Questions of sustainability, however, are more an implicit sidebar of the text than its main mission. Primarily, Marcinkoski has crafted a dense yet completely readable and highly compelling collection of case studies, bookended by the history of pervasive boom-and-bust cycles in the first chapter and in the last, reflections on potential strategies for contemporary urban design and planning practice to engage, if not confront, these conditions. Two-thirds of the book is focused on the jaw-dropping case of Spain’s explosive urbanization practices between 1998 and 2008, the so-called second miracle (the first being a result of Spain’s housing boom in the 1960s). The spatial products of this boom include: housing for sixteen million people (though population growth was only six million), 13,000 new kilometers of roadway, 150 new metro stations and 180 new kilometers of rail expansion in Madrid alone, seven new airports (for a total of 50—more than two and a half times that of Germany, which boasts twice the population), and—apologies to Jerry Brown and the state of California—over 3,000 built kilometers of high-speed rail in a system aiming to locate 90 percent of Spain’s population within thirty minutes of a high-speed rail station (80–83). The extravagant numbers are just the skeletal data on which Marcinkoski reconstructs the very detailed land, capital, and governmental relationships represented in fastidious text, maps, and timelines that attempt to elucidate the preternatural logic of shuttered airports and empty trains. The real work is excavating the extremely complicated structures of how policy makers, property owners, and global culture collide (or collude) to produce brand new—yet nearly vacant—cities.
To imply that The City That Never Was is only documentary in nature, though, is misleading. It is the process of urbanization (or city building) itself that is under inquiry throughout the text. As Marcinkoski explains, “[Speculative urbanization] is not simply the product of capital; rather, it is employed in creating the conditions for the possibility of capital. … Of particular interest is the gradual shift from urbanization as a response to economic growth to urbanization deployed as a driver of economic growth” (18). Though speculation is not new to the urbanization process, the assets of choice and scale of that speculation have certainly shifted, and grown exponentially, over time. What may have seemed tangible if not relatively manageable before now (land speculation in the late eighteenth century, agriculture in the early nineteenth, infrastructure in the mid-twentieth, and building speculation throughout and ever since) has metamorphosed into entire districts, crossing the boundaries of building, infrastructure, culture, and industry (52). It is speculation itself that is the new industry, creating, in its wake, a labor pool particularly reliant on construction for the sake of construction activity as a generator of jobs and income (221). With that change in scale comes an outsized degree of both risk and reward reliant on a kind of addict’s cycle of more to beget more. One seeming reward, in many of the Spanish cases, is the windfall of design opportunities provided to both high-profile and local architects. As might be imagined, many of these spectacular projects now stand as burdensome reminders of the irresponsible excesses of the era (86).