mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Monday, 22 March 2004


Thoughts on a Suburban Nation

Interested in living in actual communities, rather than subdivisions or “pods”? Tired of spending most of your life in a car?

I’ve been getting a lot of books from the library recently, and one of my recent reads was Suburban Nation. I’ve got to say that it’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read; every page resonates as it explains what’s so wrong with American sprawl, planning and development, with clear illustrations.

As a direct result, I’ve become much more interested in planning, zoning and urban development issues. I also now know what my architect sister-in-law means when she uses phrases like “built environment.” I’m beginning to suspect that either a) I’ve been completely oblivious to (yet another) whole universe of important things happening around me, or b) we’re experiencing a renaissance in urban planning and community design in America right now.

Given the state of things, I’d prefer (b), although I’ll acknowledge that the options aren’t mutually exclusive. Some of the evidence is the growing popularity of “ Smart Growth” and its cousin, New Urbanism (which was founded by some of the book’s authors). There’s also something called the Lone Mountain Compact; I don’t agree with much of it, but it’s good to see vigourous debate in the field.

Besides the book (available at Amazon for $12.60), I’d very much recommend subscribing to the feed ( RSS) at Planetizen. It’s a firehose, but every day bring fantastic links about top planning issues, the role of trees in cities, environmental economics, interesting public finance techniques, dubious justifications for Wal-Mart proliferation by objectivists (in the name of equal coverage, I imagine), planning humor and much more. Highly recommended.

Next up: What is apparently the definitive work in this field, Jane Jacobs’ The Life and Death of American Cities.


Tom from San Fran said:

I’m working my way through this list of books:

Planetizen book list

I found your blog from planetizen’s radar also.

Tuesday, March 23 2004 at 5:16 AM

Planner said:

Funny enough, your post here just got picked up by Planetizen’s “radar” tool, so now you’re planning news, too.

Anyway, it’s always heartening to hear about another citizen interested in planning issues. Reading Jane Jacobs is an excellent next step. If your interest level remains high, I’d recommend the following:

Cities Back From the Edge by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Carfree Cities by J.H. Crawford

Home From Nowhere by James Howard Kunstler

FYI-The “Lone Mountain Compact” is not a product of the planning field. It is a fringe response to current trends in planning by Libertarian interests that see Smart Growth as a political movement (but insists that it itself is not ideologically driven).

The chief hacks in this camp are Wendell Cox and Randal O’Toole, both of whom engage public debate primarily through extreme rhetoric, statistical fallacies using aggregate data and disinformation techniques.

If you are curious about a more market-oriented approach to planning, while I don’t always agree with him, Peter Gordon at USC is a much better source to examine. He has at least some peer-reviewed publishing credit to his name.

Tuesday, March 23 2004 at 6:43 AM