Creating Cities/Building Cities by Peter Karl Kresl with Daniele Ietri. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017
By Dennis E. Gale, Stanford University
Author Kresl sets out to examine “the ways in which, over time, architecture has been used to define and redefine a city, both visually and functionally, and to enhance its competitiveness.” (p. 6) Through copious case studies of U.S., European, South American, Asian, and Middle Eastern cities, Kresl discusses exemplary efforts over time to magnify city identity. This challenge is supported by eight chapters, each of which explores an approach through architecture to expand or rejuvenate a city’s “economic viability and competitiveness.” (p. 11)
The first approach, attempting to revive a lagging community, offers examples from large cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Barcelona and smaller cities such as Santa Fe, New Mexico, Columbus, Indiana, and Bilbao. A second approach to renewal is demonstrated by cities that increased their standing as global business centers. Cases include New York, London, Paris, Shanghai, and Dubai. Among this group are cities in which a very tall building is erected, thereby establishing a visual icon, as well as municipal bragging rights. Another approach to achieving economic viability and competitiveness is through construction of “transformative parks.” (p. 78) First discussing New York’s Central Park and Prospect Park and Chicago’s Grant Park and Burnham Park, the book moves on to consider three more recent park-building projects in Paris, New York, and Chicago.
Despite Kresl’s background as an economist and Ietri’s as a European geographer, the book will probably find its most receptive readership among architects, landscape architects, engineers, and urban planners. Both the narrative and the illustrations frolic in architectural description while giving the impression that people are ancillary to city image building. References to social systems and community appear but one can easily read this volume feeling that its subject is entirely untouched by human hands. Readers in the humanities and social sciences take note.