Dead Cities: A Natural History

Dead Cities: A Natural History By Mike Davis. | The New Press. $27.95.

Mike Davis has long been America’s guide to the shadowlands of postmodern urbanism. In City of Quartz, he unveiled a Boschian vision of Los Angeles — the city of dreams — as a Blade Runner dystopia already upon us. Ecology of Fear painted L.A. in a paranoid palette, as a metropolis unlikely to survive the combined threats of mega-quakes, fires, and El Niños. Now, as the nation attempts to reinvent its downtowns as well-secured malls, Dead Cities forcefully returns our gaze to urban landscapes divided by race and class, and lurching unsustainably toward a showdown with Mother Nature.

If too many of Dead Cities‘ chapters read as filler — essays on Southern California politics that would have felt dated five years ago — the fresher work effectively challenges the much touted revival of America’s cities. Davis’ strange tour winds from the riot-scarred streets of Compton to “the most polluted site on Earth” — a bioweapons test site just west of Salt Lake City — to collapsing East Coast ghettos.

As ever, Davis remains preoccupied with the West. At his darkest, he foresees a future in which “sprawl … addiction, violence, and simulation will have overwhelmed every vital life-space west of the Rockies.” It’s the West become Los Angeles. Or worse yet, Las Vegas — a city whose “prodigal overconsumption,” hyper-sprawl, and poverty-stricken inner city make it the apogee of unsustainability. Creating a viable “alternative urbanism,” writes Davis, presents an extraordinary challenge. But then again, “this may be the last generation even given the opportunity to try.”


We believe that journalism needs to stand for something right now. That the press is the enemy of secrecy and corruption. That reporting without a sense of right and wrong only helps liars and propagandists succeed. And that we're in this fight for the long haul.

So we're hoping to raise $30,000 in new monthly donations this fall. Read our argument for journalism that is fair and accurate and stands for something—and join us with a tax-deductible monthly donation (or make a one-time gift) if you agree.