Academic journal article American Studies

FLUID NEW YORK: Cosmopolitan Urbanism and the Green Imagination

Academic journal article American Studies

FLUID NEW YORK: Cosmopolitan Urbanism and the Green Imagination

Article excerpt

FLUID NEW YORK: Cosmopolitan Urbanism and the Green Imagination. By May Joseph. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. 2013.

May Joseph's Fluid New York is an important addition to the conversation about the environment and life in New York City. This is a thoughtful book whose key metaphor is water: Joseph is persuasive that although New Yorkers were unprepared for superstorm Sandy, water serves to link "public space and private lives" in ways that "defining cartographic lines do not." She describes and evokes "a dense set of interconnected maps and routes . . . Arab grocers, South Asian cabbies, Caribbean nurses and doorman, African merchants."

Joseph shows how New York City is a "marine biosphere"; reading Dutch maps from the 17th century, she suggests how the environment has been shaped by water, and how the "language of the street" discussed by Jane Jacobs recreates "transcontinental air and sea routes." Joseph's book is better at evoking these powerful ideas than at proving them. She relies heavily not only on maps, but on Russell Shorto's popular history The Island at the Center of the World (2005), and also on popular protests for Tibet and Falun Gong, in an effort to demonstrate the performative aspect of her argument.

Several of her ideas are stated flatly without interrogation, and this tendency becomes frustrating for the reader; for example, "Manhattan's density deters any effort at segregation. Its irrepressible flows from the streets resist stagnation." Maybe, but maybe not. It's true we have a diverse city, but the segregated schools, for example, occur with Manhattan's density. …

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