Paved Paradise: How Parking Explains the World, Henry Grabar, 367 pages
Parking, quite literally, has a death grip on America: each year a handful of Americans are tragically killed by their fellow citizens over parking spots. But even when we don’t resort to violence, we routinely do ridiculous things for parking, contorting our professional, social, and financial lives to get a spot. Indeed, in the century since the advent of the car, we have deformed—and in some cases demolished—our homes and our cities in a Sisyphean quest for cheap and convenient car storage. As a result, much of the nation’s most valuable real estate is now devoted exclusively to empty and idle vehicles, even as so many Americans struggle to find affordable housing. Parking determines the design of new buildings and the fate of old ones, patterns of traffic and the viability of transit, neighborhood politics and municipal finance, the quality of public space, and even the course of floodwaters. Can this really be the best use of our finite resources and space? Why have we done this to the places we love? Is parking really more important than anything else?
Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution, Janette Sadik-Khan, 360 pages.
So many lessons that can be applied to what’s happening now in DC, including the debate over protected bike lanes on Connecticut Ave (see Ch 10 about bike lanes on Adam Clayton Powell Ave in Harlem).
“As New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan managed the seemingly impossible and transformed the streets of one of the world’s greatest, toughest cities into dynamic spaces safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Her approach was dramatic and effective: Simply painting a part of the street to make it into a plaza or bus lane not only made the street safer, but it also lessened congestion and increased foot traffic, which improved the bottom line of businesses. Real-life experience confirmed that if you know how to read the street, you can make it function better by not totally reconstructing it but by reallocating the space that’s already there.”
Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America, Conor Dougherty, 288 pages.
Spacious and affordable homes used to be the hallmark of American prosperity. Today, however, punishing rents and the increasingly prohibitive cost of ownership have turned housing into the foremost symbol of inequality and an economy gone wrong. Nowhere is this more visible than in the San Francisco Bay Area, where fleets of private buses ferry software engineers past the tarp-and-plywood shanties of the homeless. The adage that California is a glimpse of the nation’s future has become a cautionary tale.
With propulsive storytelling and ground-level reporting, New York Times journalist Conor Dougherty chronicles America’s housing crisis from its West Coast epicenter, peeling back the decades of history and economic forces that brought us here and taking listeners inside the activist movements that have risen in tandem with housing costs.
Arbitrary Lines: How Zoning Broke the American City and How to Fix It, Nolan Gray, 256 pages.
In this book, Gray makes a compelling indictment about the origins of zoning, explaining how the basic zoning needs like incompatible uses have been taken care of by cities for centuries, and building codes have taken care of other, newer, issues stemming from Nineteenth Century tenements. “In Arbitrary Lines, Gray lays the groundwork for this ambitious cause by clearing up common confusions and myths about how American cities regulate growth and examining the major contemporary critiques of zoning. Gray sets out some of the efforts currently underway to reform zoning and charts how land-use regulation might work in the post-zoning American city. Despite mounting interest, no single book has pulled these threads together for a popular audience.”
Fixer-Upper: How to Repair America’s Broken Housing Systems, Jenny Schuetz, 220 pages.
Cleveland Park gets a shout-out in this book (and not in a good way). “Fixer-Upper is the first book assessing how the broad set of local, state, and national housing policies affect people and communities. It does more than describe how yesterday’s policies led to today’s problems. It proposes practical policy changes than can make stable, decent-quality housing more available and affordable for all Americans in all communities.
Confessions of a Recovering Engineer, Charles L. Marohn Jr, 272 pages.
Great, if frustrating, book on how the engineering profession makes our roads less safe for everyone. Charles Marohn, the founder of Strong Towns, is a recovering civil engineer from Brainard, Minnesota. In this book, “Marohn pulls back the curtain on the North American transportation system. He explains how transportation got so bad, and why it keeps getting worse. He writes about the deadly toll of bad design, why the conventional approach puts cities on the road to insolvency, and why public transit is in trouble. He also talks about how transportation can be fixed―and why fixing it will involve not just engineers, but local residents and officials who have become effective and empowered advocates, connected with others to make real change.”
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery, 369 pages.
“Full of rich historical detail and new insights from psychologists and Montgomery’s own urban experiments, Happy City is an essential tool for understanding and improving our own communities. The message is as surprising as it is hopeful: by retrofitting our cities for happiness, we can tackle the urgent challenges of our age. The happy city, the green city, and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.”
Neighborhood Defenders: Participatory Politics and America’s Housing Crisis, By Katherine Levine Einstein, David M. Glick, and Maxwell Palmer, 228 pages.
“The book draws on sweeping data to examine the dominance of land use politics by ‘neighborhood defenders’ – individuals who oppose new housing projects far more strongly than their broader communities and who are likely to be privileged on a variety of dimensions. Neighborhood defenders participate disproportionately and take advantage of land use regulations to restrict the construction of multifamily housing. The result is diminished housing stock and higher housing costs, with participatory institutions perversely reproducing inequality.”
No Place Like Home: Wealth, Community and the Politics of Homeownership, By Brian McCabe, 219 pages.
“In No Place Like Home, Brian McCabe argues that such beliefs about the public benefits of homeownership are deeply mischaracterized. As owning a home has emerged as the most important way to build wealth in the United States, it has also reshaped the way citizens become involved in their communities. Rather than engaging as public-spirited stewards of civic life, McCabe demonstrates that homeowners often engage in their communities as a way to protect their property values. This involvement contributes to the politics of exclusion, and prevents particular citizens from gaining access to high-opportunity neighborhoods, thereby reinforcing patterns of residential segregation.”
Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability, By David Owen, 357 pages.
“Owen offers some nifty but politically challenging prescriptions. For mass transit to work, he writes, cities must not only achieve a threshold of mixed-use density, but driving must become an exceedingly unpleasant alternative.”
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, By Jane Jacobs, 640 pages.
“The Death and Life of Great American Cities was described by The New York Times as perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning… Jane Jacobs, an editor and writer on architecture in New York City in the early sixties, argued that urban diversity and vitality were being destroyed by powerful architects and city planners. Rigorous, sane, and delightfully epigrammatic, Jane Jacobs’s tour de force is a blueprint for the humanistic management of cities. It remains sensible, knowledgeable, readable, and indispensable.”
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, By Jeff Speck, 321 pages.
“Speck reveals the invisible workings of the city, how simple decisions have cascading effects, and how we can all make the right choices for our communities.
Bursting with sharp observations and real-world examples, giving key insight into what urban planners actually do and how places can and do change, Walkable City lays out a practical, necessary, and eminently achievable vision of how to make our normal American cities great again.”
Urbanism in the Age of Climate Change, By Peter Calthorpe
“‘Cities are green’ is becoming a common refrain. But Calthorpe argues that a more comprehensive understanding of urbanism at the regional scale provides a better platform to address climate change. In this groundbreaking new work, he shows how such regionally scaled urbanism can be combined with green technology to achieve not only needed reductions in carbon emissions but other critical economies and lifestyle benefits.”
The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life, By Jonathan F.P. Rose
“In the vein of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, Jonathan F. P. Rose—a visionary in urban development and renewal—champions the role of cities in addressing the environmental, economic, and social challenges of the twenty-first century.”
Human Transit, By Jarrett Walker
“Public transit is a powerful tool for addressing a huge range of urban problems, including traffic congestion and economic development as well as climate change. Jarrett Walker believes that transit can be simple, if we focus first on the underlying geometry that all transit technologies share. In Human Transit, Walker supplies the basic tools, the critical questions, and the means to make smarter decisions about designing and implementing transit services.”
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, By Richard Rothstein
“The Rothstein book gathers meticulous research showing how governments at all levels long employed racially discriminatory policies to deny blacks the opportunity to live in neighborhoods with jobs, good schools and upward mobility.”
Historic Capital: Preservation, Race, and Real Estate in Washington, DC, By Cameron Logan
“Urban historian Cameron Logan examines how the historic preservation movement played an integral role in Washingtonians’ claiming the city as their own. Going back to the earliest days of the local historic preservation movement in the 1920s, Logan shows how Washington, D.C.’s historic buildings and neighborhoods have been a site of contestation between local interests and the expansion of the federal government’s footprint.”
Carving Out the Commons: Tenant Organizing and Housing Cooperatives in Washington, D.C., By Huron, Amanda.
“In Carving Out the Commons, Amanda Huron theorizes the practice of urban “commoning” through a close investigation of the city’s limited-equity housing cooperatives. Drawing on feminist and anticapitalist perspectives, Huron asks whether a commons can work in a city where land and other resources are scarce and how strangers who may not share a past or future come together to create and maintain commonly held spaces in the midst of capitalism.”
The Geography of Nowhere, By James Howard Kunstler, 303 pages.
“The Geography of Nowhere traces America’s evolution from a nation of Main Streets and coherent communities to a land where every place is like no place in particular, where the cities are dead zones and the countryside is a wasteland of cartoon architecture and parking lots.”