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Adapting to an Ever-Growing Urban Population: Books that Give New and Unique Perspectives

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Around the world, the population of cities is increasing faster than ever. It is estimated that by 2050, 60 percent of the world will be living in cities.

While the urban population continues to grow, the infrastructure of cities inevitably must adapt to these changes. In New York City, for example, 1.6 million people commute into Manhattan every day, an island with the same population. But what structures need to be in place to transport more than one million people on a daily basis? These books examine different aspects of urban architecture and infrastructures in ways that are easy to overlook, often turning our commonly perceived ideas about cities on their head. From scrutinizing the way burglars understand architecture in order to break into buildings, to looking at what the history of squatting can tell us about the trend of urban housing, these books give new and unique perspectives to cities, contemporary urban architecture and urbanism.

Something City

Ellice Weaver’s new graphic novel Something City paints a picture of modern environments today by piecing together different components of these lives, from villages to nudist communities, or even prisons, incorporating generations and class distinctions. Illustrated in a style that resembles silk screening, each chapter is devoted to a corner of this unnamed environment, where Weaver uses a different color palette to depict each unique section, an exploration of communal spaces and our relationship to them. 

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The Autonomous City

Alexander Vasudevan’s The Autonomous City chronicles the history of squatting in Europe and North America beginning in the 1960s. Vasudevan is a professor in Human Geography and he focuses on the intersection of urban studies and grassroots social activism, examining the increasing commodification of urban housing, against the growing consensus that housing is a human right. The book opens and concludes in New York, while covering cities as diverse as London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Berlin, Bologna, Milan, Rome, Turin and Vancouver.

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A Burglar's Guide to the City

Journalist Geoff Manaugh began working on this book with the idea that burglars have a unique insight to the workings of urban architecture. Manaugh explores the relationship between crime and architecture, and argues that burglary is built into the architecture we’ve created in cities, and is an inevitable part of them. Deconstructing urban architecture through the lens of those actively searching for its flaws, Manaugh transforms our own relationship to the buildings we’ve come to consider secure and protective. Manaugh is the former editor-in-chief of Gizmodo and founder of the popular architecture website BLDGBLOG.

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The Works

What does it take for a city to function? How does public transportation, garbage disposal or mail delivery work? Kate Ascher focuses on New York City in order to answer these questions and others about the minutiae of the city that allow it to work seamlessly but aren’t easily visible. Delving into the infrastructure, she explains the mechanisms behind food delivery and how, for example, the city processes 23 million items of mail everyday. Ascher is the executive vice president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and received her PhD in government from the London School of Economics. 

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Dream Cities

Dream Cities tells the story of how visionary architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Jane Jacobs, Le Corbusier and Robert Moses have shaped the future of cities, and how their strange, far out and controversial architectural ideas eventually became part of the blueprint for contemporary urban spaces. Divided into seven different chapters that focus on concepts like monuments, malls and habitats, the book shows how cities are formed by and are a house of oft-conflicting ideas.

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We’re accustomed to perceiving cities as focal hubs and airports in the periphery, generally one hour outside of a major city. The authors of Aerotropolis argue that given the 24/7 work cycle, overnight shipping, increased international travel, and globalization, the focal point is shifting to airports, and soon the city will shift to their peripheries. The authors show how this approach is already taking place in Seoul, Amsterdam, Dallas and Washington, D.C.

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Happy City

More and more people move into urban or densely populated areas in order to improve their lives. But are they actually happier? Journalist Montgomery looks at this question in terms of how cities function, and whether or not they actually contribute to the happiness of the people who live there. He draws architectural insight from people like a Colombian mayor and a New York City transport commissioner to show how major renovations to city planning either serve to make the people who live there more or less content.


Leeron Hoory is a writer based in New York City with a focus in arts and culture.

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