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Copyright

Title: Metacity/Datatown
Author: MVRDV
Publisher: 010 Publishers
Copyright: 1999
ISBN: 9-0645-0371-0
Pages: 224
Price: $17.00
Rating: 90%

A good friend of mine from college edited an independent newsletter that commented on nearly everything, but one piece that stands out in my mind is a biting critique of movie novelizations, which he argued either expanded the film to true novel length and distorted the original horribly, or re-wrote the screenplay and came across as unbelievably shallow. The same criticism can often be leveled at printed renditions of artistic video installations, so it was a rare treat when I found that the book Metacity/Datatown communicates the flow and impact of a well-planned video presentation.

I did not view the original Metacity/Datatown installations, which were exhibited at the Stroom Center for the Visual Arts in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 1998 and 1999, so I can't tell you how true a representation the book is of the videos. I can, however, say that the book draws the reader in immediately. The first part of the book discusses the "metacity", which is the endgame of the current trend toward urban expansion. A series of graphics excluding areas such as deserts, forests, and mountains defines the habitable area of the globe to about one-third of the land mass, before moving on to data profiles of Mexico City, Sao Paulo, and, for an interesting contrast, the Netherlands. One statistic that stands out is that the population density for the Netherlands is 375 people per square kilometer, as compared to densities of 2,328 people per square kilometer in Mexico City and an incredible 11,928 people per square kilometer in Sao Paulo.

The second, and much longer, part of the book documents the Datatown installation, which presents the results of a thought experiment with the goal of designing a self-sufficient settlement that balances the relatively high population density of the Netherlands (the 21st most densely-populated country) with the food, power, and waste disposal needs of the populace. The creators' conclusion is that the world's habitable area could sustain 376 datatowns, supporting a maximum population of over 88 billion.

The flurry of statistics and graphics provides a wonderful sense of the argument's progression. As a series of still images, the presentation is compelling; I hope one day to compare the book to the videos on which it is based.

Curtis D. Frye (cfrye@teleport.com) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews.  He is the author of three online courses and nine books , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.