URBACT Expert Eddy Adams Looks Back At His Best Reads Of 2013

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By URBACT, on December 13th, 2013

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December is a time for looking backward and forward. It’s also a time of tradition and sharing, so as 2013 draws to a close I’d like to share one of my family traditions with you.

Ever since my kids were small, we have got together at this time to share our favourite things of the past year. We have themes – books, movies, music are always in there – and each of us gets to choose our top 3 in each category. It’s been interesting to see my boys’ book choices evolve from “We’re going on a bear hunt” to Malcolm Gladwell via Harry Potter and Marilyn Manson. Wonder what they’ll choose this year?

I thought I’d use this final blog of the year to share my favourite URBACT-related books with you. My top three anyway, so here goes.

If Mayors ruled the world by Benjamin Barber

One of my highlights in 2013 was to see at first hand the amazing things that Mayor Won Soon Park  is doing in Seoul. And Mr Park, who describes himself as a social designer has a walk on part in one of my top reads of 2103, “If Mayors ruled the world” by Benjamin Barber.

The book’s subtitle “Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities” gives an insight into Barber’s main thesis. This is that in a globalized world where we face multinational challenges, the nation state is no longer fit for purpose. In fact, Barber claims, the competitive culture between nations actually gets in the way of us finding solutions to the wicked issues of the 21st century. Protracted logjams at environmental summits and trade talks are citied as ample evidence of this.

In our networked age, when most of the planet’s population live in urban centres, Barber argues that cities are our best hope. He majors on the pragmatism of Mayors, which contrasts with the remoteness of national governments. This was sharply outlined in November when the United States (US) Federal Government closed down as Congress grappled over principles and budgets.

Barber’s proposed solution – a global parliament of Mayors – is a radical and well-argued proposal that will interest all of us working with cities.

The Unwinding by George Packer

My second choice is also from the US, but is much less optimistic in tone. The Unwinding explains the slow car crash of America’s economic and social decline since the late 1970s. It is brilliantly written by George Packer, Deputy Editor of the New Yorker, and has a highly innovative structure. Jumping between a series of key years in recent US history, Packer uses a series of real individuals’ stories to illustrate the country’s downward spiral. Alongside those of famous names like Jayzee, Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell, he relates the real-life experiences of a trailer-park couple, a single mother from rust-belt Youngstown and the billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel.

The book reads like a novel – a real page-turner – whilst making sense of the changes which brought the US to the tough place it’s now in. Although not a book that focuses on cities, I found the descriptions of Youngstown’s experience as harrowing as anything published this year about Detroit.

The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato

My final choice takes us back to Europe, although I’m not sure which part, as the author, Mariana Mazzucato was born in Rome but is now a Professor at Sussex University in Brighton. Her book, The Entrepreneurial State, lays bare the myth that the private sector has sole rights over innovation. This powerful analysis, well researched and coherently argued, provides a long list of leading-edge products and services which saw the light of day thanks to the role of the public sector.

We all know the central role of the state in providing the hard and soft infrastructure for business – educating employees, investing in high-speed rail and so on – but Mazzucato shows that there is more to it than that. Much more. In fact, her investigations highlight the key role the state has taken by investing in high-risk ventures which have led to, amongst other things, GPS, touch screen gadgets and breakthroughs in the biotech and nanotech sectors. Big Pharma, as well as those doyens of modern business, Google and Apple, rode on the back of much initial development work that was public sector funded.

This is a great book – refreshing, original and well-written. It also makes an important contribution to reassessing the balanced relationships required to stimulate innovation. It also ends with a big question as to why tax-payers should support this key investment with such low levels of return. Good point!

So, these are my choices. I’d love to hear your own, which you can share on the blog or via our twitter accounts @URBACT. In the meantime, enjoy your adventures, and all best wishes for 2014.

1c99b3bBy Eddy Adams

URBACT Expert

Thematic Pole Manager

 

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