For as long as humans have gathered in cities, those cities have had their shining—or shadowy—counterparts. Imaginary cities, potential cities, future cities, perfect cities. It is as if the city itself, its inescapable gritty reality and elbow-to-elbow nature, demands we call into being some alternative, yearned-for better place.
This book is about those cities. It’s neither a history of grand plans nor a literary exploration of the utopian impulse, but rather something different, hybrid, idiosyncratic. It’s a magpie’s book, full of characters and incidents and ideas drawn from cities real and imagined around the globe and throughout history. Thomas More’s allegorical island shares space with Soviet mega-planning; Marco Polo links up with James Joyce’s meticulously imagined Dublin; the medieval land of Cockaigne meets the hopeful future of Star Trek. With Darran Anderson as our guide, we find common themes and recurring dreams, tied to the seemingly ineluctable problems of our actual cities, of poverty and exclusion and waste and destruction. And that’s where Imaginary Cities becomes more than a mere—if ecstatically entertaining—intellectual exercise: for, as Anderson says, “If a city can be imagined into being, it can be re-imagined.” Every architect, philosopher, artist, writer, planner, or citizen who dreams up an imaginary city offers lessons for our real ones; harnessing those flights of hopeful fancy can help us improve the streets where we live.
Though it shares DNA with books as disparate as Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Jane Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities, there’s no other book quite like Imaginary Cities. After reading it, you’ll walk the streets of your city—real or imagined—with fresh eyes.
Anderson, an Irish poet and urbanist, muses on all manner of nonexistent landscapes, including Plato s Republic, Blade Runner s dank Los Angeles, science fiction cities in space or underwater, Batman s Gotham City, and Superman and Fritz Lang s Metropolises. He investigates this curio shop of cities in essays that explore themes of community and identity, mythical past and speculative future, and utopia and dystopia. Anderson overwhelms with his mix of obscure lore and erudition: The feeling of lost greatness or lost futures is a curious one, combining the sense of the transitory in the Japanese term mono no aware and the feeling of yearning Portuguese sailors call saudade. A thesis never gels beyond pens es that range from banal ( There must be barbarians for us to convince ourselves that we are civilized ) to bizarre (he styles King Kong as a symbol of Ayn Rand s philosophy, a hulking gorilla emigr ... rising above the bureaucrats and the liberals to command the city ). These meditations make for a diverting browse, but the book frequently strands readers in baffling alleyways without a map.