If you’re reading this blog, chances are you’ve already read the The Death and Life of Great American Cities (If you haven’t drop everything you’re doing and pick up a copy today!) Several of these books are by members of my 10 Urban Visionaries list. The selections are in chronological order of their publication date.
- The Image of the City (by Kevin Lynch, 1960)
An early classic, predating Death and Life. Introduces the concept that the structure of a city exists not only in physical reality but also in the minds of its inhabitants—its “imageability.”
“The final objective of such a plan is not the physical shape itself but the quality of an image in the mind.” – Kevin Lynch
Death and Life may be Jane Jacobs best known work, but this could be her most important one. In it, she lays out a detailed analysis of what is necessary for a vibrant, prosperous city. While it makes some controversial claims, the book is a must read for anybody interesting in revitalizing their city’s economy after the recent downturn.
- A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein, 1977)
An encyclopedic study (over 1000 pages) of what makes buildings, streets, and communities work—in other words, what makes cities human. Andrés Duany calls this “The design equivalent of the Bible.”
- The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (by William H. Whyte, 1980)
A classic case study on urban design that laid the groundwork for major changes in the way we plan and build our public spaces. This book looks at why city spaces work for people and why others do not, drawing some practical lessons for the observations. A companion text to a documentary of the same name.
- The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape (by James Howard Kunstler, 1994)
Kunstler’s first non-fiction book takes on “the tragic comedy of suburban sprawl.” It argues that “the mess we’ve made of our everyday environment was not merely the symptom of a troubled culture, but one of the primary causes of our troubles.” Kunstler proposes that by reviving civic art and civic life, we will rediscover public virtue and a new vision of the common good.
- The Living City: How America’s Cities Are Being Revitalized by Thinking Small in a Big Way (by Roberta Brandes Grantz, 1994)
An exploration of how and why cities survive, thrive and die.The book introduces the concept of urban husbandry and explores why small, incremental changes are often more successful than ‘big urbanism’ mega-projects.
“This is fresh and fascinating material; it is essential for understanding not only how to avoid repeating terrible mistakes of the past, but also how to recover from them.” –Jane Jacobs
- Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (by Andrés Duany; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk; Jeff Speck, 2001)
A manifesto by a team of New Urbanist pioneers that calls for a revolution in suburban design. It offers detailed suggestions on how to rebuild communities using a neighborhood centric approach to urban design.
- Who’s Your City (by Richard Florida, 2008)
This book offers an in-depth look at why where you live is the most important decision of your life and what this choices mean for your life, happiness and community. In doing so, it provides an insightful guide to how our citrus really work.
- The Architecture of Community (by Leon Krier, 2009)
A compendium of insights from the ‘godfather of new urbanism.’ The book provides an in-depth explanation of the rational foundations of architecture and the city. What could be a heavy read is lightened by Krier’s pithy cartoon sketches that illustrate the ideas he puts forth.
- What We See: Advancing the Observations of Jane Jacobs (edited by Lynne Elizabeth, Stephen Goldsmith, 2010)
This book introduces a new generation of urban thinkers, who use Jacobs’ meditation on the urban environment as a springboard to develop their own observations and strategies to cope with contemporary urban issues. (See my full review here.)
Lists like this are subjective and open to endless debate. Many people have their own favorites that may differ from mine. Also, as it is impossible to read everything, there are likely an important title or two that I missed. Please leave a comment if you have other recommendations to share.