It's clear to anyone who tries to get from Santa Monica to downtown at rush hour that our cities are crowded with people. Take the 10 Freeway, or try Sunset, cut down to Beverly, then Olympic, then Pico — every route is jam-packed. This is a relatively new phenomenon — not traffic but urbanization. Two hundred years ago, just 3% of us lived in cities. Now, more than half the world's population does; that's expected to rise to 75% by 2050.
In "City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age" (Bloomsbury: 400 pp., $40), P.D. Smith looks back and forward, at how cities have evolved, how they work, what they mean and where they're going. The book begins with the Aztecs' Tenochtitlán — now Mexico City — at the moment it is first encountered by Spanish explorers in 1519. Smith deftly integrates the narratives of far-flung places across centuries. Discussing sports within city bounds, he draws a connection between the Roman Colosseum and skateboarders in Venice Beach.
In this continuum, he creates an uber-city, a grand portrait of what urbanity is and might become. Some tidbits from the book:
— When the Spaniards arrived, Tenochtitlán had a population of 200,000 — larger than any city in Spain.