My favorite thing to do on vacation is to walk. I like to walk through a city, noticing shifts in character (and characters) from one neighborhood to the next. Doorways, store windows, churches, schools. They all add to a neighborhood’s mosaic. Even the most homogenized cities reveal subtle differences from street to street. The Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne likes cities too. And bikes. His 2009 book Bicycle Diaries collects his experiences and reflections of cities around the world as seen via bicycle. His bike encourages an anthropological eye on cities around the world: Istanbul, London, Buenos Aires, Manila, San Francisco, etc. His personal experiences are peppered throughout the book, but what is really enjoyable is his take on the various ways that global cities have succeeded and failed. His passionate advocacy for the humble bicycle as transportation is admirable. The complexities of urban transportation and continued growth cannot be solved by one form of transportation. However, Byrne’s book provides an entertaining and insightful take on how cities live and could live in the future.
Below are other books that discuss urbanism in a thankfully un-pedantic tone.