Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a University Professor and Director of Cities at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute, and a Distinguished Fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
The work of the acclaimed chef and writer, who has died at 61, provides a model for a truly inclusive urbanism based on the creativity of all human beings.
Anthony Bourdain is one of the two people who have most inspired my work on cities and urbanism. Where Jane Jacobs helped define my intellectual agenda, it was Bourdain, who died on Friday morning at age 61, who motivated me to spread the message of cities and urbanism broadly.
A brilliant chef-turned-writer-turned-TV-star who was as good or better on camera as he was on the page, most people saw him as a chronicler of food and culture. But I always saw him as a chronicler of cities, and a truly great urbanist. He may not have seen himself that way—in recent years he ceased to refer to himself as a chef or a journalist, so single-minded was he as a traveler and epicurean—but it’s a central part of his work and legacy.
Bourdain used food as his lens to explore and unveil the intersection of human creativity, authenticity, and community. In his travels around the world and in the forgotten corners of his own country, he captured the creativity of real people in real communities. His favorite setting, aside from family dining rooms, seemed to be busy outdoor markets. There he could be found sampling street foods, illuminating the essential humanity—the smells and tastes, the honks and shouts—of the marketplace and community.
His cosmopolitanism was the opposite of elitism. After meeting then-President Obama for a meal at a modest restaurant in Hanoi, he told the New Yorker, “I believe what’s important to him is this notion that otherness is not bad, that Americans should aspire to walk in other people’s shoes.” This is what we’ll will miss most about him. On Twitter, many people called attention to his ability to visit poor places that had been subjected to historical injustices without exoticizing them. Instead, Bourdain could highlight the struggle of a marginalized people on their own terms.
Thing about #Bourdain was he didn't look down on foreign places he visited & their ‘quaintness/backwardness/insert-usual-derogatory adjective.' He dived in, hungry to experience. His wasn’t the Orientalist gaze. He saw humanity (& food) everywhere, and connected with it. RIP— Rania Abouzeid (@Raniaab) June 8, 2018
Anthony Bourdain connected and humanized people through food. His episode on Punjab was one of the first times I saw people who looked like me on television not depicted as violent aggressors or as helpless victims. Thank you, Anthony, and rest in peace. https://t.co/QtQCt4Viw0— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) June 8, 2018
Bourdain seemed to eschew so much of the disconcerting colonialism that creeps into food writing. In a world where people are always “discovering” that thing your auntie has been making to cure hangovers for generations, he’d rather just go chill with your auntie.— wikipedia brown will not yield not one second (@eveewing) June 8, 2018
So terribly terribly saddened by the news of Anthony Bourdain's death. I think few people fully understood what he's shows in Palestine, Iran etc did for the people of this region by showing the world the human side of these beautiful cultures. pic.twitter.com/aw99WCR1m7— Trita Parsi (@tparsi) June 8, 2018
This is exactly why it hurts so much. Just watched his episode in Los Angeles a couple of days ago, and he's eating Mexican food, talking to Latinos about our struggle in America today, and I thought it was beautifully done. Damn. https://t.co/VVvwJnNtwJ— Mario A. Carrillo (@_mariocarrillo_) June 8, 2018
When people who are not familiar with my work or with urbanism ask me what I do, I often tell them I aspire to do for cities what Bourdain did for food. In fact, without him, there may not even be a CityLab: In my initial conversations with The Atlantic about forming the site, I pointed to Bourdain’s wide-ranging approach to food and places as a key model for our exploration of cities.
That spirit, in his work and life, was captured in a tweet by the National League of Cities:
On behalf of America's cities, we'll miss you, Anthony. You really knew how to bring out the best in a place. pic.twitter.com/tynfZRzGxg— National League of Cities (@leagueofcities) June 8, 2018
He may be gone, but he left us with an incredible gift—his authentic, inclusive, quintessentially human urbanism.