Cities Without Beginning Or End

January 23, 2012 |  by  |  Possible City  |  , ,

Image: London Observer

It is perhaps just what Italo Calvino feared, forty years ago, in writing Invisible Cities–“an outpouring of networks without beginning or end, cities in the shape of Los Angeles, in the shape of Kyoto-Osaka, without shape”–according to the UN, 2 people every second of every day are moving to a city, many of them to one of the world’s 23 mega-cities of 10 million or more…by 2030 in China alone, a billion urban dwellers.

By that year there will be 68 Indian cities of a million or more, six Indian mega-cities, 36 global mega-cities in all.

How do we think about Philadelphia in that context? How do we imagine it as a place that matters in the world?

I don’t suppose there are answers. Perhaps all we might do is watch and try to understand. A few years before Calvino started writing Invisible Cities, on November 6, 1964, Ed Bacon and Philadelphia were on the cover of Time Magazine. Why? The city was the singular example of urban renewal, “the biggest civic building boom the U.S.–or any other country–has known.” Quaint stuff in a world of Chengdu, Sao Paolo, Karachi, Dhaka…

For more on Chengdu and mega-cities, see the Saturday’s report in the Guardian HERE.

For a full-size version of the above graphic, click HERE.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



1 Comment


  1. I’m just hopeful that by then Philadelphia will have figured out how to keep its modest population growth going, how to attract and keep new business, how to fund schools and municipal services, possibly looking to these rapidly expanding megacities for ideas or inspiration. We’re not going to hit 10 million people any time soon, but that’s alright. The city was at its highest at a little over 2 million, and any more than that means you start to destroy the human-scale neighborhoods the city has.

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