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City Biographies

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Is the world flat? Or is it spiky? Your perception might differ, depending on the book that you choose to refer to. If renowned author Thomas L. Friedman had compelling reasons to suggest that the “The World is Flat” in his book on economic globalisation years ago, Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, argues that “the world is spiky” in a foreword to a new book, the Atlas of Cities (Princeton University Press, 256 pages). 
“The world is spiky — its wealth is concentrated in the great cities that mass talent and enterprise, power innovation, structure trade and shape commerce…” says Florida, in the visually and infographically rich coffee table book that introduces us to the global hubs of human habitation. Edited by Paul Knox, professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Atlas of Cities is a guide to the global hubs that shape our lives in an increasingly interconnected world.
The 70 cities covered in the book include medieval trading centres, imperial and industrial capitals, modern megacities, and the smart and green cities of the future. While Chandigarh and Mumbai are the Indian cities that find mention in the list, Varanasi and Delhi are perhaps two among the several notable cities that did not find place in the book.
Each chapter takes one through a different type of city (13 in all) categorised as foundational, networked, imperial, industrial, rational, global, celebrity, mega, instant, transnational, creative, green and intelligent. It also explores how each representative city differs in terms of four fundamental functions: decision-making capacity, transformative capacity, mobilising function and generative function. 
Mumbai has been covered as a core mega city, and its sprawling migrant population has been highlighted as a classic case of rural-urban dynamic and strained infrastructure. Chandigarh, meanwhile, finds space as an example of “the instant city”, or a new city built from the scratch.  As the title suggests, the book is not prescriptive, but just a description of the cities it cover.  It does not claim to be comprehensive either. Its value lies in the richness of information it contains — pictures and info-graphics.
The book should be an interesting read for Indian policymakers who are pursuing PM Narendra Modi’s dream to create 100 smart cities in the near future. It should help them identify the best of the select cities, and the worst side of it that needs to be avoided.