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Green City: People, Nature and Urban Places

by Mary Soderstrom

We hear so much about “green” these days that the adjective has gotten a little tired. But readers with a taste for books on urban architecture and public planning – and more broadly, the sociology and history of cities – can thank Montreal writer Mary Soderstrom for breathing some exciting new life into the term.
Soderstrom (who is Q&Q’s Quebec correspondent) takes a fascinating look at the development of 11 cities that have each, in some important way, worked hard to carve out nature-rich spaces like parks and public gardens. Some of these cities, such as ancient Babylon, London, and Shanghai, are world-famous for their attempts to maintain green spaces. (In the case of Shanghai, this approach is part of a larger initiative to demolish skyscrapers and low-cost housing so that 35 percent of the city’s core will be reclaimed for green space by 2010.)
Though Soderstrom does a superb job chronicling the work of well-known green cities, it’s in her explorations of less-familiar urban centres that she really shines. Hamilton, Ontario, for example, has a well-deserved reputation for being a blue-collar steel city, but Soderstrom mines it for fascinating details about its private and public gardens, well-preserved marshland, and the city’s attractive green entrance from the shores of Lake Ontario – without ever forgetting that it was the steel industry that allowed it all to happen in the first place.
Books about urban planning and history often digress into dull, policy-wonk narratives. Soderstrom avoids this with a snappy, entertaining prose style, bolstered by meticulous research and many firsthand interviews.