Tag Archives: Must-Read

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

RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
(Originally posted January 28, 2013)

Here is Part 2 of the “20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)” article, originally posted on January 28, 2013. Read Top 20 ‘Must-Read’ Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20) here!

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.

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

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. Available to purchase on Amazon here.

There you go!

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RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20)

RE-POST | 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20)
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
(Originally posted January 22, 2013)

Lists are often a handy tool to spark a discussion, debate, or even an argument. The purpose of this list is pretty straightforward, i.e. what should you have read. Of course, in limiting the list to a mere 20 texts (books and articles), there is no possible way it can be exhaustive. There are a lot of interesting texts out there from a lot of different perspectives (some better than others). It is also true that compiling such a list will inevitably reveal the particular biases of the person preparing the compilation (like revealing your iTunes playlist). In the end, it is only their opinion. There’s no way around it. This list demonstrates a clear bias towards texts about the relationship between the physical fabric of cities and their spatio-functional nature with a particular emphasis on first-hand observation of how things really work. Because of this, perhaps the most surprising thing about this list is how few texts there are by people who identify themselves as planners (or perhaps not, depending on your perspective). Finally, as with most lists, it is wise to reserve the right to amend/update said list in order to allow for any unfortunate oversights. Having said that, the list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies suburban sprawl. Let the making of lists begin…

20. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (1972) by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown
Venturi et al expand the arguments first outlined in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966 to the urban level with their seminal study of Las Vegas. Only on these terms, it is an interesting read. However, dig a little deeper beneath the surface and into their wonderful series of figure-ground representations of spatial functioning on, along and adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip. You will discover Venturi et al concede – almost casually – the functional dynamics of how the strip operates to the realm of urban space and pattern in order to quickly focus on their arguments on what really interests them, i.e. the semantic nature of architectural form. A surface reading of only what Venturi et al writes misses a lot of the richness found within since there is a whole other book hidden based on what they are not saying but merely showing you. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

concept_dwelling19. The Concept of Dwelling: on the way to figurative architecture (1985) by Christian Norberg-Schulz
One always has to be careful with phenomenology because, by definition, almost everything written is subjective and open to vast differences in interpretation. However, much like the previous entry on this list, if a reader is willing to dig beneath of the surface and give thoughtful consideration about what, at first, appears to be purposefully opaque writing, then often there are rich rewards to be discovered. Norberg-Schulz’s The Concept of Dwelling is one of the best examples. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

18. Ladders, Architecture at Rice 34 (1996) by Albert Pope
It is something of a mystery why this book seems to be sorely under-appreciated and underrated outside of Houston, Texas. Pope’s study about the physical pattern of the American urban fabric is a fascinating read. Urban planners – especially American ones – could do a lot worse than read an entire book examining the physical pattern of the urban fabric in cities they are suppose to be planning; in fact, they have and do so regularly. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

17. Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning (1983) by M. Christine Boyer
Boyer’s The City of Collective Memory seems to overshadow her earlier book, which is a shame. Her history of the planning profession in the United States is a devastating and powerful critique that is as relevant today as when it was first published. It is also a much better book than The City of Collective Memory. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

16. America (1988) by Jean Baudrillard
The best planners are good sociologists and the best sociologists are great observers. Baudrillard was one of the best and keenest observers of human society and its meaning. Baudrillard wraps his observations within a flamboyant, often elegant, and occasionally beautiful use of language. It is not always clear whether the flurries of linguistic gymnastics are really his or is the result of translating from French into English. However, the results often amount to genius. In America, Baudrillard’s compare and contrast of Paris, New York, and Los Angeles yields rich rewards to any planner who dares to pay attention. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

15. Streets and Patterns (2005) by Stephen Marshall
The first half of Marshall’s book is a brilliant review and analysis of where we are and how we got here. The second half – focusing on possible solutions – descends into being only interesting. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

14. City: Rediscovering the Center (1989) by William H. Whyte
Whyte’s study of informal, social interaction in public spaces is a case study in urban observation that any planner should seek to take into account and emulate. Yes, sometimes Whyte’s conclusions are too localized about the attributes of the space itself than how it fits into the pattern of a larger urban context. However, at other times, his findings are remarkable for their common sense. For example, people in public spaces will move chairs for the purpose of promoting interaction rather than locate their interactions where chairs are located or tend to locate social interaction in areas of high movement like street corners. Anyone who has ever tried to move their way through to party – mumbling to themselves “why do people have to stop here to talk” – will understand many of Whyte’s observations about human nature and informal interaction are rock solid. Whyte’s City can almost be read as a companion piece to Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

13. “The Architecture of Community: Some New Proposals on the Social Consequences of Architectural and Planning Decisions” (1987) by Julienne Hanson and Bill Hillier, Architecture and Comportement, Architecture and Behaviour, 3(3): 251-273.
There are many texts by a lot of people about why space syntax is important. However, few have driven home the point more powerfully and succinctly than this early article by Hanson and Hillier about the social consequences of design decisions for Modern housing estates (projects) in the UK. In doing so, Hanson and Hillier add considerable intellectual and quantitative heft to Jane Jacobs’ arguments about urban safety and “eyes on the street” in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This article will probably be obscure to most planners, especially in the USA. The real crime is it’s rarely read outside of the space syntax community itself. Download the article here.

12. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2000) by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck
A purist will probably argue when it comes to New Urbanism, start with The New Urbanism by Peter Katz. If you’re not really keen on appetizers, then go straight to the main meal. Suburban Nation is not only about what is the New Urbanism but also delves into the argument about why we need the New Urbanism today. New Urbanism does not always get it right. Does anybody? However, there shouldn’t be any doubt that it is heading in the right direction and that is a huge achievement in itself. Click here to purchase on Amazon.

11. “Transect Planning” (2002) by Andres Duany and Emily E. Talen. APA Journal, 68(3): 245-266.
Duany and Talen elegantly translate a fundamental aspect about the spatio-functioning of streets tailored to urban form into understandable terms for public officials, urban designers and planners who are still trapped in – or refuse to leave – the box of the Euclidean zoning model and the arbitrary roadway classifications almost universally associated with it over the last half-century. In terms of the prevailing planning paradigm afflicting our cities, transect planning is the metaphorical equivalent of Duany and Talen pushing a Trojan horse inside the city gates. The more applied, the less tenable becomes the roadway classifications associated with the Euclidean zoning model. Beware of New Urbanists bearing gifts (i.e. methodology). You can read the abstract here.

Read Top 20 ‘Must-Read’ Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10) here!

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Top Ten ‘Must Read’ 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 posts about the “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books” and “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books.” 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’ Non-fiction Books” on September 22, 2013. Below is the first article, “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books”, which I originally wrote on August 11, 2013. Without further ado, and with some revisions, here is…

Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books
by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A
(Originally appeared on The Sovereignty blog, August 11, 2013)

I did several author interviews to promote the release of Mars Rising. During every interview, there was always a question about what books I had read, cherished, and believed everyone should have read at least once. It is an interesting and difficult question to answer in brief terms, which was always a requirement of these interviews. There are so many great and important books that everyone should read. It seemed impossible to pick only one or two. It is why I decided to write this article about what I believe are ten ‘must read’ fiction books for everyone. Some of them, people will have already read. Some of them, people will be planning to read. It is unlikely that anyone will find a book on this list, which is completely unfamiliar.

Some ground rules. First, I have limited this list to fiction only. (NOTE: The original article promoted my science fiction novel so the list is somewhat skewed towards science fiction/fantasy genre). However, I will also be preparing a top ten ‘must-read’ non-fiction books list. I have a history degree and consider myself a historian so I read a lot of history/non-fiction books. This means I have knocked what I believe is the most important book everyone should read (period) from the top perch of this initial list to the non-fiction ‘must-read’ list. It pains me to do so but there have to be some ground rules. Second, I freely admit that I have cheated by bundling books together in a series/thematically in order to lengthen the list beyond the required ten books. Sue me. Third, I have stayed away from religious texts, which are undoubtedly important and some are great (think Psalms 23, i.e. “The Lord is my shepherd…” or The Sermon on the Mount from the Gospel of Matthew) but such texts can sometimes contentious, so I want to avoid any controversy. Fourth, I have not included plays or poems so that disqualifies the entire canon of William Shakespeare, which could easily occupy positions one through ten of the entire list. This also disqualifies Homer and Ancient Greek plays such as Sophocles’ Oedipus the King. Perhaps I will prepare a top ten list of ‘must-read’ poetic/dramatic works later. Lastly, I would love to hear your ‘must-read’ fiction lists so feel free to post them in the comments. I promise I will read everyone’s list and I might even have to revise my list after realizing I forgot something important. With that, let the making of lists begin…

Guilty Pleasure Honorable Mentions
the_standThe Stand by Stephen King
Like J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth series, I feel compelled to re-read Stephen King’s The Stand every couple of years. The premise of the story is fascinating. King masterly handles the build-up to the apocalypse caused by the viral strain named Captain Trips. The religious themes are compelling even if the conclusion does not support the massive and intriguing weight of the first half of the book (in terms of content, not actual weight). Purchase on Amazon here.

Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
I cannot calculate how many headaches I have gotten while reading the Harry Potter novels. This is not a bad thing. It is actually a good thing because the headaches come when I fail to take a break. Once I start reading about Harry, Hermione, Ron, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and the whole cast of hundreds, I cannot stop until I’m finished. Rowling should put a health warning on her novels. Purchase on Amazon here.

NOTE: The General Honorable Mentions list below is a new addition.

General Honorable Mentions
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (rarely do you ever meet a character like Jane Eyre); The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein; Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke; The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton (still can’t believe Hinton was only a teenager when she wrote this novel); The Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov; and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath because Sylvia Plath was/is/will always be awesome.

Top 10 ‘Must Read’ Fiction Books

10. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Required reading for every teenager who thinks they are going to live forever. Wilde’s wit still manages to shine through this dark tale about selling your soul for eternal youth. (News Flash: You won’t live forever unless they hurry up with robotics and the technology to transfer our consciousness into cybernetic bodies; personally, I can’t wait for this breakthrough<added November 30, 2016). Purchase on Amazon here.

9. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
I have always loved the legend of King Arthur. I have read several versions of the story, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Mallory, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, the Howard Pyle stories, the Camelot 3000 comic series, The Warlord Chronicles (The Winter King, Enemy of God, and Excalibur) by Bernard Cromwell, and so on. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon is the most original and greatest version of the King Arthur story I have ever read. Zimmer Bradley’s ‘hook’ is she tells the story from the point of view of the women (principally Igraine, Guinevere, and Morgan Le Fay). It is a fantastic read. Purchase on Amazon here.

8. Immortality/The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
Kundera casts himself as a character in Immortality and he is asked, “What’s the title of the book you’re writing now?” Kundera replies, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” He is then asked, “Wasn’t that the title of your last book?” He replies, “Yes, but it was a mistake. That should be the title of this book.” The Unbearable Lightness of Being is an incredible love story. Immortality is soul shattering in the surgical precision of its narrative. I will not say anything else about Immortality; in case,  anyone has not read it. I do not want to give away the power of Kundera’s story (spoilers!). My only advice is stick with it to receive your reward. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

7. Dune Trilogy (Dune, Dune Messiah, Children of Dune) by Frank Herbert
The sleeper has awakened! There is little need to read any of the novels that followed in this series by Herbert or titles penned by others (unless you are curious). You probably do not even need to read God Emperor of Dune though it, at least, ties off the story of the Atriedes House in terms of Paul Atriedes and his children. However, things get really, really, really weird after Children of Dune. The Man-worm/Duncan Idaho aspects of the fourth novel are more than a little bizarre and, perhaps, even cruel. You can be content with the original trilogy, which focuses the narrative on Paul and his sister, Alia, as told by from Irulan’s point of view (sorta). It is all about the spice. Purchase on Amazon here, here and here.

6. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
In my opinion, the first great American novel (enough said). Purchase on Amazon here.

5. Twilight
I’m only kidding…

 

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Progressives in the United States have co-opted Lee’s novel into the liberal narrative about the civil rights movement, which is O.K. However, at its heart, To Kill a Mockingbird is a love story just as Harper Lee originally envisioned. It is a love story between a daughter and her father, and one between the author and the American South. What transforms To Kill a Mockingbird into greatness is Lee’s ability to express the second, convey it to the reader so they also share that love whilst still providing a poignant and realistic look at its dark underside in the form of racial prejudice. I cannot believe I did not read this novel until I was in my mid-forties. It was a big oversight on my part. (NOTE: In the original version of this article, this novel was ranked #2 ahead of the book now ranked #3 on this list. I’ve made this correction because I think it makes more sense in this order). Purchase on Amazon here.

4. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
Ray Bradbury wrote The Martian Chronicles in prose but the writing has a lyrical quality unlike anything else I have ever read, which borders on poetry. This impressive novel is one of the most underrated books ever written (because it is true science fiction) and has, for too long, been unfairly overshadowed by Fahrenheit 451. Purchase on Amazon here.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
With all respect to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (a little overrated, in my opinion), and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (which was originally higher on this list so I know I was contradicting myself at the time, but this is now corrected), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is the great American novel. NOTE: This novel originally appeared at #5 on the list. Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 film adaption of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio reminded me about why I do not read this book over and over; it is just too darn depressing and would bring me way-too-far-down for at least a week every single time. The ultimate tome about American superficialism. Purchase on Amazon here.

2. Animal Farm/1984 by George Orwell
Together, Animal Farm and 1984 are a clarion call against leftist totalitarianism. This warning is just as relevant today as when first written in 1948. 1984 weaves together a story that ably demonstrates the oppressive effect of totalitarian regimes on the individual. For Newspeak, you can read modern political correctness gone cuckoo (duckspeak). On the other hand, Animal Farm satires precisely the disconnection between what these leftist regimes proclaim and how they really act. Animal Farm wickedly proves that some novels “are more equal than others.” However, we can always give the others a Certificate of Participation. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

1. The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings (Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King) by J.R.R. Tolkien
What can I possibly say about Tolkien’s masterpieces, which someone else has not already said before? Uh, nothing really. I re-read all four books about every two years from start to finish over a two-week period. Purchase on Amazon here and here.

Read the list of “Top Ten ‘Must Read’ Non-fiction Books.”

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20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#11-20)

by Dr. Mark David Major, AICP, CNU-A, The Outlaw Urbanist Contributor

Lists are often a handy tool to spark a discussion, debate, or even an argument. The purpose of this list is pretty straightforward, i.e. what should you have read. Of course, in limiting the list to a mere 20 texts (books and articles), there is no possible way it can be exhaustive. There are a lot of interesting texts out there from a lot of different perspectives (some better than others). It is also true that compiling such a list will inevitably reveal the particular biases of the person preparing the compilation (like revealing your iTunes playlist). In the end, it is only their opinion. There’s no way around it. This list demonstrates a clear bias towards texts about the relationship between the physical fabric of cities and their spatio-functional nature with a particular emphasis on first-hand observation of how things really work. Because of this, perhaps the most surprising thing about this list is how few texts there are by people who identify themselves as planners (or perhaps not, depending on your perspective). Finally, as with most lists, it is wise to reserve the right to amend/update said list in order to allow for any unfortunate oversights. Having said that, the list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies suburban sprawl. Let the making of lists begin…p_book_cover_1

 

20. Learning from Las Vegas: The Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form (1972) by Robert Venturi, Steven Izenour and Denise Scott Brown

Venturi et al expand the arguments first outlined in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966 to the urban level with their seminal study of Las Vegas. Only on these terms, it is an interesting read. However, dig a little deeper beneath the surface and into their wonderful series of figure-ground representations of spatial functioning on, along and adjacent to the Las Vegas Strip. You will discover Venturi et al concede – almost casually – the functional dynamics of how the strip operates to the realm of urban space and pattern in order to quickly focus on their arguments on what really interests them, i.e. the semantic nature of architectural form. A surface reading of only what Venturi et al writes misses a lot of the richness found within since there is a whole other book hidden based on what they are not saying but merely showing you.

19. The Concept of Dwelling: on the way to figurative architecture (1985) by Christian Norberg-Schulz

One always has to be careful with phenomenology because, by definition, almost everything written is subjective and open to vast differences in interpretation. However, much like the previous entry on this list, if a reader is willing to dig beneath of the surface and give thoughtful consideration about what, at first, appears to be purposefully opaque writing, then often there are rich rewards to be discovered. Norberg-Schulz’s The Concept of Dwelling is one of the best examples.

18. Ladders, Architecture at Rice 34 (1996) by Albert Pope

It is something of a mystery why this book seems to be sorely under-appreciated and underrated outside of Houston, Texas. Pope’s study about the physical pattern of the American urban fabric is a fascinating read. Urban planners – especially American ones – could do a lot worse than read an entire book examining the physical pattern of the urban fabric in cities they are suppose to be planning; in fact, they have and do so regularly.

17. Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning (1983) by M. Christine Boyer

Boyer’s The City of Collective Memory seems to overshadow her earlier book, which is a shame. Her history of the planning profession in the United States is a devastating and powerful critique that is as relevant today as when it was first published. It is also a much better book than The City of Collective Memory.

16. America (1988) by Jean Baudrillard

The best planners are good sociologists and the best sociologists are great observers. Baudrillard was one of the best and keenest observers of human society and its meaning. Baudrillard wraps his observations within a flamboyant, often elegant, and occasionally beautiful use of language. It is not always clear whether the flurries of linguistic gymnastics are really his or is the result of translating from French into English. However, the results often amount to genius. In America, Baudrillard’s compare and contrast of Paris, New York, and Los Angeles yields rich rewards to any planner who dares to pay attention.

15. Streets and Patterns (2005) by Stephen Marshall

The first half of Marshall’s book is a brilliant review and analysis of where we are and how we got here. The second half – focusing on possible solutions – descends into being only interesting.p_book_cover_2

 

14. City: Rediscovering the Center (1989) by William H. Whyte

Whyte’s study of informal, social interaction in public spaces is a case study in urban observation that any planner should seek to take into account and emulate. Yes, sometimes Whyte’s conclusions are too localized about the attributes of the space itself than how it fits into the pattern of a larger urban context. However, at other times, his findings are remarkable for their common sense. For example, people in public spaces will move chairs for the purpose of promoting interaction rather than locate their interactions where chairs are located or tend to locate social interaction in areas of high movement like street corners. Anyone who has ever tried to move their way through to party – mumbling to themselves “why do people have to stop here to talk” – will understand many of Whyte’s observations about human nature and informal interaction are rock solid. Whyte’s City can almost be read as a companion piece to Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

13. “The Architecture of Community: Some New Proposals on the Social Consequences of Architectural and Planning Decisions” (1987) by Julienne Hanson and Bill Hillier, Architecture and Comportement, Architecture and Behaviour, 3(3): 251-273.

Download the article here: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/5265/1/5265.pdf

There are many texts by a lot of people about why space syntax is important. However, few have driven home the point more powerfully and succinctly than this early article by Hanson and Hillier about the social consequences of design decisions for Modern housing estates (projects) in the UK. In doing so, Hanson and Hillier add considerable intellectual and quantitative heft to Jane Jacobs’ arguments about urban safety and “eyes on the street” in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This article will probably be obscure to most planners, especially in the USA. The real crime is it’s rarely read outside of the space syntax community itself.

12. Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream (2000) by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk and Jeff Speck

A purist will probably argue when it comes to New Urbanism, start with The New Urbanism by Peter Katz. If you’re not really keen on appetizers, then go straight to the main meal. Suburban Nation is not only about what is the New Urbanism but also delves into the argument about why we need the New Urbanism today. New Urbanism does not always get it right. Does anybody? However, there shouldn’t be any doubt that it is heading in the right direction and that is a huge achievement in itself.

11. “Transect Planning” (2002) by Andres Duany and Emily E. Talen. APA Journal, 68(3): 245-266.

Duany and Talen elegantly translate a fundamental aspect about the spatio-functioning of streets tailored to urban form into understandable terms for public officials, urban designers and planners who are still trapped in – or refuse to leave – the box of the Euclidean zoning model and the arbitrary roadway classifications almost universally associated with it over the last half-century. In terms of the prevailing planning paradigm afflicting our cities, transect planning is the metaphorical equivalent of Duany and Talen pushing a Trojan horse inside the city gates. The more applied, the less tenable becomes the roadway classifications associated with the Euclidean zoning model. Beware of New Urbanists bearing gifts (i.e. methodology).

Coming Soon: 20 Must-Read Texts for Urban Planners (#1-10)!

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