Andy Merrifield, Beyond Plague Urbanism – Monthly Review, Spring 2023
Andy tells me the striking cover image is by André Kertész.
Our cities have been plagued by economic injustices and inequalities long before COVID-19 upended urban life everywhere. Beyond Plague Urbanism delves into this zone of urban pathology and wonders what successive lockdowns and exoduses, remote work and small-business collapse, redundant office space and unaffordable living space portend for our society in cities and our cities in society.
The city has historically been a Great Book inspiring a liberal education, the kind that teaches you how to become a citizen of the world. The city was always an existential rite of passage, especially for young people, broadening horizons, deepening your whole being. But lately our great seat of learning has remaindered a lot of its classics texts, closed down public access, and auctioned off its campus to the highest bidder. The city’s romance is already talking alimony. How to resuscitate the city as a vast open-air public library? How to redraft this Great Book together? How to dialogue anew about its table of contents, re-typesetting the future social life contained within its leaves?
Andy Merrifield journeys intercontinentally as he reflects on these questions, in a narrative that moves imaginatively between literature and life, plague and populist politics, public values and private inclinations, the U.S. Main Street and the British High Street, overcrowding and undercrowding, the right to the city today and eco-cities of tomorrow. Blending modern jazz with French Surrealism, Thomas Pynchon’s rocket science with the odyssey of James Joyce, Henri Lefebvre’s Marxism with the street ballets of Jane Jacobs, this challenging book appears at a timely moment in our fraught political history and opens up an urgent humanist conversation about the future of city life.