Thursday, October 31, 2019

Historic Cities

Historic Cities: Issues in Urban Conservation
Jeff Cody, Francesco Siravo (Editors)
Getty Publications, July 2019



Paperback | 7 x 10 inches | 632 pages | 100 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1606065938 | $75.00

Publisher's Description:
This book, the eighth in the Getty Conservation Institute's Readings in Conservation series, fills a significant gap in the published literature on urban conservation. This topic is distinct from both heritage conservation and urban planning; despite the recent growth of urbanism worldwide, no single volume has presented a comprehensive selection of these important writings until now.

This anthology, profusely illustrated throughout, is organized into eight parts, covering such subjects as geographic diversity, reactions to the transformation of traditional cities, reading the historic city, the search for contextual continuities, the search for values, and the challenges of sustainability. With more than sixty-five texts, ranging from early polemics by Victor Hugo and John Ruskin to a generous selection of recent scholarship, this book thoroughly addresses regions around the globe. Each reading is introduced by short prefatory remarks explaining the rationale for its selection and the principal matters covered.

The book will serve as an easy reference for administrators, professionals, teachers, and students faced with the day-to-day challenges confronting the historic city under siege by rampant development.
dDAB Commentary:
When I was in grad school for urban design about 12 years ago, at least one of our textbooks was a reader on urbanism. Specifically I remember the Sustainable Urban Development Reader, one of many readers on cities put out by Routledge under their Routledge Urban Reader Series. With today's embrace of cities, there appears to be no shortage of demand for these books, but they don't necessarily address every aspect of cities. The preservation — or conservation, to use the more widely accepted term outside of the United States — of historic cities is one such subject, and that is why Getty Publications put together their own reader with nearly 70 essays, book excerpts, and other readings on the subject. It's the eighth in their Readings in Conservation series, following those on cultural heritage, paintings, photographs, textiles, archaeological sites, paper, and preventive conservation.

The 67 texts in Historic Cities are split into eight parts: (1) The Shared Nature of the Historic City, (2) Geographic Diversity of Historic Cities, (3) Reactions to the Transformations of Traditional Cities, (4) Reading the Historic City, (5) The Search for Contextual Continuities, (6) The Search for Significant Values, (7) The Sustainability of Urban Conservation, and (8) Managing Historic Cities. There's no apparent ordering principle in these eight parts, but they start fairly broadly, both conceptually and geographically, with such concepts as Christian Norberg-Schulz's Genius Loci in the first part and an excerpt from David Adjaye's African Metropolitan Architecture in the second. Following them, the parts kind of move forward through time, with most of the 19th century writings in part 3 and a clump of recent scholarship in the last part. Yet even within each part, the texts are presented thematically rather than chronologically, meaning that the whole book jumps around in time and place. To help navigate the stew, at the beginning of each of the eight parts, editors Jeff Cody and Francesco Siravo elucidate the important points of the texts that follow, while at the end of each part is a "visual summary." It should be noted that the images provided in the summaries are not always drawn from the original sources (Adjaye's own photos from his book, for example, are not included, in favor of other photos), but important images related to a text are in some cases provided alongside the text.

Setting aside the organizational traits that come to fore when compiling such a trove of information, I find Historic Cities helpful in discovering new (to me) sources and takes on urban conservation, and using it as a jumping-off point for further research. Just about every text included in the reader is trimmed for relevance and space, meaning that people interested in what was omitted or what else the authors had to say need to hunt down the originals. Of course, this is easy when it comes to online articles like Shannon Mattern's "A City Is Not a Computer" (the last text in the book) and such books as Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of American Cities (part 3) from 1961, but it can be difficult with less widely available (i.e., expensive) books like Urban Forms: The Death and Life of the Urban Block (part 4) from 1977. Regardless, there is plenty to be gleaned from the carefully selected and gleanings in this beautiful — if heavy — volume.
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Author Bio:
Jeff Cody is an architectural historian with a background in historic preservation planning. Francesco Siravo is an Italian architect specializing in historic preservation and town planning.
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