The most important books in planning (although I am behind on my reading)


1. Death and Life of Great American Cities – to understand what urbanism is and why it works or doesn’t. (For extra credit, you can read her first substantive article on the subject, “Downtown is for People,” which was published in Fortune Magazine in April 1958, and later in the compendium The Vanishing Metropolis–which compiled the 6 articles in the series of pieces commissioned by William Whyte, then the editor of Fortune Magazine. I am proud to say that not only do I have the book, I have 5 of the 6 original magazine issues, including the issue in which Jacobs’ article appeared, which I found–really Suzanne found them–at an estate sale in Bethesda.)

2. Cities in Full — takes Jacobs’ concepts to the next level by providing deeper insight into why places work the way they do, in terms of housing, commerce, employment, and transit.

3. Geography of Urban Transportation Systems — it’s a textbook, with chapters by a variety of individuals. It’s very well written and straightforward. Every planner should take at least one course in transportation planning.

4. Building Neighborhood Confidence and Understanding Neighborhood Change by Rolf Goetze — these two books, long out of print, explain the processes undergirding the stabilization and improvement of neighborhoods. (My friend Tom Litke also really likes The Art of Revitalization, which is a study of a number of neighborhoods in Chicago.) You could also complement these books with Mallach’s Bringing Buildings Back.

5. To understand commercial district revitalization and neighborhood economic improvement, probably Community Economic Development Handbook by Mihalio Temali, as well as the handbook from the Main Street Center, Marketing an Image: How to Develop a Compelling Message and Identity for Main Street. (I suppose then you would have to read Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations by Jacobs, but I have to admit that I have only skimmed these books, although I own both.) + the various ULI “ten steps” papers:

Although the description of the Main Street book is completely misleading. It discusses how to position a commercial district based on its economic capacity and opportunity, and how to do a market study and why. I haven’t read the new Downtown Revitalization Handbook, but at least compared to all the other Main Street publications that I’ve read and worked to apply, this is the best one. Temali’s book goes beyond the Main Street approach and takes on microenterprise development and rebuilding jobs at the neighborhood and sub-district levels in cities. He is a leading community development practitioner in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.

Note that I basically can’t talk to “average” people, including planners and area bloggers, about commercial district revitalization and retail development, because they don’t understand how retail business works, how the industry is organized, entrepreneurialism, etc. Read this stuff, then we can talk.

6. Urban Design Compendiuma great introduction to urban design, along with William Whyte’s City: Rediscovering the Center. The latter book is out of print, but a portion of it is in print in the book The Social Life of Small Urban Places. Of course, Jan Gehl’s paper, “Close Encounters with Buildingscovers much of the same ground, and extends the principles, and is a lot shorter. (I haven’t yet managed to acquire or read any of Gehl’s books. They are usually out of print.) Oh, and Cy Paumier’s Creating a Vibrant City Center, published by ULI.

7. If you don’t want to read all those other books and you don’t want to get too technical, I always recommend Robert Gratz’s Cities: Back from the Edge as a good case study book, based on Jane Jacobs. The case studies make the concepts much easier to grasp. I say if you’re only going to read one book, Cities: Back from the Edge is the one to read.

At this point, we go into advanced level work…

8. If you get to this point, you really need to understand the unseemliness of it all, the politics and the process. Planning the Capitalist City by Foglesong is long out of print, but an excellent primer on the development of the roots of urban capitalism and urban planning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Urban Fortunes: Towards the Political Economy of Place by Logan and Molotch outlines the Growth Machine thesis, which I am very fond of in terms of its explanatory power in why local political and economic elites are united and do what they do. That’s from sociology.

The political science approach is called the Urban Regime, which I think is better than the Growth Machine in terms of explaining how the process actually works, how the local political and economic elites organize and coordinate their agenda. Clarence Stone’s Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946-1988 is a solid tome from that school.

Then to understand how it works in DC, Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. is the best–theory into practice so to speak–especially chapter 4, on real estate development. The authors are journalists, and unfamiliar with either the growth machine or urban regime theories, but their book is a powerful case study that shows how the theories are in fact executed.

9. Then, I would say the books on the creative economy by Charles Landry and Richard Florida. They each have a few books between them, pick one from each and you can’t go wrong. Landry really challenges how we should think about the revitalization process, while Richard Florida focuses more on human capital.

10. You need to understand “branding and identity,” and there is no better resource than Simon Anholt. Either Brand America or Competitive Identity: The New Brand Management for Nations, Cities and Regions.

Damn, I see he has a new book, Places, which I will have to get and read forthwith.

I would follow the readings on branding and identity with with a bunch of books on marketing and design so you can put it into practice. Start with Maximarketing* (an old book but still worthwhile even from the pre-Internet days), maybe the Marketing Imagination*, Strategic Marketing for nonprofit organizations*, Social Marketing*, The Wayfinding Handbook, Festival Graphics, Designing Brand Identity, Worldbranding, and Wayfinding: Designing and Implementing Graphic Navigational Systems. (I still need to find a great book on branding.) I read these books with an * long before getting interested in planning.

What’s missing?

12. A solid set of recommendations on community engagement, civic participation, and organizing.

13. Understanding organizations. Although one of the most important books I ever read was the Social Psychology of Organizations.

14. Parks planning.

15. Housing. Which I don’t work on.

I’ve only taken a couple planning classes. Note that only Planning the Capitalist City was on the reading list for one of the courses, although reading a syllabus for a class taught by Dolores Hayden of Yale University is how I was introduced to the Growth Machine theory, in the paper City as a Growth Machine: Toward a Political Economy of Place.

Of course, you can’t get a planning degree without reading Death and Life. The others? I doubt it.

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