________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 8 . . . . December 5, 2008

cover Cities. (A Groundwork Guide).

John Loring.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2008.
144 pp., pbk. & hc., $11.00 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-819-4 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-0-88899-820-0 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Cities and towns.
Rural-urban migration. Urbanization.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.

Review by Joanne Peters.


Reviewed from Advance Reader Copy.


The year 2008 marked a watershed moment in the evolution of human society. For the first time in history, more than half of the world’s 6.6 billion inhabitants were living in cities rather than rural areas. In the industrialized world, the population has become steadily more urbanized since the mid-nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution transformed villages and market towns into manufacturing and commercial centers. By the late twentieth century, however, many countries in the developing world – especially Asia, Latin America, and Middle East – were experiencing extremely rapid urbanization as millions of people were leaving, or fleeing, the countryside to find jobs and new life in big cities.

The 21st century is “the Urban Century,” and Cities examines “how these complex places function –– socially, economically, culturally, spiritually, environmentally, and politically.” (7) It is no easy task, but John Lorinc, a Canadian journalist specializing in urban/municipal affairs, accomplishes it admirably.

     He begins by examining the word “city,” deconstructing just what makes a city different from a town. Is it the creation and development of a city’s boundaries (originally designed to repel invaders), against which population and development push, creating the condition which we now call “sprawl”? And, what happens to the core of a city and its inhabitants, when residential development moves outward? How do public works of all types –– transportation and water systems, to name but two –– make city living not only bearable, but desirable?

     The chapter entitled “Urban Forms and Functions” examine the many complex geographical, military, economic or cultural factors which cause settlements to become centres. There are “sacred cities,” the focal point of pilgrimage or spiritual administration (such as Mecca or Vatican City), “political cities” which have special districts dedicated to governmental buildings (Ottawa and Washington, D.C.), imperial cities (of which Rome is probably the best example), colonial cities (often reflecting the traditions of the host power), merchant cities which were built up through their proximity to trade routes, industrial cities which were home to large factories, immigrant cities (to which diverse ethnic groups are drawn, typically by the promise of work and a better standard of living), and finally, “global cities,” which Lorinc describes as “microcosms of the evolution of the world's rapidly growing urban population.” (33)

     The growth of a city, whether it be sprawl or “smart growth,” makes vast demands on the environment and on energy resources. Transportation is a huge and complex challenge, although many large cities have developed highly efficient infrastructure for this purpose. Social problems, such as poverty, crime, and epidemics, take on a unique dimension when set in the urban context, and Lorinc explores the threats to a citizen’s sense of personal security in the face of these experiences. Finally, the latter part of the 20th century has seen cities as the site of major terrorist attacks, and in the wake of 9/11, large urban centres confront their vulnerability to the disabling of commerce and transportation, as well as the destruction of dwelling places.

     Cities maintains the high standard set by previous titles in the “Groundwork Guides” series – it presents a complex current issue, both concisely and with breadth. Easily interpreted graphs, lists, and sidebars explain and highlight interesting issues, a “timeline” provides a quick chronological listing of important dates in the history of cities, and the Notes and For Further Information lists provide sources of Lorinc’s research for those interested in further reading.

     Teachers of senior high World Issues, Economics, and Geography classes will find Cities to be a source of current and readily accessible information, and school libraries should seriously consider buying more than one copy for its circulating collection.

Highly Recommended.

Joanne Peters is a teacher-librarian at Kelvin High School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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