The buddy-cop comedy by Seth Fried imagines a war over gentrification, and says something about the way we talk about urbanism.
“Density and dispersal. It’s a war we fight with our own lives everyday.” If there’s a thesis underpinning The Municipalists, the debut novel by Seth Fried, it’s this thought, offered early on by the protagonist, Henry. He’s the kind of guy you don’t hear much from in fiction: a somber, straitlaced urban planner who’s fond of cataloguing the many ways that cities outperform rural areas in terms of health outcomes, education, the environment, et cetera.
In The Municipalists, the war is a literal one. Henry and his reckless robot sidekick are bureaucrats for the fictional U.S. Municipal Survey, and they’re dispatched to Metropolis to resolve a spiraling mystery of physical and cyber attacks that have taken place. It becomes clear that the attacks came from influential terrorists who oppose the urban planning policies of the USMS, the Metropolis mayor, and others. The terrorists argue that the city’s planners are incentivizing displacement of longtime residents and local businesses.
In case you’re wondering, Fried sides mostly with the terrorists. “Everything but the bombing, pretty much,” he says. He holds a healthy appreciation for Jane Jacobs, which inspired the plot and even gave him an excuse to make it funny.