Review: Common Ground in a Liquid City by Matt Hern

Review: Common Ground in a Liquid City by Matt Hern
© AK Press

Common Ground in a Liquid City: Essays in Defense of an Urban Future by Matt Hern is a collection of ten essays about the future of city-living – or living in general – with very specific examples derived from his city of residence, Vancouver, and its relationship to the numerous cities he has visited. Hern addresses the successes and pitfalls of Vancouver, a relatively young city, through the critical lens of ten cities each of which is the point of departure for the essay.

Each city gives Hern insight into the structure of cities in the future with references to how Vancouver is dealing with its own development: its history, its urban identity, its division of public spaces, the privatization of the natural environment, its density and the activities that it wishes to foster for its inhabitants.

Come back after the break for more on this collection of essays.

The beauty of this book is how flexible and accessible it is.  As the author mentions in his introduction, the essays may be read in or out of order.  Each essay is a microcosm of an idea about city life and the civic duties of its citizens; they each bring in a new layer of information on many scales: local, regional, and global.  They highlight the responsibilities of the inhabitants, community leaders, policy-makers and urban planners making them highly accessible to readers from any point of view to relate these ideas to their own city – urban, suburban or rural.

At the heart of every essay, Hern asks, what is the catalyst that brings the city to life; what makes this city livable? He searches for what inspires people to flourish culturally and socially and whether it is a function of the physical space that develops over time in a city?  

Hern believes in the ecological sustainability of dense cities where life, work and entertainment co-exist.  He points to New York City as an example of this, particularly because in most neighborhoods owning a car is more a hassle than an asset, public transportation is so prominent, and amenities are within walking distance.

Although this book was published in 2008, Hern’s ideas are far from dated, and similar approaches are addressed by urban planners, designers, and community leaders today.  Hern argues for the density and the re-localization of resources which create an image of a city that is self-sufficient, organically developing in response to the needs of its inhabitants, and is constantly evolving to accommodate its population that is in controls its consumable goods.

These essays are sure to give any reader a fresh perspective on the ideals of an urban environment.  They are full of inspiring stories of small community movements, the development of community responsibility, and the neighborhood presence that can develop in a city where the physical space directly responds to the needs of its inhabitants, and allows them to act upon it transforming it into a hub of cultural activity through accretion and evolution.

About Matt Hern from his website:

Matt lives and works in East Vancouver with his partner and daughters where he co-directs the Purple Thistle Centre and founded Car-Free Vancouver Day.  His books and articles have been published on all six continents, translated into ten languages and he continues to lecture globally. He holds a PhD in Urban Studies and teaches at SFU.

About this author
Cite: Irina Vinnitskaya. "Review: Common Ground in a Liquid City by Matt Hern" 21 Oct 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884

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