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.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

City of Boston master planning process (Imagine Boston 2030) suggests reading list

"Through Imagine Boston 2030, we are engaging residents on the future of our city in ways that have never been done before," said Mayor Martin J. Walsh. "This reading list is another tool we're using to drive engagement and ask people to think about to Boston's first city-wide planning undertaking in 50 years. I encourage all residents to visit their local library branch to pick up at least one of the books on the list and join the conversation about the Boston's future."
They are also running a voting process to select three more books.

Adult Reading List

"Evicted" by Matthew Desmond
"The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs
“Chain of Change: Struggles for Black Community Development” by Mel King
“The Given Day” by Dennis Lehane
"Common Ground" by J. Anthony Lukas
"All Souls" by Michael Patrick MacDonald
“The Power Broker” by Robert Caro
“Karma and Other Stories” by Rishi Reddi
"The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong” by Judith Rodin
“Villa Victoria: The Transformation of Social Capital in a Boston Barrio” by Mario Luis Small
"Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time" by Jeff Speck
"The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future" by Joseph E. Stiglitz

Youth (Ages 3+) Reading List

“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing” by M. T. Anderson
“The City of Ember” by Jeanne DuPrau
"Pennies for Elephants" by Lita Judge
“What’s the Big Idea? Four Centuries of Innovation in Boston” by Stephen Krensky
"Make Way for Ducklings" by Robery McCloskey
"Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagine" by Steve McDonald
“Beneath the Streets of Boston” by Joe McKendry
"On the Loose in Boston (Find the Animals)" by Sage Stossel

===My suggestions======

Drawing from The House Book.

I used to say that if you're going to read just one book, read Cities Back from the Edge by Roberta Gratz because it is an excellent primer with lots of examples, based on the ideas of Jane Jacobs but more accessible because of the examples. 

But the book is close to 20 years old now, and needs more recent examples probably to be graspable by the average person.  It's still a great book, as is her earlier book, The Living City.

Belmont's Cities in Full is a great explanation of the value of center cities and centralization vs. deconcentration. It needs an update too in the face of current practice. The first chapter puts numbers to many of the concepts expressed by Jane Jacobs in Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Changing Places by Carter Willkie and Richard Moe, former president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is out of print but an excellent overview of the centrality of historic preservation to successful urban revitalization. Preserving Historic New England: Preservation, Progressivism, and the Remaking of Memory is specifically about the history of the historic preservation movement in New England Antiquities.

David Engwicht's Reclaiming Our Cities and Towns: Better Living Through Less Traffic lays out the founding principles of what is now called "transportation demand management," and discusses in great detail the advantages of sustainable mobility for cities in facilitating "exchange" of all kinds.

William H. Whyte's City: Rediscovering the Center lays out urban design principles that form the basis of urban success.

James Howard Kuntsler's Home from Nowhere and Geography of Nowhere are rocking reads about cities and the value of authenticity.

Obviously Power Broker is a classic explanation of how real estate development and power and politics, but it's over 1,000 pages. Urban Fortunes: Towards a Political Economy of Place is probably too technical. There has to be shorter more relevant books specifically about Boston's real estate development ecosystem.  People might appreciate Anthony Flint's Wrestling with Moses: How Jane Jacobs Took on New York's Master Builder and Transformed the American City because it compares and contrasts the two very different approaches, top-down/mega-projects vs. ground up incrementalism that they each espoused.

For Boston specifically, it'd be helpful to understand how metropolitan area development was enabled and shaped by transit, and this has historical antecedents, so Sam Bass Warner's Streetcar Suburbs: The Process of Growth in Boston, 1870-1900 is in order.  A City So Grand covers the city's history from 1850-1900 during one of the periods of hyper growth.

Other books on Boston urban history include Eden on the Charles: The Making of Boston and Inventing the Charles River--which is a man-made river, constructed out of flats. Frederick Law Olmsted and the Boston Park System addresses the creation of Boston's original park system.

Policing and K-12 education are other key topics.  I think Fixing Broken Windows by Kelling is worth a read.  Problem-oriented policing as a concept is much different from "zero tolerance policing" although the two practices are conflated.  There's a newer book on the general topic by the former chief of the Seattle depatment but I haven't read it, To Protect and Serve: How to Fix America's Police.

I can't say I know what would be the definitive book to recommend on K-12 education practice. A couple that come to mind are Organizing Schools for Improvement: Lessons from Chicago and The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education.  But quality local schools are fundamental building blocks for neighborhoods, and key to retention of families with choices.  Typically, master planning processes don't adequately acknowledge this nor do they organize their planning frameworks for the sub-community scale to bring this about.

Maybe the book Streets of Hope is too dated, about the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood, a ground up community development initiative.  I haven't read A People's History of the New Boston which covers community organizing movements of the 1960s and 1970s, but that would be a worthwhile alternative.

For kids, I'd recommend The House Book by Keith DuQuette.  It's many drawings also explain some elements of urban development, and the difference between urban and suburban development.

Reading Groups going forward.  I used to say back in the day with the "everybody read the same book" campaigns in various cities that it would be good to focus on urbanism, to get people roughly at the same point on contemporary city issues.

It'd be interesting to create on-going reading groups for each of these sub-areas such as transportation, schools, parks, etc., because there are many many more books that are relevant and important to know about and understand and apply to current conditions.

Architecture, economic development and the organization of work (e.g., the "sharing economy" and product service systems), retail practice etc. are some of the areas that I didn't address that are relevant to urban planning and urban futures.

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At 7:36 PM, Blogger Ed Bourque said...

I agree with most of your thoughts on the list.

I'm re-reading "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" right now.

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

so much great stuff to read, so little time. Reading your profile, you might like _Negotiated Landscape_ about SF. It's beautifully written.


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