Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, August 19, 2005

My reading suggestions...

[Updated with the addition of Fixing Broken Windows.]

Probably aren't light summer reading but if I could only recommend a few books they would be:

1. Cities: Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz and Norman Mintz. This book is an excellent primer with plenty of case studies about the difference between asset-based community revitalization more from the ground up, what she calls "urban husbandry," vs. big project planning from the top-down.

2. Changing Places by Richard Moe and Carter Willkie. This book is about historic preservation and community building. You can't get any more asset-based than historic preservation and the fact is the only sustainable urban revitalization strategy that appears to work is historic-preservation-based. The proof of this is the fact that most areas "renewed" through urban renewal programs in the 1950s-1980s now require a new "renewal" program because the programs, for the most part, haven't worked. Meanwhile historic neighborhoods continue to be "reborn" and refreshed with new residents and new uses.

3. Home from Nowhere/Geography of Nowhere both by James Howard Kunstler. They are great reads and explain how the dominant planning and development paradigm of the past 50 years has really cheapened and to some extent destroyed the quality of life in the United States.

4. The Future Once Happened Here by Fred Siegel is considered to be a conservative take on the decline of cities. He uses DC, LA, and NYC as case studies to explain broad themes and trends. I think it's an essential read for understanding the decline of municipal institutions and how and where to begin the rebuilding of these essential institutions.

5. Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City by Elijah Anderson, a sociologist at Penn, "takes a piercing look at the complex issues surrounding respect, social etiquette and family values in the multicultural neighborhoods along Philadelphia's Germantown Avenue. A major artery of the city, the street reflects the vast social and economic difficulties confronting many of the nation's urban centers." This book is essential reading for people inexperienced with urban living and economically and racially diverse communities.

6. The Living City is an earlier book by Roberta Gratz. Some of the chapters, such as the chapter explaning how an out-state department store chain purchased independent department stores and then systematically destroyed the downtown stores, are chilling.

7. Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. While this should be the "first" book you read on urban studies, the fact is it's pretty subtle and nuanced and it helps to have some background before taking it on.

8. Streets of Hope by Holly Sklar and Peter Medoff is about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston. It's an inspiring story of a truly community-led community development corporation. The early chapters that describe the systematic disinvestment of Boston neighborhoods are chilling.

9. Urban Fortunes: Toward a Political Economy of Place by John Logan and Harvey Molotch is probably the best explanation of local power structures and how they unite behind a pro-development "growth" agenda. The chapter explaining the "use value of place" vs. the "exchange value of place" will transform how you think about these issues.

10. Cities in Full by Steve Belmont is an updating of Jane Jacobs for today, with solid numbers-based analysis that explain the value and necessity of relative density to stable neighborhoods and commercial districts.

11. Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. by Henry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood is about DC and Marion Barry. You can think of this book as a case study explaining the "Growth Machine" thesis of Logan and Molotch. The chapter on downtown development is must-reading for DC activists, but then so is the whole book.

12. Urban Design Compendium by English Partnerships. This handbook explains urban design, not suburban design, and should be read by anyone involved in any aspect of land use and planning in cities! Cities aren't suburbs and should be treated accordingly. This item is available for free by request at the EP website.

13. Community Economic Development Handbook by Mihalio Temali is a textbook that lays out a very practical approach to community revitalization. It excludes a focus on residential revitalization, but the approach, and all the reproducibles are infinitely applicable.

14. Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order And Reducing Crime In Our Communities by Catherine Coles and George Kelling updates the original article that appeared in Atlantic Monthly in the early 1980s with the thesis that the best way to maintain stable communities is to address problems when they are small, by not "defining deviance down" and by focusing police efforts towards what they call "problem-oriented policing" (which is different from "community-oriented policing" in that it is data driven focus on crime rather than merely being out and about in the community).

There are more, but I suppose this is a good start. Many of these books are available in DC libraries.

For some time, I've wanted to start an urban design reading group, starting with Jane Jacobs, but I never get around to doing it...


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