Summary: The annual Planetizen list of Top 10 Books works as a neat summary of recurring themes in the urban planning conversation: human-scale cities, reconciling public and private space, understanding and visualising continuous change.
The Planetizen post includes a complete set of reviews, together with information about and links to the books themselves.
Practical observations are more compelling than abstract concepts. The idea of designing urban spaces that are fit for people comes across in new ways.
David Byrne’s Bicycle Diaries makes leisurely comments on streets and buildings from the saddle of a bike, while Darrin Nordahl’s My Kind of Transit connects public space and public transport, noting the virtues of allowing people to shape their own environment.
David Owen’s Green Metropolis makes surprising links between tall buildings, dense cities, and sustainable development. Likewise, Léon Krier’s The Architecture of Community decouples the idea of human interaction with place from pure nostalgia.
In the same vein, The Smart Growth Manual sets out to encapsulate and apply the Charter for New Urbanism.
Reconciling public and private space
Eric Freyfogle’s On Private Property resists oversimplifying arguments and settling for easy answers. Actual situations, legal cases and historical examples are used to give a more precise framing of the question of ownership, public and private, governmental and commercial.
The same kind of tension comes across in Anthony Flint’s Wrestling with Moses. Jane Jacobs’ victory in subjecting Robert Moses’s building work to public scrutiny in 1960s NYC, can’t be altogether distanced from the emerging culture of NIMBYism.
Understanding and visualising continuous change
Paul Goldberg’s accumulated essays in Building Up and Tearing Down provide a record of the way that buildings have impacted upon their host cities. The essays provide, in Planetizen’s words, “documentation of city change”.
Similarly, Mark Ovenden’s photos in Paris Underground, and the documents and maps in Eric W. Sanderson’s Mannahatta, give, in different ways, visual depictions of urban development.