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

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



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.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

The Marvelous Multiple Occupations Of The Midtown II

December 11, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Last June, one of Center City's last classic diners, Midtown II at 11th and Sansom, closed its lunch counter for good. The high-profile property is now under development, although plans for the space remain elusive. The Shadow takes us behind the façade to reveal a lively list of tenants and a colorful history of reuse > more

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly's Paint King And His Irish Lass

Secrets! Romance! Scandal! The Hush-Hush Love Of Philly’s Paint King And His Irish Lass

December 8, 2017  |  Harry K's Encyclopedia

Harry K. takes us to Old City where the flames of a secret affair scorched newspaper headlines in the early 1900s > more

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

Marc Lamont Hill Energizes Germantown Ave With New Bookstore Cafe

December 6, 2017  |  Vantage

Academic, activist, and political commentator Marc Lamont Hill carries the tradition of the Black-owned bookstore into the 21st century with Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books. John Henry Scott has the details > more

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

Give $$$, Get a Cool Perk: 2017 Campaign

December 4, 2017  |  Vantage

Hidden City's annual fund drive is in full swing on Generosity and we've got a brand new batch of perks celebrating Philadelphia available. Here's a look at this year's killer lineup > more

Three Historic Designation Removals Call Procedure Into Question

Three Historic Designation Removals Call Procedure Into Question

November 30, 2017  |  Vantage

Three historic properties on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places were abruptly stripped of legal protection last week. Contributor Starr Herr-Cardillo unpacks the details of each situation > more

Before Digital Sign Domination, A Giant Coffee Pot Reigned Supreme

Before Digital Sign Domination, A Giant Coffee Pot Reigned Supreme

November 29, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow pours us a steamy cup of Center City history with the story behind Ellis Coffee Company's ginormous percolator that once lorded over South 16th Street > more