Actually, it turns out there’s quite a lot to say about How Cities Work and Reaper Man. In Reaper Man, a mysterious set of snow globes appears in Ankh-Morpork, followed by metal shopping carts. A character realizes that if cities are like life forms - large, slow moving life forms - then there would evolve parasites to prey upon them, just as other long-lived life forms like trees have. The parasite would try to suck the life out of the city. If people are the city’s life force, then a parasite might take the form of a mall, enticing people to leave the city with promises of great bargains and convenient shopping. The shopping carts are like worker insects in the mall hive.

In real life, as How Cities Work discusses, suburban sprawl sucks the life out of a city in just the same way, giving them open space, convience, and low prices. Before people know it something they treasure, a sense of place and of community, has been irrevocably lost. I’ll post quotations once I get back home (I’m in Silicon Valley again now) with the book.

Who’d expect that a treatise on urban development and a Discworld novel would actually make the same point?

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.