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Chill reads for new urbanist needs

Posted by on July 25th, 2018 at 9:13 am

Our co-editor Emily Guise models proper reading form.
(Photo: Catie Gould)

This summer reading list was created by Catie Gould and Emily Guise, BikeLoud PDX volunteers and co-editors of our Adventures in Activism column.

Summer is a great time to relax by the pool (fountain, river, lake, sprinkler, or whatever) and still get nerdy about transportation and land-use. What could be better?

Here’s our list of favorite urbanist classics and a few newer ones for good measure…

Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler
Why are the suburbs so awful? Kunstler holds no punches, decrying cookie cutter strip malls and cartoon architecture as the “greatest misallocation of resources the world has ever known”. From the first American suburb to now, get a thorough history lesson on how things went so awry and envision how to restore civic life in these forsaken places. For a teaser, check out his fiery TED talk.

The Color of Law, by Richard Rothstein
From one development project to the next, the slow march through our historical segregation through official mortgage lending, zoning, and housing programs is going to change how you see your neighborhood forever. Which is a good thing, because it very likely has a racist history that still affects people today. Power through the feeling of being punched in the heart to the end where we look forward to what’s next for housing justice.

Street Fight, by Janette Sadik-Khan
Ted Wheeler asked in a recent Vision Zero briefing why New York City is making more progress than us. The answer is here: strong political leadership. Former NYC Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan walks us through her BetterBlock-style street transformation projects and dealing with the public backlash in the process. If you work at PBOT or City Hall, or criticize people who do, this is a must read.

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Walkable City, by Jeff Speck
Walkers are an indicator species of a good street, and details matter a lot. Speck thoroughly examining every aspect of walkability, from one way vs two way streets, to parking pricing, to the ROI on street trees. Loaded with details, this book is not just an enjoyable read but a comprehensive guide for fixes to improve walkability that you’ll want to revisit again and again. Read with a pen handy.

Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, by Tom Vanderbilt
A thorough look at the history, economics, psychology, and more of traffic and how this seemingly innocuous, mundane activity actually has huge implications for our mental and physical well-being, our wallets, and our economy. You won’t be able to think about traffic the same way after reading this one- especially the very compelling argument for the ‘late merge’ technique.

Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy, by Elly Blue
A concise argument in book form for why and how bicycling can kickstart local economies through boosting development and growth, and strengthen local communities by offering the freedom of a viable, non-car transportation option. Written by local bike luminary (and former BikePortland editor) Elly Blue.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs
One of the indispensable pillars of the new urbanist movements, Jacobs was a noted community organizer whose timeless observations of street life-her famous ‘sidewalk ballet’-are backed up by serious research and with an easy-to-read style courtesy of her journalistic background. This was her first book and it should be on every advocate’s shelf.

Happy City, by Charles Montgomery
Our physical environment shapes everything: From how much we trust our neighbors, to how many friends you have. What roles does architecture play? Or public transit? When our cities are at their best, so are their residents who live in them. Loaded with studies on the science of happiness and urban design examples, you’ll be sure to learn a lot of great facts sure to impress your non-transportation friends at parties.

In the City of Bikes: the Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist, by Pete Jordan
Former Portlander Jordan provides a fascinating look at cycling in the cyclists’ city, Amsterdam, from its beginnings in the 1890s, to the critical political street space protests and political action of the 1970s, to the continually evolving bike infrastructure of today.

Bleeding Albina: A History of Community Disinvestment, 1940-2000, by Karen J. Gibson
A sobering, but very necessary history of the Portland neighborhoods of inner North and Northeast. It explains how redlining, predatory lending, highway building, housing speculation borne of discrimination against Portland’s small Black community led a once thriving area to become a ghetto. It also examines how in the 1990s, low housing prices and neighborhood reinvestment opportunities quickly gentrified the neighborhoods while displacing long-time residents. A must read for anyone living in Portland.

— Catie Gould (@Citizen_Cate) and Emily Guise (@EGuise)

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Matt Meskill
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Matt Meskill

Good list. I would add Bicycle Diaries by David Byrne.

Keviniano
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Keviniano

Great list!

For your consideration: Peter Norton is a great historian on the history of car culture in the US. He gave a great keynote at NACTO last year that I found on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iiv5vOBb6Aw.

His book “Fighting Traffic” is on my reading list:
http://www.powells.com/book/-9780262516129

Alan 1.0
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Radical Markets, Uprooting Property and Democracy for a Just Society, by Eric A Posner and E Glen Weyl

bikeninja
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bikeninja

I would also recommend, what I regard, as the granddaddy of new urbanist guides as well as one of the most important books written in the last 50 years :

“The Pattern Language” by Christopher Alexander. ISBN 0-19-501919-9

bikeninja
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bikeninja

To drill down to our problems with the automobile on a deeper level I would recommend
Ivan Illich’s book, ” Tools for conviviality” where he first uses the term “radical monopoly” to describe technologies like the automobile that make alternative methods or technologies nearly impossible.

Evan Manvel
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Evan Manvel

Excellent post.

I’d add The Power Broker by Robert Caro. The High Cost of Free Parking by Shoup (and perhaps Parking in the City). Fire at Eden’s Gate by Brent Walth. Evicted by Matthew Desmond.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

Some good ones there. I definitely second Geography of Nowhere (despite occasional tangents complaining about the ugliness of car oriented development when the real problem is its functional deficiencies) and Traffic.

I might also have to check out Walkable City after seeing this list.

Additionally, I would recommend Pedaling Revolution by Portland’s own Jeff Mapes. There were some great “aha!” insights for me in there.

ed
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ed

Happy to see “The Geography of Nowhere” listed here. Can’t begin to say how much this book changed me when reading it in the mid 90’s. I’ve never looked at the built American landscape the same since; it gave me an entirely new way of seeing. Have bought it many times as gift for others. Worth mentioning the sequel to it, “Home From Nowhere” as well as another follow up “The City in Mind” Kunstler is also a novelist, and part of his strength lies in a writing style full of black humor and a story telling narrative lacking in much academic and non-fiction reading. You will equally learn and be amused! Hard to believe it was written 25 years ago; Kunstler was way ahead of his time. (though not as much as Jacobs 😉

soren
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soren

I have no problem with Jacobs’ opposition to freeways and concrete urban deserts but I find the juxtaposition of “Color of Law” and “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” to be ironic. IMO, Jacobs’ obsession with preserving neighborhoods and encouraging bourgeoisie renewal (e.g. “good gentrification”) served as one of the main inspirations for the waves of economic redlining and displacement that decimated diverse urban neighborhoods.

Moskowitz’s sympathetic critique highlights the inevitable outcome of this kind of renewal:

“Seemingly every Jacobsian paradise, from Portland, Oregon, to San Francisco to the newly revitalized parts of Detroit and New Orleans, is mostly white and well-off.

http://www.slate.com/articles/business/metropolis/2016/05/happy_100th_birthday_jane_jacobs_it_s_time_to_stop_deifying_you.html

And, for me, this quote epitomizes Jacobs’ influence on Portland politics:

“The people who move to gentrifying areas tend to have liberal, tolerant, cosmopolitan sympathies. But they are aligned materially with reactionary and oppressive city restructuring, pushing them into antagonism with established residents, who do nothing for property values. Behind every Jane Jacobs [Vera Katz] comes Rudy Giuliani [Hales and Wheeler] with his nightstick.”

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/09/liberalism-and-gentrification/

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

While Kunstler has had a big effect on many people, his writings are filled with racism… a few samples here:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311611582_”The_Multicultural_Dilemma’_Ignoring_Racism_in_the_Works_of_James_Howard_Kunstler’_in_Violence_Against_Black_Bodies_eds_Sandra_Weissinger_Elwood_Watson_Dwayne_Mack_to_be_published_as_part_of_Routledg

Read his cringe-worthy response to criticism here (http://kunstler.com/clusterfuck-nation/racism-o-rama/), including:
“Who is actually responsible for the murder rate among black men in cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Milwaukee? Is “structural racism” behind the decision to pull the trigger? Are gang-bangers depraved on account of they’re deprived, as the old lyric from West Side Story goes?”

He seems like a jerk. He had some valuable things to say, but ick.

(I was also bummed that I only added books by four white male authors; one of my main goals of my reading list this year is to read non-white male authors. )

David Hampsten
Guest

Geography of Nowhere is a great read! Another great read, though a tad too thick, is Peter Hall’s “Cities in Civilization.” His chapter on early 20th century Berlin is especially good.

It’s probably more technical than most people want for summertime reading, but I find the NACTO guides are actually very inspiring and well-written. My favorite is the Global Street Design Guide, but the transit, bike, and others are just as good.

Sean Benesh
Guest

I’d also recommend “Bike Lanes Are White Lanes: Bicycle Advocacy and Urban Planning” by Melody Hoffman. I’ve used it now going on 3 years for the “Bicycles, Equity, and Race: Urban mobility in PDX” course I teach at Warner Pacific University. She has a chapter specifically on Portland which stems from her PhD research. Great book.

Gerald Fittipaldi
Guest
Gerald Fittipaldi

Cities for People by Jan Gehl.

mran1984
Guest

I recommend birth control and less people moving here from the cities that they have previously destroyed. As long as “people” only interact with their devices this is all B.S.

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

“Ted Wheeler asked in a recent Vision Zero briefing why New York City is making more progress than us. The answer is here: strong political leadership. Former NYC Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan walks us through her BetterBlock-style street transformation projects…”

Ms Sadik-Khan did create lots of changes to NYC streets including some segregated lanes. However, she also made a lot of rookie mistakes with overly narrow bike lanes, dzbls and such. Still, it got the cycling rate in NYC all the way to 1.2% (ahem).

However, if we’re talking deaths, which is the primary topic of Vision Zero, then I’m not sure why she’s in the conversation. As her work has been extended on, deaths of pedestrians and cyclists are rising in NYC. The bright spot is that NYC lowered its default speed limit to 25 mph from 30 mph. However, that came after Ms Sadik-Khan departed and the primary benefit appears to be in saving motorist lives.

So, if one considers NYC to be making more progress on Vision Zero, then that’s got to be from a motorist perspective. Cyclists and pedestrians are being slaughtered at increasing rates in NYC. That’s hardly an outcome to aspire to.

Perhaps those separated infrastructure builds are playing a role in the rising number of deaths of cyclists and pedestrians. There are certainly many intersection interactions that have been made horrific by the segregation, but we don’t like to talk about that, do we?

Richard Herbin
Guest
Richard Herbin

Autokind vs. Mankind by Kenneth Schneider.
A Forgotten Classic.
https://www.abebooks.com/9780595193479/Autokind-Mankind-Analysis-Tyranny-Proposal-0595193471/plp