Review copy provided by the publisher.
Not every science fiction writer can be Malka Older or Arkady Martine–in fact, statistically, hardly any of us can. The rest of us who are writing science fiction could use an assist in thinking about cities, and that’s where Joe Berridge comes in. (I think he did not think of being a resource to science fiction writers when he wrote this, but I am what I am, and this is what I do.)
Perfect City surveys a handful of cities in depth, with glancing mention of more, based on Berridge’s experience in urban planning and design. He talks about what’s working in Toronto, what makes Singapore vital, what problems Belfast has overcome and how. This is a general-audiences book, not a technical manual for fellow urban planners. Berridge wants to think about where you can get good dumplings as well as what kind of developments encourage the positive cycle of cultural opportunities (including good food), public appreciation, and widespread support.
Berridge’s cities are not my cities. He’s mostly concerned with the largest of the large, and there were times when I felt he slipped into valuing population size and economic output at the expense of other urban values. (Montreal does not wish it was Melbourne. It just…doesn’t.) He doesn’t spend a lot of time on some of the technical details I think are most interesting (environmental impact of infrastructure: how do we do this well–just for example). But he’s attempting to balance lessons from Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs and figure out how to apply them in a future setting, and that alone is valuable. He sees thriving immigrant communities as a positive in ways that we are going to need to cultivate in an era of climate refugees.
Also it’s charming to have someone talking earnestly about home-ownership rates and methods, housing density, etc., suddenly lapse into rhapsodies about where you can get good food. That’s the kind of thinking about cities that makes sense to me, human and entirely mingled.