How can a serious book project be justified by a article in a crappy newspaper? Well, there are many reasons for this and it is not per se a negative thing. It only looks more nobel if the product comes in responds to a well established and respected authority. One of the most obvious reasons is probably the fact that we all started reading these free and cheaply produced, written and distributed papers on the way to work and again on the way back home. Even thought it would be possible to access quality paper online for free around the clock, the free papers still have a largely entertaining character on the commute. Unusual then is to relay on it and reuse it as a foundation for an proper project.
This is a lot of blurb for the introduction paragraph here, but I am really surprised finding the prologue of this publication circling around the news paper 20minuten, a Swiss free street news paper that usually dosen't hold a tenth of the promised time in the title.
Anyway, the article in the paper was spreading the news that a Swiss city has won first place in one of these literally hundreds of city ranking programs. But 'How do you rank a city?' With this first question, the book project started and triggered a series of questions in the bulk load. The book contains fifty topics with some five questions each, makes 250 questions regarding the urban environment. 'What has been there forever?' might be one of the time based questions. Another is the 'How do you recognise the seasons?' linking in aspects of nature and natural time pattern.
All this is summarised in the recent Lars Muller Publishers publication 'The World's Fairest City - Features of Urban Living Quality' by Ruedi Baur, Martin Feuz, Carmen Gasser Derungs, Andrea Gmünder, Thomas Hausheer, Martin Jann, Philipp Krass, Margarete von Lupin, Trond Maag, Ursula Tgetgel and Marcel Zwissler.
Some of the questions serve cliches 'Can everybody get enough?' and others are suggestive 'What color is your tap-water?' or 'What can you do with the click of the mouse?'. I am calling this suggestive because the photographs used to illustrate the topics obviously are located in the western European context and based in the same cultural context. The existence of other conditions seems to bee a ghost around the corner. 'How to you survive in a slum?' ?
But sure enough the same observations started bugging the authors too and Ruedi Bauer reflects on this in his text 'The Top of the Word'. There is a second part to the book where a number of contributors share their thoughts on the topic in very short snippets of text. Some, like Kurt Aeschbacher a Swiss TV presenter, answer in a few sentences two questions, others talk about their experiences to life in different cities around the world, like Mathis Guller. Overall this section paints an image of different experiences and characters of cities.
The book is complemented by a website, you might have guessed it: http://fairestcityintheworld.org/ where all the questions are accessible and one can register to vote for the personal favourite. Currently Munich is the voters favourite city on this platform.
This project has a counterpart in the form of a card set developed by ARUP and published by Prestel called 'Drivers of change'. It also is an extensive collection of questions set in the urban environment and ARUPS take on sustainability.
Image taken from fairestcityintheworld.org / Book cover
Baur, R. et al., 2010. The World's Fairest City - Yours and Mine: Features of Urban Living and Quality: Features of Urban Living Quality, Lars Muller Publishers.