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-founder of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (with Peter Woodall and Joseph E.B. Elliott) and two novels, Everything is Borrowed and Lion and Leopard. He is co-editor of Who Will Speak for America, an anthology forthcoming in June 2018, and 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
Docomomo PHL To Host

Docomomo PHL To Host “Wake” For Modernist Store

June 18, 2018  |  News

Modernist architecture advocacy group will hold a demonstration to protest Philadelphia's historic preservation crisis. Michael Bixler has the details > more

The Rise, Fall, & Revival Of North Broad's Opera Palace

The Rise, Fall, & Revival Of North Broad’s Opera Palace

June 14, 2018  |  Vantage

Rob McClung takes us on a journey through the turbulent history and present reawakening of the mighty Metropolitan Opera House at Broad and Poplar > more

A Brief History Of Race & Contested Space In West Philly

A Brief History Of Race & Contested Space In West Philly

June 11, 2018  |  Vantage

Mariam Williams dives deep into the social evolution of Malcolm X Park to unearth the history of race and economics within a neighborhood space > more

Italian Market Project Puts Fresh Eyes On A Philly Staple

Italian Market Project Puts Fresh Eyes On A Philly Staple

June 8, 2018  |  Vantage

The Italian Market Project mixes a walking tour with Philly-accented theater in a fun, immersive experience. Mickey Herr has the details > more

Taking History To The Streets With Preservation Activism

Taking History To The Streets With Preservation Activism

June 6, 2018  |  Soapbox

Ali Roseberry-Polier discusses civil rights history, selective public memory, and why she created an historical marker for a Black female activist who challenged segregation in 19th century Philadelphia > more

A Buzzy New Beginning For Poth Brewing Company

A Buzzy New Beginning For Poth Brewing Company

June 4, 2018  |  Last Light

Before renovations begin, Michael Bixler takes us inside the remains of Poth Brewing Company with this photo essay > more