Review: Never Built New York

Here’s some reviews of books I’ve been reading for use in my next Mage: the Awakening game.

Never Built New York

by Greg Goldin and Sam Lubell

Never Built New York details a collection of unimplemented architectural plans and designs throughout New York City’s history from the early 19th century to the modern-day. These projects range from the architecturally extravagant post-modern structures to what are now retro-futures. It explores city arcologies of stacked streets, buildings with whimsical structures, and Robert Moses’s car city brutalism. Never Built New York presents them with gorgeous illustrations of historical plans and concept sketches.

The history for each of these potential versions of New York is a major selling point for this book. Each plan includes a description of the historical context in which it was drawn up and its often tortuous path to the trash bin.

The authors convey a tone of general frustration at the lack of vision at what the city actually implemented compared to what could have been. Some exceptions are made (notably against the ambitions of Robert Moses) but that general bias holds true throughout. That doesn’t diminish the images of course but makes the narratives describes a bit tiresome after a couple hundred pages.

From a roleplaying game perspective, I wanted this book for ideas on alternate New Yorks. This I hoped to use for future time travel and world hopping campaigns as well as journeys into the world of ideas like one can find in Mage: the Awakening’s Astral. I also wanted to draw inspiration for my dreaming city concept for my next Mage: the Awakening game, both the city itself (which would be a group created location) and the city’s own dream realm.

Unfortunately I found less here than I had hoped. The book spends more time on smaller projects than I liked. It uses comparatively little time on the large-scale changes that would transform the whole city.

I think I was setting my game in New York City this book would be much more useful. Never Built Los Angeles exists by the same publisher. If they come out with a Never Built Seattle that would be ideal for my Demon: the Descent game.