News / Asia

Q&A with Daniel Brook: 'A History of Future Cities'

FILE - A man walks along a wall overlooking the central Mumbai financial district skyline.
FILE - A man walks along a wall overlooking the central Mumbai financial district skyline.
Much has been written about urbanization over time, but not so much about the role of modern cities in fostering political change. American journalist Daniel Brook has taken an interesting look at four cities that sought to gain greater importance by emulating the West. His new book, A History of Future Cities, investigates what he calls four “instant cities.” As he told VOA’s Jim Stevenson, they include two prominent entries from Asia.
Q&A with Daniel Brook: 'A History of Future Cities'
Q&A with Daniel Brook: 'A History of Future Cities'i
|| 0:00:00

BROOK:  The moment I got to Mumbai, I was struck first by the physical similarities of the city that is built to look somewhere it is not. Bombay is very consciously modeled to be a kind of tropical London. St. Petersburg is modeled as a kind of new Amsterdam. Then, digging a little deeper, it became clear to me that the psychological space that the cities occupy in the Russian and Indian mind is very similar. If you ask any Russian or Indian what is your west-facing city, where is the city where the international trends come into your country, the Russian would say of course St. Petersburg and the Indian would say Bombay, now Mumbai. From that, I thought, that was the seed of the book.
STEVENSON:  There is a common theme throughout the book as to whether or not a Western model is needed for a city to become great and influential like these cities have.
BROOK:  That’s right. I try to pivot at the end of the book. I want to describe the past. This world we begin with in the book in 1703 and continue through the Age of Empire where the West is in ascent and the rest of the world is working to catch up to it, often through these model modern cities, to today’s moment where Asia is ascendant and has many things to teach the West. Also, my hope is that we can have some equal exchange. The book ends actually not in any of these Asian cities, but in a Chinatown neighborhood in New York city where an Asian expatriate developer and architect has [placed] a multi-level urbanist building [of the kind] that you see all over East Asia. This one has a fruit stand on the bottom and a restaurant above it – the type of thing you see in Tokyo or Seoul. In New York, you see this having been imported from Asia, yet it fits New York like a glove. It is sort of a perfect urban form for this most urbanized of American cities and yet New York learns it from Asia. I see great hope in that.
STEVENSON:  Mumbai, or Bombay as it used to be known, is quite an interesting city, and especially one of pride among Indians.
BROOK:  Yes, Bombay is where India meets the world and it has been that for 150 years. This period we are in right now since the reforms of the early 1990s, Mumbai today is rediscovering many of its traditions. You have global companies flocking back to Mumbai and you have major urban development projects. Mumbai has skyscraper projects going up, it has megamalls and it has all of the satellite cities developing across the creek on the mainland of the subcontinent, but of course all linked to central Mumbai by the railroads that have defined the city really since the 1850s when the first railroad in Asia was built in that city.
STEVENSON:  We can’t ignore one of the other main cities that you discuss in the book, and a model even though it is not directly in our Asian (broadcast) region, it is a model for much of Asia and the rest of the world, and that’s Dubai.
BROOK:  Yes, Dubai is certainly a major city in the Asian imagination and an incredibly important city particularly for the business class and even the humble laborers of South Asia. There are more South Asians in Dubai than there are Arabs. There is of course this famous Indian joke that the best city in India is Dubai. But there is some truth behind the humor.
Dubai I chose because it is a superlative city. All of the cities I have written about have claimed that at a certain time, often in a very “Dubai” manner. It is often described as the Las Vegas of the Middle East, but all the buildings of Las Vegas are just hotels whereas the buildings of Dubai are financial offices, trading ports, all manner of economically crucial activity going on there. It really is a crossroads of the world and should be taken seriously.

Jim Stevenson

For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs

Day in Photos

A dog, with his fur dyed green and wearing antlers made out of red fabric, poses for a photograph before participating in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in El Paso, Texas, United States, Nov. 26, 2015.

A dog, with his fur dyed green and wearing antlers made out of red fabric, poses for a photograph before participating in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in El Paso, Texas, United States, Nov. 26, 2015.