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Extreme Cities: The Peril and Promise of Urban Life in the Age of Climate Change

A cutting exploration of how cities drive climate change while being on the frontlines of the coming climate crisis

How will climate change affect our lives? Where will its impacts be most deeply felt? Are we doing enough to protect ourselves from the coming chaos? In Extreme Cities, Ashley Dawson argues that cities are ground zero for climate change, contributing the lion’s share of carbon to the atmosphere, while also lying on the frontlines of rising sea levels. Today, the majority of the world’s megacities are located in coastal zones, yet few of them are adequately prepared for the floods that will increasingly menace their shores. Instead, most continue to develop luxury waterfront condos for the elite and industrial facilities for corporations. These not only intensify carbon emissions, but also place coastal residents at greater risk when water levels rise.

In Extreme Cities, Dawson offers an alarming portrait of the future of our cities, describing the efforts of Staten Island, New York, and Shishmareff, Alaska residents to relocate; Holland’s models for defending against the seas; and the development of New York City before and after Hurricane Sandy. Our best hope lies not with fortified sea walls, he argues. Rather, it lies with urban movements already fighting to remake our cities in a more just and equitable way.

As much a harrowing study as a call to arms Extreme Cities is a necessary read for anyone concerned with the threat of global warming, and of the cities of the world.

Reviews

  • Extreme Cities is a ground-breaking investigation of the vulnerability of our cities in an age of climate chaos. We feel safe and protected in the middle of our great urban areas, but as Sandy and Katrina made clear, and as this fine book reveals anew, the massive shifts on our earth increasingly lay bare the social inequalities that fracture our civilization.”
  • “The way we design and live in cities will determine humanity’s ability to avoid an anthropogenic mass extinction event in the coming century. Dawson makes this vividly clear in Extreme Cities, laying out in detail the nature of the problem and some possible positive actions we can take. Crucial to his argument is the fact that technological solutions will not be enough, so that we need to drastically reform the capitalist economic system to properly price and value the biosphere and human lives. His point that social justice is now a necessary survival strategy makes this not just a meticulous history and analysis of our situation, but also an exciting call to action.”
  • “Cities both in the North and the South are already suffering the effects of climate change. Government and business fitfully recognize and respond, but in ways that reinforce existing injustices and as often as not make things worse. Dawson shows how social movements have combined action on disaster relief with forms of equitable common life to produce models for radical adaptation from which we can all learn. This is a brillant summation of what we know and what we can do build a new kind of city in the ruins of the old.”

Blog

  • Let’s lose interest in elections, once and for all!

    This text by Alain Badiou first appeared on the Mediapart blog. Translated by David Broder.



    I understand the bitterness of those remonstrating after the first round of the elections, particularly those left disappointed by Mélenchonism. That said, whatever they do, or say, there was no particular aberration, no swindle, in this vote.

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  • Verso Books at Historical Materialism NY



    Verso Books is a proud Co-Sponsor of this year’s Historical Materialism New York Conference: “Resurgent Radicalisms in a Polarizing World.” The conference will be held April 21-23 at NYU and will bring together hundreds of radical scholars in conversation and debate on some of the most pressing questions posed today by social movements and Marxist theory. More information about the location and registration is available here

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  • Benign Neglect and Planned Shrinkage

    The frequency and scale of the spectacular fires that consumed much of the South Bronx and other areas of New York City throughout the 1970s can in large part be blamed on the recommendations for fire service reduction made by the New York City-RAND Institute and HUD between 1969 and 1976. In 1973, urban epidemiologists Deborah Wallace and Rodrick Wallace got access to Rand's fire service reports. Immediately recognizing the flimsy pseudoscience that undergirded their claims, they began to write and campaign against the station closures and the other policies based on Rand recommendations.

    "By 1978," the Wallaces write in their introduction to
     A Plague on Your Houses: How New York Was Burned Down and National Public Health Crumbled (published by Verso in 1998), "we discovered that the Rand-recommended fire service cuts had triggered an epidemic of building fires and heated up a related epidemic of building abandonment. We submitted a grant proposal to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to assess public health outcomes of this massive destruction of housing in New York's poor neighborhoods. The NIH did not even review our proposal. That research plan, carried out over a period of fifteen years without federal funding, resulted in this book."

    In the excerpt below, Wallace and Wallace situate the development of Rand's recommendations in the context of the deliberate de-industrialization of New York undertaken by federal and state officials.  
       


    John Fekner, Charlotte Street Stencils, South Bronx, NY 1980. via Wikimedia Commons.

    Daniel P. Moynihan and Benign Neglect

    Not an arsonist at first glance, Daniel Patrick Moynihan burned down poor neighborhoods in cities across the country as surely as if he had doused them in kerosene and put a match to them.

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