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Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  169 ratings  ·  18 reviews
America's cities are being rapidly transformed by a sinister and homogenous design. A new Kind of urbanism--manipulative, dispersed, and hostile to traditional public space--is emerging both at the heart and at the edge of town in megamalls, corporate enclaves, gentrified zones, and psuedo-historic marketplaces. If anything can be described as a paradigm for these places, ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published March 1st 1992 by Hill and Wang (first published January 1992)
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Apr 18, 2021 added it
Shelves: essays, urbanism
Back in the '90s, titans of spatial thought like Michael Sorkin, Mike Davis, and Edward Soja (whose work I didn't know was present in this volume, and running into one of my intellectual first loves is always as nice as running into your college girlfriend, wherever she is, and seeing she's still as beautiful as you remember) put this work together, featuring ideas that were then novel. The city is an amusement park, designed for near-masturbatory pleasure but under brutal surveillance and with ...more
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Although this book is 25 years old, the ideas in it seem as fresh and relevant as they must have at the time it was written -- in the days before Facebook, Google, Uber, self-driving cars, and volatile weather patterns. Even though it seems that cities are having a major comeback, this book brings a huge warning that our cities are manicured and monitored in ways that should make us shudder, if we think about it. They're not the cities of 50 years ago, and we should be ashamed that our fears and ...more
For a city-lover, Variations on a Theme Park: The New American City and the End of Public Space is a wonderful collection of essays detailing the way in which real estate interests prey on middle class fear of the poor to secure formerly public areas, controlling and limiting access to them. So-called gated communities are an extreme example, but enclosed shopping malls are similarly controlled by private interests while replicating the classic city pattern of shopping streets and areas.

In larg
Jul 18, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: urban mercenaries and cultural marxists
Shelves: nonfiction
A very good overview of urban planning theory and criticism. A bit dated in that every single essay name checks either the panopticon OR michel foucualt, tho to be fair those were RED HOT!

Stand out essays :

Margaret Crawford's "the world in a shopping mall" is a great analysis of the W. Edmonton Mall as commoditified urban microcosm.

Neil Smith's "New City, New Frontier" does an excellent job of sketching out the Tompkins Square Park Riots and the NYC efforts to drive out low income residents with
May 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lefty polemics despairing at the developments of the contemporary city? This is cocaine, to me. RIP Michael Sorkin.
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
1. We see today the rise of the ageograpical city (shopping malls with chain stores, atrium hotels, endless suburbs without city demarcations)
2. Three characteristics of the ageographical city
a) Loosening of ties to a specific place (uniform mass culture, no local or physical geography, McDonalds)
b) Obsession with security and surveillance over citizens
(1) Technological: Automated teller, electronic workplace
(2) Physical: communities for the rich, also for ex. The Minneapolis underground walkway
Tito Quiling, Jr.
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urban-studies
I finally bought a copy from a friend who happens to have a second one, and to some extent, I wish I stumbled upon this title while I was working on my master's thesis as a supplementary material on spatial analysis and particularly, as an additional to the review of related literature. And while I'm rambling on now regarding what could have been, I enjoyed reading through the articles albeit some of them are quite foreign to me, while others are quite familiar.

With a number of articles detaili
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Read in graduate school. Fabulous book. A wonderful collection of insightful and scathing essays on the current state of the Clusterfuck Nation. I re-read them occasionally just to keep me thinking and aware about how exceptional we are in fucked up Amerika. They make me laugh, but I really want to cry. What were those Joni Mitchell lyrics? Oh yeah. "Saying laughing and crying
You know it's the same release." The essay by Mike Davis, "Fortress Los Angeles: The Militarization of Urban Space is far
Sep 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Those intersted in urban development. Background in UD helpful for some ref.
First added this book to my collection when taking urban studies in undergrad. Great compilation of Urban oriented writers, including Mike Davis. Great introduction to urban studies and how American cities are being changed with the sometimes, right intentions, but ultimately for the worse. Lots of support here for the New Urbanism theory as well as the organic, lead by the people, city growth. Provides good examples of why the European city has worked for so many centuries.
Feb 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A great collection of heated essays., which predict a present that is all too real. Commerce, privacy, assembley all limited by the production of free floating commercial cities on the far-reaches of places that were once towns and cities. This book analyzes the beginnings of this phenomena, which a decidedly unenthusiastic view of the ramifications.
emma Slachta
Aug 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: lovers of cities and communities
i love this topic, and i love reading about it. a lot of my list on goodreads is from when i used to be in the habit of reading fiction--that whole pre-pubescent madeleine l'engle phase.

this is the stuff that i like to get into now. enthralling essays on how our society is shifting the landscape and hearts of our communities. quirky, fact-filled and insightful. go team non-fiction!
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cities, architecture
Analyses of various issues in urbanism, relevant today, though I was constantly thinking how this was written before the internet was widespread, before 9/11/01, when shopping malls were still popular (and the Mall of America was under construction!), etc.
Lee Hunter
Nov 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urban-planning
a great collection of essays about urban planning. mike davis writes about LA and there is a great essay about the Lower East side in the late 70s & early 80s. then there are several more essays about shopping and disneyfication.
Jun 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Urban Planning book- starts off good but drags a bit at the end. Gives good insight into creating space to manipulate the public- example: Disney
Amy D.P.
Nov 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
That'll wake you up! ...more
Luis Barrera
Dec 07, 2015 marked it as to-read
Shelves: yes
Feb 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Collections of essays
Jocelyn Koehler
Oct 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Now somewhat dated but still often fascinating essays on the Disney ideal and its influence on urban planning, cityscapes, and the notion of public space.

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Michael Sorkin (1948, Washington, D.C.- March 2020, New York) was an American architectural critic and author of several hundred articles in a wide range of both professional and general publications. He was the Principal of Michael Sorkin Studio in New York City, a design practice devoted to both practical and theoretical projects at all scales, with special interest in sustainable urban environm ...more

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