Pooler, James A.
Aldershot England: Ashgate, 2000.
Geographer James Pooler of the University of Saskatchewan believes that hierarchies have a significant impact on our institutions and cities. He has applied this premise to a Canadian context in order to explore such topics as education, business and transportation. While a determined postmodernist might blanch at the proposition that society should be analysed in this way, as both an urban researcher and a librarian C for whom hierarchical structures are a fundamental tool C I anticipated that Pooler's approach would yield profound insights.
This book appears to be aimed at the undergraduate level and for its analysis relies heavily on central place theory. Pooler explains hierarchies in general before applying them to his chosen topics. Each chapter concludes with references. The book itself, however, simply ends, with no concluding chapter, giving it the feel of a collection of articles rather than a coherent whole. The index needs better layout, as the most important entry, hierarchy, is at the bottom of one page, leaving dozens of subsidiary entries to follow confusingly on the next. As the book was published in England, the editor was not likely to notice that the diagram of a typical shopping mall anachronistically shows an Eaton's store as an anchor.
The most important problem that I have with the book, though, is that Pooler's hierarchies are almost exclusively premised on size. The author observes that cities, networks and organizations are generally composed of one very big thing, a few large things, and a progressive array of more numerous small things. This approach constrains Pooler's analysis.
For example, the chapter on "education and inequity" states that, unlike city dwellers, residents in smaller communities must, in order to obtain higher education, travel to a larger community. While obviously true, there are far more serious examples of educational inequity owed to hierarchies that go unmentioned here. A few examples: Provincial education budgets being the first tier to be cut; the arts suffering first from those cuts; and inner city schools being subject to closure while taxes are diverted to suburban schools. These hierarchies say a great deal about our values.
Similarly, a chapter on urban transportation cites the hierarchy of roads (residential, collectors, arterials, freeways etc.) as the most...