Book Review: Straphanger by Taras Grescoe


Author: Taras Grescoe
Title: Straphanger
Publication Info: New York : Times Books, 2012.
ISBN: 9780805091731

Previously Read By the Same Author: The End of Elsewhere

Summary/Review:  In the previous book I’ve read by Taras Grescoe, The End of Elsewhere (one of my all-time favorite books), the author travels the world deliberately visiting the most touristed sites.  In Straphanger, Grescoe travels the world again this time taking advantage of the rapid transit metro systems of the world’s great cities.  Grescoe visits New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Paris, Copenhagen, Moscow, Tokyo, Bogotá, Portland, Vancouver, Philadelphia and Montreal taking notes of what each city’s metro system can offer to North American cities (or in the case of Phoenix an example of how not to do it).  Grescoe takes not how each city’s public transportation network is a unique representation of that city’s culture, being both of the city and shaping the city.  While not everything would work in other cities, there’s a lot of food for thought for improving public transportation networks to serve dense urban environments, which Grescoe emphasizes is increasingly becoming necessary for our urban future.  Of course, me reading this book is another example of me being in the choir being preached too, but I find that it works well both as a travelogue and as a treatise on public transit’s future.  I highly recommend this book and expect it will be on my list of favorite books for 2012.

Favorite Passages:

Kenneth Jackson: “Look,” he said, “humans are social animals.  I think the biggest fake every perpetrated is that children like, and need, big yards.  What children like are other children.  If they can have space, well, that’s fine.  But most of all, they want to be around other kids.  I think we move children to the suburbs to control the children, not to respond to something the children want.  In the city, kids might see somebody urinating in public, but they’re much more at risk in the suburbs, where they tend to die in cars.” – p. 96

“Since the Second World War, in fact, transit in most of the world’s great cities has been run by publicly owned agencies.  The argument for public ownership of transit is two-pronged.  First, that transit systems and railroads are an example of a natural monopoly, like electric utilities or sewer systems, they can optimize expenditures and increase efficiency if they are under a single management.  Second, since a decent transport system has external benefits like increasing property values and reducing congestion and pollution, it is best managed not to maximize owners’ profits, but in the public interest.” – p. 125

Recommended books: Transit Maps of the World by Mark Ovenden, Triumph of the City by Edward L. Glaeser and Pedaling Revolution by Jeff Mapes
Rating: ****1/2

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