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Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future (2010)

by Matt Hern

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If we want to preserve what's still left of the natural world, we need to stop using so much of it. And, says veteran environmental activist Matt Hern, cities are the best chance we have left for a truly ecological future . . . but what does it take to make atruly sustainable city? Common Ground in a Liquid City is a fun and engaging look at the future of urban life. Hern takes us on a journey through over a dozen urban centers, from Vancouver to Istanbul, Las Vegas, and beyond, exploring the history and current composition of cities around the globe and highlighting the elements of each that make it livable. Each of Hern's ten chapters focuses on a central theme of city life: diversity, street life, crime, population density, water and natural life, gentrification, and globalism. What emerges in the end is an appealing portrait of what the urban future might look like--environmentally friendly, locally focused, and governed from below. Matt Hern is an inveterate city dweller and an environmental and education activist. The editor ofEverywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader and the author ofDeschooling Our Lives andField Day, he founded Vancouver's Car-Free Day and is the director of the Purple Thistle Center for alternative education. These days, he lives in Vancouver with his partner and daughters and lectures widely around the globe.… (more)
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quick with pointers about what living in a city can, should and shouldn't be about. ( )
  simonspacecadet | Jul 29, 2018 |
Part of a review I wrote due to appear in Freedom Magazine, March 2011.

Matt Hern lives in Vancouver, Canada. Vancouver has major endorsements like Expo 86, the Commonwealth games and as recently as 2010 the Winter Olympics and Paralympics under its belt, but on top of that with Melbourne, a business review recently granted the city has being a top example of a ‘livable city’. The darkside however is Vancouver has the lowest minimum wage, the highest rate of child poverty, chronic homelessness, the highest rents and housing costs in Canada (pg 207) and like every other city it’s the flux of capital which influences its development rather than its inhabitants.
Matt’s book isn’t really about Vancouver, though. Well it is and it isn’t. Matt is looking at the city he lives in and is drawing out parallels to other places he’s visited. By contrasting two different places in the world he is creating a lynchpin to look at and isolate themes one by one that affects us all where we live. And for the most part this works quite well.
But before he does that, he sets his stall out and thereby the tone of the book. Firstly he his resoundingly in favour of city dwelling, “the only chance the world has for an ecological future is for the vast bulk of us to live in the city.” (pg 9) Secondly he argues, “cities need to be full of solid, distinct and comprehensible places” (pg 9) and thirdly he calls for a rejection of global capitalism and neo-liberalism.
There are, he argues, possibilities of living densely, shortening unnecessary transport journeys, reducing our collective carbon footprint, and sharing energy and resources (pg 16). These are all ecologically sound, and are preferable to humans encroaching on what little is left of the natural world. So humans for the most part - can and should stay where they are. The task for city dwellers, and a key premise of the book is what adjustments can we make to the city to challenge the excess and power that prevails alongside the poverty and despair, but also overt any challenges that may come our way.
The book is based on nine essays covering a different city and a comparative insight. Six are in North America (I will include Hawaii), the remaining are in Greece, Turkey and Kurdistan. Laced with the essays are some pretty nice location shots to guide you. ( )
  abclaret | Mar 20, 2011 |
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"Our tools are better than we are, and grow better faster than we do. They suffice to crack the atom, to command the tides. But they do not suffice for the oldest task in human history: to live on a piece of land without spoiling it."

- Aldo Leopold
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It's funny how people tend to describe Canada: fish, timber, prairies, empty beaches, crashing waves, lonely farmers, isolated small towns.
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If we want to preserve what's still left of the natural world, we need to stop using so much of it. And, says veteran environmental activist Matt Hern, cities are the best chance we have left for a truly ecological future . . . but what does it take to make atruly sustainable city? Common Ground in a Liquid City is a fun and engaging look at the future of urban life. Hern takes us on a journey through over a dozen urban centers, from Vancouver to Istanbul, Las Vegas, and beyond, exploring the history and current composition of cities around the globe and highlighting the elements of each that make it livable. Each of Hern's ten chapters focuses on a central theme of city life: diversity, street life, crime, population density, water and natural life, gentrification, and globalism. What emerges in the end is an appealing portrait of what the urban future might look like--environmentally friendly, locally focused, and governed from below. Matt Hern is an inveterate city dweller and an environmental and education activist. The editor ofEverywhere All the Time: A New Deschooling Reader and the author ofDeschooling Our Lives andField Day, he founded Vancouver's Car-Free Day and is the director of the Purple Thistle Center for alternative education. These days, he lives in Vancouver with his partner and daughters and lectures widely around the globe.

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If we want to preserve what's still left of the natural world, we need to stop using so much of it. And cities are the best chance we have left for a sustainable future ... but only if they remain vibrant, dynamic spaces that are unfolded by millions of people working together—and not by master plans and planners. What will it take to make our cities truly sustainable?

In a world where the flow of money and jobs and people is largely determined by the whims of global capital, Matt Hern's Common Ground in a Liquid City is a refreshingly down-to-earth look at the importance of place in the urban future. Using his own hometown of Vancouver—the poster city for "sustainable" urban development—as a foil, Matt travels around the globe in search of the elements that make our cities livable. Along the way, he pieces together a very different picture of urban renewal, one in which place regains its flavor and its funk, and cities become much more than bland investment opportunities.

Each of Hern's ten chapters focuses on a central theme of city life: diversity, street life, crime, population density, water and natural life, gentrification, and globalism. What emerges in the end is an appealing portrait of what the urban future might look like—environmentally friendly, locally focused, and governed from below.

Engaging, accessible, and relentlessly original, Common Ground in a Liquid City is an appealing portrait of what the urban future might look like—if we can get our act together.
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