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NEW KINDLE Version of Poor Richard Volume 1

A new version of Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1) specifically tailored for Kindle devices is available for purchase from the Kindle Store. Be sure to check the online store in your country/currency (USA store available below).

Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1) collects together commentary, proverbs, and witticisms that originally appeared via The Outlaw Urbanist. Drawing inspiration from American Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, as well as many others, author Mark David Major crafts anew a series of astute observations, common sense proverbs, and general rules of thumb for anyone interested in the architecture, urban design and planning of our cities. Often eloquent, occasionally biting, and always insightful, these witticisms offer a valuable resource for the entire year, daily reminders for everyone involved in the building of our cities of their better angels and warning them against the worse demons of human nature.

Poor Richard, An Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 1)
by Mark David Major
Foreword by Julia Starr Sanford
Forum Books
April 13, 2013
English

ASIN: B00Q1V5VLK
BISAC: Architecture/Planning

Purchase from Kindle Store here.

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NEW KINDLE Version of Poor Richard Volume 2

A new version of Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2) specifically tailored for Kindle devices is available for purchase from the Kindle Store. Be sure to check the online store in your country/currency (USA store available below).

Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2) brings together more common sense proverbs, astute observations, and general rules of thumb for anyone interested in the future of our cities. In doing so, author Mark David Major again draws from a dizzyingly array of sources for inspiration including the artistic movements of Modernism, obscure African, European and Oriental proverbs, and even the Old and New Testaments. These witticisms are often eloquent, sometimes biting, and always insightful; even occasionally bizarre in the absence of deeper thought. They offer a valuable resource for the entire year, daily reminders for everyone involved in the building of our cities about their better angels and warning against the worse demons of human nature.

Poor Richard, Another Almanac for Architects and Planners (Volume 2)
by Mark David Major
Foreword by Steve Mouzon, AIA
Forum Books
November 30, 2014
English

ASIN: B00QE5G91E
BISAC: Architecture/Planning

Purchase from Kindle Store here.

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REPOST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor (Originally posted January 28, 2013)

Here is Part 2 of the “20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)” article, originally posted in January 28, 2013. Plenty of Holiday gift ideas here!

10. “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” (1946) by Dan Stanislawski
An old text, perhaps obscure to many and only familiar to a few, “The Origin and Spread of the Grid-Pattern Town” is one of the earliest and most thorough reviews of the evolution of regular grid town planning in the world. Yes, Stanislawski subscribes the spread of regular grid town planning to a process of historical diffusion, which Spiro Kostoff (see below) correctly points out nobody believes in any more. Despite this flaw, Stanislawski’s review is surprisingly comprehensive, for the most part. Stanislawski does seem to gloss over medieval town planning, see Maurice Beresford’s 1967 New Towns of the Middle Ages: Town Plantation in England, Wales and Gascony. However, some later writers ignore all together clear examples of regular grid planning in certain regions of the world (the Orient, for example). Stanislawski’s article is still a valuable resource today for any reader interested in the regular grid as long as they are careful about filtering out some of his misplaced – discredited today – ideas (for example, historical diffusion or the importance of Hippodamus). Available for download here with registration.

9. “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource” (1993) by Stanford Anderson
John Reps in his historical narrative of American town planning (see below) is enchanted with the historical ward plan of Savannah, as are many architects, urban designers, and planners. Reps is equally mystified (and a little despondent) about why the Savannah plan was not more influential in the history of American town planning. In “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource,” Anderson offers a succinct and brilliant analysis about how the ward plan of Savannah operated in terms of street alignments and building constitution working together to structure the outside-to-inside ‘assimilation’ of strangers into the town (principally in relation to the port). In generic terms, Savannah appears to be quite typical of a lot of waterfront settlements in American planning. However, its detailed specifications for squares and constitution is rigid, making it an inflexible model for early American town development (for example, compared to the flexibility of the Spanish Laws of the Indies model). Anderson’s article should be on the standard reading list for any academic program in planning. The article is available on Google Books here. It appears in the book Settlements in the Americas: Cross-Cultural Perspectives, which is available for purchase on Amazon here.

8. The Practice of Local Government Planning (2000)
It is one thing to complain about how planning works in the United States. However, it is hypocritical to complain without really understanding how planning works in the United States. The Practice of Local Government Planning offers a clear solution. For years, the various incarnations of the “green book” have been the go-to source for American planners to immerse themselves in the full scope of their profession in the United States. This Municipal Management Series book is the first one any planner will open when seeking to pass the AICP exam. It is comprehensive and detailed. Warning: it is a very, very dry read. It is also extremely careful to remain neutral when presenting a picture about the way things work, i.e. this is what it is, not this is the right way to do it. In this sense, it is value-free and empty at its core. Nonetheless, it remains an invaluable resource for any planner, or anyone wanting to understand planners. Available to purchase on Amazon here.

kostoff_covers

7. The City Assembled: The Elements of Urban Form Through History (1992) by Spiro Kostoff

6. The City Shaped: Urban Patterns and Meanings Through History (1991) by Spiro Kostoff

reps_covers

5. Cities of the American West: A History of Frontier Urban Planning (1979) by John W. Reps

4. The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States (1965) by John W. Reps
Kostoff’s The City Shaped/The City Assembled are crucial books about the history of town planning in the world for any urban planner to have on their bookshelves. Reps’ The Making of Urban America/Cities of the American West about the history of town planning in the United States are crucial books for any urban planner to also have on their bookshelves. If an urban planner does not have these books on their bookshelves, it is reasonable to question the quality of said planner. There are other good historical narratives out there on the subject (Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s The Matrix of Man or Eisner and Gallion’s The Urban Pattern, for example). However, Kostoff and Reps’ books are the most comprehensive and thorough for their particular subjects. All four books incorporate hundreds of plans/plats and photographs to tell the story of town planning in the United States and world at large. They also offer detailed historical information (especially Reps) about the people and events involved in building our cities. Sometimes they are insightful and sometimes they are mistaken. For example, despite his protestations about the dichotomy so prevalent in town planning, Kostoff remains firmly entrapped in that dichotomy, i.e. ‘organic’ and ‘regular’ cities. Reps correctly points out the historical importance of William Penn’s plan of Philadelphia but misstates the reasons, assigning to Philadelphia what should have more appropriately been given to the Nine Square Plan of New Haven and the Spanish Law of the Indies, which Kostoff correctly emphasizes (though we are discussing subtle but important degrees of difference instead of a chasm in thought between both writers). When he ventures away from historical narrative and facts into the realm of opinion, Reps is often prone to undervalue the functional power of regular grid. However, these are endlessly useful texts for anyone interested in cities. The collection of plans and other historical documents (e.g. bird’s eye views) are a wonderful resource for any planner to have readily at hand. Kostof books available for purchase from Amazon here and here. Reps books available for purchase from Amazon here and here.

3. Space is the Machine: A Configurational Theory of Architecture (1996) by Bill Hillier
A purist could argue that anyone interested in space syntax should start with The Social Logic of Space (1984) by Bill Hillier and Julienne Hanson. The Social Logic of Space is an important book where Hillier and Hanson spell out a lot of groundwork for the theoretical and mathematical foundations of space syntax. However, they do so to a level of detail that some readers might find off-putting. Even Hillier and Hanson admit one of its chapters is practically unreadable because it is so dry with mathematical set theory. If you want to learn about the space syntax approach and some of its early, important findings without getting bogged down in the detail, then you are better served by starting with Hillier’s Space is the Machine. Besides, Hillier is always careful about repeating the ‘big picture’ items that arose from The Social Logic of Space (beady ring settlements, restricted random process, and so on), so you won’t miss too much. For planners, the most important chapters in Space is the Machine are about cities as movement economies, whether architecture can cause social malaise, and the fundamental city. There are plenty of goodies for architects as well. Space is the Machine is a must-read for anyone serious about a scientific approach to the built environment. (NOTE: Original illustrations by yours truly). Available for paperback purchase on Amazon here. You can download the full book as a PDF here.

2. The City: Suggestions for Investigation of Human Behavior in the Urban Environment (1925) by Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess
One of the planning profession’s biggest problems is the Chicago School (the sociologists Park and Burgess and their colleague, Homer Hoyt, see sector model of city growth, who together were the founders of human ecology) got so much right from the very beginning that there wasn’t anywhere for planning to go from there but downhill. Of course, planning theory proceeded to accomplish this downhill spiral with great vigor and spectacularly bad results (see the second half of the 20th century). With the advent of the computer processor, Park and Burgess’ approach may appear somewhat quaint to modern eyes. However, the essentials about cities are there. More importantly, Park and Burgess never divorce the socio-economic nature of the city from its physical form. They view them as intimately bound together. An important book and somewhat underrated in today’s world by planners, though it’s difficult to understand why or how that should be the case. Available to purchase on Amazon here.

1. The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) by Jane Jacobs
Big surprise, huh? These days it seems like anyone interested in cities is obsessed with Jane Jacobs, either in implementing and promoting her ideas or feverishly going to ridiculous lengths trying to refute them (one might call it Jacobs Derangement Syndrome). Indeed, this obsession in itself is a testament to the power of her book. Ironically, for its time, the most novel thing Jacobs did was she dared to look out her window and observe how things were really working out there on the street. It is a sad statement on the planning profession that this was somehow viewed as a sacrilege when the book was first published and, to a certain extent, this perception endures today. I mean, how dare she actually suggest we evaluate (and, by implication, take responsibility for) the social and economic consequences of our planning decisions. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is the essential book for any planner.

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Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books

Need ideas for gifts this holiday season? The Outlaw Urbanist is here to help you!

The Sovereignty used to be the author’s blog for promoting my science fiction novel Mars Rising (available for purchase on Amazon here). I retired the site a couple of years ago for a new author’s website (www.markdmajor.com) since my published books quickly spread beyond the genre of science fiction to include theatre, poetry, and children’s books as well as the Poor Richard series of almanacs about architecture and urbanism (available for purchase on the menu to your right) .

By far and away, the most popular articles on the old blog were the “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books” and “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books” posts . Given their popularity, I want to make these articles newly available on The Outlaw Urbanist blog even though they are not strictly about architecture and urbanism. I originally wrote the “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books” on August 11, 2013. Below is the second article, “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books”, which I originally wrote on September 22, 2013. Without further ado, and only a few revisions, here is…

Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor (Originally appeared on The Sovereignty blog)

Previously, I posted an article on this blog about what I believed were the Top Ten fiction books everyone should have read. In that article was a promise to later produce a second Top Ten list of non-fiction books based on the same criteria. I should be clear that this selection is not solely based on historical importance; otherwise, people like Charles Darwin might populate the list with some extremely dry, hard sloughs such as On the Origin of Species. Accessibility is certainly an important criterion in the selection of the books for this list. These are books that everyone can and should enjoy reading, not just specialists in particular fields. Once again, I am also avoiding controversial choices such as religious or political texts. For example, the Holy Bible and the Koran are certainly important religious and historical documents, which many people have read. However, I do not want to start a flame war on my blog simply because I ranked one above the other. The same is true for controversial political texts such as Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler or The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, both of which have in common being hard sloughs of incoherent garbage; again, important historical documents, no doubt, but not exactly must-read material. I am also blatantly cheating by pairing some books together and some selections are multi-volume works. I make no apologies for cheating in this manner because there are too many good non-fiction books that everyone should read. With that, let the making of lists begin…

HONORABLE MENTION:

the_princeThe Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
Machiavelli’s The Prince is still the essential handbook for leadership, albeit in a democratic society, dictatorship or the high school council, see Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) in the film, Election. Its lessons are still relevant today across the entire political spectrum. It is this, which truly speaks of its greatness as a written work of non-fiction. It is not just political leadership. There are all sorts of leadership lessons in The Prince, be it of a business or personal nature, which tends to come down to the maxim it is better to be respected than loved and, sometimes, it is better to be feared than respected. Purchase on Amazon here.

portrait_of_a_marriagePortrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson by Nigel Nicolson
This might seem like an esoteric and obscure choice for many people but this book about the marriage of Harold Nicolson and Vita Sackville-West, and her numerous affairs with women, is  a fascinating read. It demands your attention. It also serves as a peek into the early twentieth century Bloomsbury Group of literary writers and artists in London (such as Virginia Woolf, with whom Sackville-West had an affair), which Sackville-West was associated in a peripheral manner. You would not think it would be a compelling subject but, in fact, it is very much so. Nicolson draws the story about his parents’ marriage together from letters and interviews; it is well worth your time. Purchase on Amazon here.

1776john_adams10. 1776/John Adams by David G. McCullough
These two works are companion pieces in many ways since they are, for the most part, telling the same story but with a different emphasis. John Adams, of course, focuses on the entire career of the Founding Father and Second President of the United States. In this, it provides a grounded and broad sweep of the first 50 years of American history as well as the 10 years preceding the American Revolution. McCullough’s portrait of Abigail Adams is especially vibrant, which proves that behind every great man is often a great woman. 1776 focuses on a single year of the American Revolution though McCullough does fill-in before and after this date within the narrative. In 1776, you get much more of the story of George Washington and the struggles of the Continental Army. McCullough also fleshes out the different perspectives of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin in drafting the Declaration of Independence to the one already sketched in John Adams. John Adams is denser, covering a lot of material and years (including the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson after both had left public life, which is fascinating). John Adams digs deep into the details. 1776 is a faster and easier read, painting the broad strokes of this quintessential American story. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

a_bridge_too_farband_of_brothers9. A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan/Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose
Yes, Ryan’s book gives short shrift to the American role in Operation Market Garden. Yes, he tells the story very much from the British point-of-view. It elevates examples of British heroism (of which there were plenty examples requiring no such embellishment) and makes apologies for British failings (specifically, Montgomery’s errors) in planning Operation Market Garden. Eisenhower more or less sidelined Montgomery from Allied war planning after Market Garden, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about where to lay the blame (see #1 on this list below). Nonetheless, the story about this risky offensive strategy is a fascinating read. After reading A Bridge Too Far, you will wonder how the Allies ever won the war in the face of such incompetence and possess greater respect for the treacherous political waters that Eisenhower had to navigate as Supreme Allied Commander. For some balance, you can read Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, which devotes an entire chapter to the 101st Airborne’s role in Operation Market Garden. However, the real highlight of Ambrose’s book is the story about the unbelievable conditions and American acts of heroism at Bastogne in the Ardennes Forest during The Battle of the Bulge. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

the_double_helix8. The Double Helix by James D. Watson
You would immediately think a first-hand account about the search for the discovery of DNA would qualify as a snooze fest of scientific mumbo-gumbo. You could not be more wrong. Instead of producing a dry, academic book about the scientific process of trial, error, observation, and refutation, Watson writes an exciting detective novel and invites you along for the twists and turns of the wild ride. Who knew science could be so exciting? The Double Helix is a rare breed, a non-fiction book about science that is a page-turner. I dare you to put it down once you start reading. Purchase on Amazon here.

lost_moon7. Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger
The definitive book about the Apollo space program is, paradoxically, about its greatest failure and triumph. As Commander of Apollo 13, Lovell takes you right onto the ship with him, and fellow astronauts Fred Haise and Jack Swigert, to give you the first-hand account of what they went through on that eventful voyage and how close they really were to death. Lovell and Kluger also do their research and tell the equally fascinating story of the NASA people on the ground trying to save the astronauts. After reading this book, you will be even more amazed that Apollo 13 survived to make it home. If anything, the film version of this book does not adequately convey enough just how really miraculous was the flight of Apollo 13. I am not sure any film could do so though Ron Howard’s film certainly gave it a great shot. Purchase on Amazon here.

jacobs6. The Death and Life of Great American Cities: The Failure of Modern Town Planning by Jane Jacobs
This is a bit of a specialist book since it is about the failure of town planning. However, Jacobs’ book is so important that everyone should read it. You actually do not have to be a planning expert (Jacobs wasn’t, she was an economist) to take away valuable information about our cities. I am not usually one for litmus tests. However, any architect, planner, engineer, geographer, or policy maker who questions or soft-pedals the validity of Jacobs’ arguments in this book should immediately be suspected of not knowing what the hell they are talking about. Purchase on Amazon here.

usgrant5. Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant
This is still the gold standard for presidential memoirs. Grant wisely avoids the problems and scandals of his presidency to focus on his early life, military training, and his role in the U.S. Civil War. You probably do not realize it but much of what you know about Grant, Lincoln, Sherman, and even Robert E. Lee comes from Grant’s crucial first-hand account of the bloodiest period in American history. Purchase on Amazon here.

dee_brown4. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West by Dee Brown
The story of the American West as told from the perspective of the American Indian. It is a heart-wrenching read and some sections (especially about the brutality of the Sand Creek Massacre) will make you want to vomit and cry at the same time. This is a lot of material covered and the book itself is dense but easy to read. Oddly, this book is also a cautionary tale for anyone naïve enough to think the Federal government is incapable of tyranny. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee proves any government, even one founded on the purest of ideals, can descend into tyranny. You would think slavery and the U.S. Civil War would have already ably demonstrated this point but here is another example occurring mostly in the years after the Civil War. Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Purchase on Amazon here.

woodward_bersteinfinal_days3. All the President’s Men/The Final Days by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
The story of the Nixon Administration and Watergate will always be intimately tied to these two Woodward and Bernstein books. Like Watson’s The Double Helix, you would not think investigative journalism would be an especially interesting subject. However, such is the level of the stakes (the Presidency itself) and the story-telling capability of Woodward and Bernstein that the books (especially All the President’s Men) read like page-turning, spy thrillers. Unfortunately, in hindsight, Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting also marks the beginning of the long decline (‘jumped the shark’, perhaps?) of the Fourth Estate. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

shelby_footebattle_cry2. The Civil War: A Narrative (Three Volumes) by Shelby Foote/Battle Cry of Freedom by James M. McPherson
These two works really offer the definitive historical accounts of the U.S. Civil War. Foote’s three-volume narrative essentially offers an objective Southern perspective about ‘The War of Northern Aggression’ whereas McPherson’s provides more of a Northern perspective. Foote’s three volumes are a dense and long account of the war, about 1,000 pages per volume and weighting nearly 10 pounds in total! However, it is a surprisingly easy read given how dense is the material. McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom is a one-volume historical account of the war. It is also a fascinating and easy read, which is a viable alternative if you do not really want to delve into Foote’s more dense narrative. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

anne_frank1. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
This book should be required reading for every human being in every country on the planet, period. Anne is just an ordinary girl growing into a vibrant, young woman during one of the most perverted moments in human history. She was Jew in hiding in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation of Holland. She could be your neighbor or even your daughter. By the end of this book, she becomes everyone’s daughter. The Nazis find and arrest her and her family a mere two weeks before the liberation of Amsterdam, sending them to a concentration camp where Anne dies. Note: The liberation of Holland was delayed for six weeks because of the failure of Operation Market Garden, see # 9 above. You do the math. Her father survives to come back to the house where they were hiding to find the diary Anne hid there and tell her story to the world. The anger you will feel is genuine because the world was robbed of her vibrant presence and, then, the full horror hits you. Anne’s story is just one story among millions of stories that were never told nor even written. It is impossible for me to think about Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl without crying. The only consolation is God truly had a plan for Anne, which was to produce one of the most poignant and important testimonies in human history.

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REVIEW | Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism

dead_end_Benjamin_RossREVIEW | Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism | Benjamin Ross
Review by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist contributor

The first half of Benjamin Ross’ Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism (2014, Oxford University Press) is a majestic masterpiece of objective, clear, and concise diagnosis about the political, economic, and social origins of suburban sprawl in the United States with particular emphasis on the legal and regulatory pillars (restrictive covenants and exclusionary zoning ) perpetuating  suburban sprawl to this day. It is required reading for anyone interested in the seemingly intractable problems of suburban sprawl we face today in building a more sustainable future for our cities. Chapters 1-10 (first 138 pages) of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism warrants a five-star plus rating alone.

However, Ross’ book becomes more problematic with the transition from diagnosis to prescription, beginning with an abrupt change in tone in Chapter 11. This chapter titled “Backlash from the Right” is, in particular, so politically strident that it reads as if the staff of Harry Reid’s Senate office wrote the text (the political left’s favorite boogeymen, the Koch Brothers, are even mentioned); or perhaps, the text of this chapter sprouted wholesale like Athena from the “vast right wing conspiracy” imaginings of Hillary Clinton’s head. This is unfortunate. In the second half of the book, Ross starts to squander most – if not all – of the trust he earned with readers during the exemplary first half of the book. It is doubly unfortunate because: first, it is done solely in the service of political dogma as Ross unconvincingly attempts to co-opt Smart Growth as a wedge issue for the political left in the United States; and second, it unnecessarily alienates ‘natural’ allies on the conservative and libertarian right sympathetic to Ross’ arguments for strong cities and good urbanism.

In the process, Ross tends to ignore or paper over blatant contradictions littering the philosophy of the political left in the United States when it comes to cities. Of course, this is a common Baby Boomer leftist tactic of absolving their generation for the collective disaster they’ve helped to create over the last half-century by confusing ideology for argument (and hoping no one will notice there’s a difference). For example, if you want to see what the policies of the political left look like after three-quarters of a century of dominance, then look no further than East St. Louis, Illinois. What has happened to that once vibrant city is absolutely criminal; literally so since several state and city Democratic officials and staffers have been sent to jail for corruption for decades.

EastStL
Downtown Today in East St. Louis, Illinois.

During the second half of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, Ross also promotes the classic Smart Growth fallacy that public rail transit is the ‘magic bullet’ for reviving our cities. Indeed, public rail transit is important but too often Ross – like many others – comes across as unconsciously applying Harris and Ullman’s multi-nuclei model of city growth, which conveniently holds almost any function (in this case, rail stations/lines) can be randomly inserted almost anywhere in the fabric of a city without repercussions as long as land uses are ‘compatible.’ Of course, this is the ex post facto theoretical underpinning for the very ideas of Euclidean zoning and the common umbrella providing regulatory cover for all sorts of disastrous decisions in the name of “economic development.”

This is a potentially dangerous self-delusion shared by many in the Smart Growth movement. For example, what Ross attributes as the cause for the failure of some rail stations (lack of walkable, urban development around these stations due to the over-provision of space for ‘park and ride’ lots in catering to the automobile) is often really a symptom. The real disease is these stations were put in the wrong location in the first place due to local opposition, regulatory convenience, and/or political cowardice (i.e. that’s where the land was available). There is an inherent danger in approaching pubic rail transit as a cure-all panacea for the city’s problems. If our leaders, planners, and engineers take shortcuts in the planning, design, and locating of rail lines/stations, then we leave the fate of our cities to happenstance. It is far too important of an issue to approach in such a cavalier manner, as some Smart Growth advocates appear so inclined.

In a general sense, this is not really different from the arguments made in Dead End but, specifically, it is an important distinction that is glossed over or not properly understood when drilling down into the crucial details of Ross’ prescriptions. That being said, there are some interesting tidbits and ideas in the ‘prescription phase’ of Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. However, the reader has to be extremely careful about filtering out Ross’ political agenda from the more important morsels. For example, Ross correctly points out Americans’ disdain for buses is rooted in social status. However, he fails to point out – or perhaps even realize – that this peculiar American attitude is indoctrinated from childhood due to the expansive busing of kids to school in the United States (e.g.. only the poor and unpopular kids take the bus). In order to change this attitude, you have to radically change public education policies, something contrary to the invested interests of the political left. In fact, Ross has very little to say about schools, which seems like an odd oversight.

Too often, Ross’s prescription for building coalitions comes across as the same, old political activism of the counter-culture Baby Boomers that doesn’t really rise above the level of gathering everyone around the campfire and singing “Kumbaya, My Lord” (absent the “My Lord” part in the interests of political correctness). In the end, this suggests Ross has a well-grounded understanding about the historical, political and social impact of legal and regulatory instruments at work in our cities (exemplified by the first half of this book) but only a superficial idea about the design and function of cities and movement networks (including streets and rail) as witnessed by the lackluster second half, which is barely worth a two-star rating. Because of these strengths and weaknesses, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism is a four-star book in its entirety but you might be better served by reading the first half of the book, ignoring the second half, and having the courage to chart your own path in the fight for better cities.

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dead_end_Benjamin_RossDead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism
by Benjamin Ross
Hardcover, English, 256 pages
New York: Oxford University Press (May 2, 2014)
ISBN-10: 0199360146
ISBN-13: 978-0199360147

Available for purchase from Amazon here.

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