What’s your favourite city?

Self-confessed city flâneur Avner de-Shalit was recently interviewed by fellow Princeton University Press author Diane Coyle. Professor de-Shalit is the author of The Spirit of Cities, along with co-author Daniel A. Bell:

Which are your favourite books about cities by other authors, and why?

If it’s a sociology of cities I like coming back to Georg Simmel’s classic book, but it’s because I think the opposite — he thought it was impossible to
create a sense of community in the city and I think it’s the only place where a genuine community can rise. But my best cities book is Yehuda Amichai’s poems book on Jerusalem. I wish I could do the same: squeeze the entire city into two to three sentences.

Of all the cities you’ve visited which are the most interesting to walk around?

Well, I am biased. I am just in love with Jerusalem, and it’s such a lunatic city. Half of its inhabitants believe they have a direct line to God. But outside my city, I think Berlin is the most exciting city today. One can see that the city simply changes every day, and that people are excited about it. The combination of ultra modern architecture with the remains of the Communist architecture, and the abundance of sites of collective memory — this is just amazing. Not very easy for somebody Jewish like me, but still, terribly interesting.

Your book advocates walking to imbibe the spirit of cities. Which group is winning the battle for control of urban space – people or vehicles? Are many cities becoming unwalkable?

Well, now that Time Square NYC is walkable, there is hope. In the US there is a list of the 50 most walkable cities and the 50 which are most friendly to cyclists. While cars still dominate today’s cities, at least planners and mayors are well aware of the need to think differently.

If you had to choose another city to live in, which would it be?

Oxford, Oxford, Oxford. When I studied there one of my professors heard me saying I liked it a lot, and he said: But you know it’s not a real place. Now I know he was wrong. Oxford is a city which is full of life and energy and creativity. Only one has to get away from the colleges, to walk in the neighbourhoods. You can see artists, novelists, poets, and people who want to be artists, novelists and poets.

This interview was originally published on Diane Coyle’s blog, The Enlightened Economist


  1. I f I had to choose another city to live in it would be Seoul in South Korea. I went there last year and was amazed at how modern and clean it was.
    Although very busy traffic wise, the traffic keeps moving, no traffic jams that I could see.
    They also have a very low crime rate because of their high moral standards. I saw children leave their schoolbags in the street while they went off with the teacher on an excursion, nobody bothered to touch them.
    They say you can leave your wallet in the street and it will still be there days later, though I didn’t try it.