The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution Is Reshaping the American Landscape by Joel Kotkin

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Posted 2005-05-12

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

This book explores the changing nature of place and landscape in light of digital technologies. In brief, Kotkin doesn't see digital technologies making place irrelevant. Rather, because technologies make it possible to work from anywhere, place becomes very important to attract, retain, and provide settings for digital symbol workers (p. 6).

Kotkin sketches out how knowledge workers want a lifestyle-driven place loaded with amenities in culture, arts, and entertainment. Places for knowledge workers include anti-urban elite rural enclaves (e.g., Camden, Maine), the midopolis (e.g., the burbs of St. Louis), the nerdistan of highly-educated tech workers (e.g., Cary, North Carolina), and small towns with natural beauty (e.g., Park City, Utah).

In Kotkin's view, central business districts can serve a role to provide a contrasting (with suburban and rural places) experience for arts, entertainment, face-to-face meetings, and as a stage for activities in which people can see each other for social display or mating. However, a "Potemkin City" of symbolic monuments such as stadiums, casinos, and heavily-subsidized developments and museums (e.g., Cleveland, p. 63) does not provide urban vitality.

Cities can draw tremendous energy from immigrant enclaves that Kotkin compares to a casbah, souk, or melting pot (e.g., Toytown in Los Angeles); digital art and new media (e.g., lower Manhattan); the idea of Main Street as an agora (e.g., Downer's Grove, Illinois); and matters of the heart (community, identity, history and faith) (p. 189).

Kotkin's work evokes the complexity of cultural geography and economies, and he does not offer a single tag line or neatly packaged approach for every community to follow. Instead, he shows how people adapt to and carve out niches for themselves in a wide range of environments based on current conditions (as living things have been doing for billions of years). A common theme of this book seems to be reworking the human dimension into the rationalist, monolithic, homogeneous, and auto-centric architecture and urban-planning fixations of the twentieth century. A successful environment for our times, it seems, may be more of a diverse, fine-grained mix of grassroots-driven urban forms in which the innate energy and creative joy of people can be unleashed.

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2024-05-14 · John December · Terms ©