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Welcome to the Urban Revolution: How Cities Are Changing the World Hardcover – May 19 2009

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Hardcover, May 19 2009
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Quill & Quire

Over the last couple of years, it has been nearly impossible for any Torontonian to avoid the presence of Richard Florida, the author, “lecturer in creativity,” and well-compensated University of Toronto professor. Specifically, one regular Globe and Mail feature recorded Florida’s musings on different Toronto neighbourhoods. As tedious and self-indulgent as those Globe stories and accompanying videos were, they loosely replicated the methodology of Jane Jacobs, another transplanted American. In 1968, decades before Florida came north to accept his sinecure, Jacobs moved from New York to Toronto with her family (she had a draft-age son). Before leaving the Big Apple, she published her seminal work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, and famously did battle with legendary New York city planner Robert Moses. In Wrestling with Moses, former Boston Globe reporter Anthony Flint focuses on Jacobs’ improbable journey from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to New York’s Greenwich Village – a neighbourhood she would fight to save from Moses’s proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway. Jacobs (née Butzner) moved to New York in 1934 intending to become a journalist. While working as a secretary and living with her sister, she began writing stories on spec, the first of which were published in Vogue. As Flint notes, Jacobs’ early pieces, like a 1937 article about Lower Manhattan’s flower market, seem to presage her mature style, which was observational verging on ethnographic. For his part, Flint’s own style is highly readable, a function of his many years as a newspaper reporter. He adheres to the basic credo “show, don’t tell,” which, in the case of a story more than four decades old and with both of the main characters dead, is no easy task. For the most part, Flint avoids sentimentalizing the key figures in his story. As a result, when he puts Jacobs’ work during this period in context, his arguments are worthy of attention. For example, he writes that The Death and Life of Great American Cities, first published in 1961, was the first of a series of book-length journalistic investigations – which also included Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, Michael Harrington’s The Other America, and Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed – that successfully managed to “identify flaws in American politics, policy, and culture in the postwar period.” And more importantly, those works inspired people to act. It is not clear who will be inspired by Jeb Brugmann’s Welcome to the Urban Revolution. Brugmann, a Toronto resident and a faculty member of Cambridge University’s Programme for Industry, is now the founding partner of The Next Practice, which, despite sounding like a shadowy organization in a J.J. Abrams production, helps corporations such as Barclays, Nestlé, and Visa better serve low-income markets. His argument, supported by copious examples from all corners of the globe, is that the whole world is being organized into one big City. (Brugmann capitalizes “City” when he refers to it in this sense.) The available data are certainly on Brugmann’s side. Statistics show that a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population lives in urban centres. This will create unavoidable logistical and political concerns in the developed and developing worlds. The more curious part of Welcome to the Urban Revolution is Brugmann’s notion that the people who emigrate to the world’s cities (or, I suppose, the City) are society’s most entrepreneurial individuals. Brugmann claims these people come to the city seeking the economic and social advantages of modern urban life: density, scale, association, and extension. In some ways, this idea is an extrapolation of the work of German scholar Max Weber, who argued over a century ago that the moral underpinnings of Calvinism were a significant factor in the economic development of the West. Except Brugmann can’t even point to something as intangible as faith to bolster his argument. His emigrants are a self-selecting group of high-achievers lured to the city by dreams of streets paved with gold – or, at least, paved streets. While Welcome to the Urban Revolution employs examples from cities around the world, Brugmann spends a lot of time writing about Dharavi, a slum on the edges of Mumbai. He notes that entrepreneurs in Dharavi took advantage of cheap labour, the slum’s proximity to slaughterhouses, and the growing demand for leather goods to build a flourishing industry. Brugmann believes that government planners need to avoid interfering in such areas except to provide infrastructure, health care, and security.  Brugmann’s belief in the enterprising nature of slum-dwellers is a narrow-minded and overly optimistic leap of faith that has similarities to Florida’s insistence that the size of a city’s “creative class” correlates positively with its economic development. While the slums of Mumbai, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, and the housing projects of Toronto may be home to thousands of entrepreneurs, they also teem with poverty and desperation. In the absence of easy solutions, the public will increasingly turn to urban gurus like Brugmann in the hopes of finding the next Jacobs. But her replacement is not here yet. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.


Brugmann provides compelling evidence of an often invisible connection between globalization and urbanization. In the process he shines a new light on large cities and urban slums. He shows that slums are dynamic and well functioning economic hubs. Drawing on an exhaustive supply of first hand knowledge, he is about to change the conversation about globalization, economic development, city planning and poverty. If you are interested in challenges of the 21st century, this book is for you. (C.K. Prahalad, Paul and Ruth McCracken Distinguished University Professor, Ross School of Business, the University of Michigan, author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits)

Writing from his long on-the-ground global experience, Jeb Brugmann has provided a rich and accessible menu of deep insights, engaging stories, and surprising facts about a world of cities. His Welcome to the Urban Revolution is a prophecy of hope and political challenge to us all. (Michael Cohen, Director of International Affairs Program, The New School, former Senior Advisor for Environmentally Sustainable Development at the World Bank)

Jeb Brugmann is a strategist of great analytical power… His book is the work of a person who with great acuity captures important moments in cities around the globe. It is a fundamental reference for all those who wish to understand how cities can change the world. (Jaime Lerner, architect and urban planner, former mayor of Curitiba and governor of Paraná state, Brazil; president of International Union of Architects, 2002-2005)

Replete with detail and compelling analyses (Publishers Weekly)

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A Champion of Urbanism May 15 2009
By Tom Beakbane - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Jeb was part of a discussion panel along with Richard Florida, Roger Martin and David Miller (The Mayor of Toronto). I was impressed by his experience and clarity - even when compared against these other high calibre communicators.

Jeb's book is new territory for me. I have not read any others on city planning and urbanism and regard myself as a granola-crunching anti-urbanite. Yet it made me realize just how urban I am - along with over half the population of the world. Whenever I travel I gravitate to the cities; when in Argentina I don't go to the Iguazu Falls but stay in Buenos Aires, when in Cuba I get bored at the beach but appreciate Havana. That is because cities are concentrations of human interest and they are stimulating.

This book is a celebration of urbanism and it reads like the cities it describes; rich in anecdote, busy, enthusiastic, provocative and multi-faceted.

Who should read it? City planners, architects, politicians, business people, educators... and anyone who loves (or hates) cities and wants to learn about the biggest mass migration of humanity in history.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Some serious thinking about the future of cities July 23 2010
By S. J. Snyder - Published on
Format: Paperback
Jeb Brugmann has researched the growth, and sometimes decline, of cities throughout the world, from him native Toronto through Chicago and Detroit, then on to Curitiba, Brazil and a squatter city adjacent to Mumbai, India.

He is a "fan," to use an imprecise word, of the future of cities. He touts a plan-based urbanism, but one that reflects native strengths of individual cities and metropolitan areas, contrary to a New Urbanism that may be formulaic at times.

He acknowledges the need to address energy use and other issues of urban areas, while adding that the world is going to continue to urbanize, planning or no.

The one disagreement I had with him was his claim that urbanization will lead naturally to democracy. The verdict is still out on China, to be sure. It's iffy on other countries that may move in the direction of oligarchy. As for the past, whether or not urbanism contributed to the fall of the Iron Curtain, Hitlerite Germany was an already-urbanized nation.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Strategic Cities as an Outgrowth of Community - Comparing Global Cities Sept. 3 2010
By C. Frewen - Published on
Format: Hardcover
As an architect, I had the pleasure of meeting Jeb Brugmann this spring at a ULI meeting in Kansas City and then read his brilliant book.

His theory: the best cities emerge from a way of life more than a system of speculative land development, that is, from "strong traditions of urbanism". In good examples, a city or community has a unique sense of who it is, its problems, and the best solutions. They tinker with development as an outgrowth of community, the "chaotic complexities," rather than impose master plans for the sake of development.

In particular, his typology of cities appealed to me: Crisis Cities (which have competing purposes), Great Opportunity Cities (incoherent growth), and the best ones -Strategic Cities. By working at conceptual and particular levels simultaneously, he effectively contrasts planned cities versus ad hoc cities.

In many ways, this approach parallels a triple bottom line method that considers social, economic, and environmental purposes. Brugmann bounces around the globe from Mumbai to Chicago and sees systematic answers, or as he calls them, citysystems or ecosystems.

here's an interview with Brugmann that summarizes many of the ideas in the book. [...]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Moving on to a New Era in Urbanism March 21 2012
By David Terrell - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Jeb Brugmann does an excellent job introducing the paradox of urbanization (concentration of population in cities) and globalization (expansion of civilization around the world) working together. Brugmann has ample experience through many years of studying urbanization around the world so his examples are more than anecdotic they are based on a deep analysis of data. This is an excellent treaty for use as text in any Urban Studies program.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
He is really on to something March 15 2013
By Lacy Fehrenbach-Marosfalvy - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I think Jeb Brugmann has some interesting ideas that are very important to the future vitality of our way of life. His ideas and observations about what does and doesn't work in cities and neighborhoods around the world should be required reading for anyone in the urban planning/public policy field. This is a great book on the city based view of globalization. It is also well written and a pleasure to read.