities are so different from European ones. Well written, fun to read.
Julie H.
Folks interested in urban history, planning, and landscapes will enjoy this book. Rybczynski is a national treasure and deserves his own commemorative plaque!
I swore off Rybczinski after his closing statement about the American Mall. I have since come back to read A Clearing in the Distance
Witold Rybczynski is a great historian and the best urbanist writer I've ever read.
Lynch's 3 types of cities
3 historical stages
native american origins
Why aren't American cities laid out like those in Europe?
Jennifer Beats
Would definitely read this again!
I LOVE this book!
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Witold Rybczynski was born in Edinburgh, of Polish parentage, raised in London, and attended Jesuit schools in England and Canada. He studied architecture at McGill University in Montreal, where he also taught for twenty years. He is currently the Martin and Margy Meyerson Professor of Urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, where he also co-edits the Wharton Real Estate Review. Rybczynski has ...more
More about Witold Rybczynski...
Home: A Short History of an Idea A Clearing in the Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century One Good Turn: A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw The Most Beautiful House in the World Last Harvest: How a Cornfield Became New Daleville: Real Estate Development in America from George Washington to the Builders of the Twenty-First Century, and Why We Live in Houses Anyway

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