9 Books to Help You Plan Your City

Essential Reference Books For Urban Planning, Urban Design, and New Urbanism

Since the mid nineteen-eighties, a new breed of designers, the New Urbanists, have been proposing ways to minimize sprawl and create "people-friendly" communities. Much has been written about New Urbanism, pro and con. Here are our favorite texts about New Urbanism and Urban Design, beginning with the classic text by urban design pioneer Jane Jacobs.

When Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) published this book in 1992, she changed the way we think about urban planning. Decades later, the text is a classic. A must read for architects, urban planners, and anyone concerned with city revitalization.

Journalist and fiction writer James Howard Kunstler became the guru for New Urbanism when he wrote this 1993 bestselling study of encroaching ugliness in America. Kunstler argues that much of the American landscape has become ugly, empty, and not worth caring about. The solution? Pattern American cities and towns after villages from days gone by.

 Armed with dozens of photos and caustic wit, authors Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck bombard us with darkly comical factoids about the decline of our cities and the spread of sprawl.

  • The average American household takes 13 car trips per day.
  • American families spend four times more than European families on transportation.
  • Suburbanites are more likely than city dwellers to be killed or injured by traffic accidents or crime.
  • Traffic gets worse—not better—when roads are widened.

It's an architectural version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Wide highways, large single-family lots and long tedious commutes have become the dominant pattern in the United States. Our neighborhoods are being replaced by soulless alien substitutes. Instead of corner stores, we have Quick Marts. Instead of Main Streets, we have Mega Malls. Fast-food architecture—McMansions—sit forlornly along monotonous cul-de-sacs.

Subtitled The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, the book is not merely a dewy-eyed idealization of old-fashioned neighborhood models or a condemnation of Wal-Mart. Instead, the authors identify specific problems—and achievable solutions, complete with checklists, planning guides and resources. Originally published in 2000.

"I didn't move to the city to be a suburban commuter," said the wife of city planner Jeff Speck. So he wrote a book. Subtitled How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, Speck's book was first published in 2012. I first heard about Walkable City from National Public Radio, in a piece called What Makes A City 'Walkable' And Why It Matters. Since then, urbanist Speck has given a TED Talk to help inform people about the problems of cities and suburbs. Speck is also the co-author of the "sprawl book," Suburban Nation.

Here's the compelling tale of a city that evolved—almost miraculously - in a desert wasteland. Six architectural eras are analyzed, with lavish color photos. In its celebration of architectural anarchy, this slim book provides an interesting counterpoint to New Urbanist thought. By Alan Hess.

Tips and techniques for architects and planning professionals, with 180 photographs, site plans, and project renderings. This 1993 book published by McGraw-Hill has become a classic—not just for the pros, but for anyone concerned about suburban sprawl. By Peter Katz and Vincent Scully.

By Edward J. Blakely and Mary Gail Snyder. Both authors are professors of urban and regional planning, but this study of America's enclosed communities is not just for academics. Only 208 pages long, the book paints a disturbing picture of a nation where the affluent barricade themselves behind the locked gates of exclusive neighborhoods.

This recipe for urban revitalization argues against large, grandiose projects. In 2000 Roberta Brandes Gratz and Norman Mintz offered tales of many urban success stories and suggested that the solution for struggling cities is to encourage modest, organic growth, small businesses, and public spaces.

In 1998 author James Howard Kunstler continued the attack on modernist architecture and urban sprawl—and proposes tax and zoning reforms

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Craven, Jackie. "9 Books to Help You Plan Your City." ThoughtCo, Aug. 9, 2016, thoughtco.com/books-to-help-plan-your-city-177652. Craven, Jackie. (2016, August 9). 9 Books to Help You Plan Your City. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/books-to-help-plan-your-city-177652 Craven, Jackie. "9 Books to Help You Plan Your City." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/books-to-help-plan-your-city-177652 (accessed October 22, 2017).