Dead Cities by Mike Davis

November 15th, 2002 | Category: Reviews

The ground on which you walk is the tongue with which I talk — Saul Williams

Mike Davis gives voice to just what the hell we’ve done to our environment, what’s transpiring in the gaps in our relationships with each other, and what goes on underneath the deep and wide footprint of our rampant urban development. Dead Cities (The New Press) is a postmortem excavation of our postmodern urbanscape, a conjugation of all the verbs at work in the human condition.

Dead CitiesFrom the chaos of the “Miamization” of Southern California ghettos and the sprawling ennui of suburbia, to the unfathomable waste of natural resources in Las Angeles and Las Vegas and the groaning discontent of the earth itself, Mike Davis follows every vector that juts out of Main Street, USA. And there’s bad news around every corner — especially for the next generation of leaders, planners, and plain old citizens. As he told Mark Dery in an interview for 21C magazine, “Increasingly, the only legal youthful activities involve consumption, which just forces whole areas of normal teenage behavior off into the margins… Irvine, which is the last generation’s absolute model utopia of a master-planned community, is producing youth pathologies equivalent to those in the ghettos simply because in the planning of Irvine there was no allotted space for the social relationships of teenagers, nowhere for them lawfully to be — the parks are closed at night, they’re not allowed to cruise, and so on. So you get these seemingly random acts of violence.” The geography of nowhere is cultivating its very own nihilistic culture — even in the “perfectly planned” gated communities.

The most commendable thing about Mike Davis and his exhaustively researched books is their propensity toward the margins. Not that he meanders around the subjects about which he writes, rather Davis always includes that extra story that makes the core concepts resonate that much stronger. Whether it’s the seven deadly sins of Los Angeles, the dynamical behavior of earth as a closed system, or the plight of the immigrant computer-smashers who moved here “to work in your hi-tech economy,” Davis always gets to the core of the issues at hand with his feet firmly on the ground — and Dead Cities is his most all-encompassing work yet. As he writes at the end of the book, “We don’t need Derrida to know which way the wind blows or why the pack ice is disappearing.”

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