I enjoy being able read books that were recommended when I was in school, but I was so bogged down with required readings and projects that I never had the time to read them. Suburban Nation by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck is one of those books. I was reminded of it after reading Walkable City by Jeff Speck and have had it on my reading list for awhile. I kept thinking I knew all the principles they were stating and it seemed like obvious observations, but then I realized it was because of the teachings they published almost two decades ago that I knew all these concepts. Theses ideas now pervade the planning profession and school curriculum. So reading Suburban Nation was akin to going back to the basics and understanding the reasoning behind why we do what we do as planners.
Places bring people together and relate our history. While preservation is thought of primarily as ornate and important buildings, it is often the ordinary buildings and neighborhoods that are imbued with meaning through stories and memories. Our sense of self is defined by places, where we are from and what we have learned are all tied to place.
I have not had the opportunity to visit Copenhagen, but definitely have it on my list for a future vacation after reading Copenhagenize by Mikael Colville-Anderson. It would be incredible to bike in a city that has made a commitment to more than just providing some bike infrastructure, but making a citywide network of separated and prioritized biking infrastructure. American cities set speed limits based on what cars do, whereas cities like Copenhagen set limits based on pedestrian and bike safety. It just shows that in order to have a truly equal transportation platform in a city, the way decisions are made needs to change.
The new urban crisis does not have a simple definition. According to Florida, it encompasses the gap between superstar cities and all other cities where success of superstar cities creates high housing costs and inequity, pushing out the working and service class. The growing inequality, segregation and sorting in all metro areas creates winners and losers and a shrinking middle class. What this results in is changing the dynamic from cities versus suburbs to a patchwork of poverty throughout all regions. The suburbs, once a haven for the white middle class are now seeing rising crime, poverty, and segregation.
Despite being published almost ten years ago, Retrofitting Suburbia has many relevant lessons for salvaging suburban sprawl created by generations before us that took the term Euclidean zoning and ran with it. They left downtown's and created separated districts in the suburbs. One area was for the office towers on the highway, the other on the rail lines was for industry, and removed a safe distance away were winding neighborhoods for the single-family home.
When I started reading The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein I already knew about FHA's discriminatory practices in lending and redlining from previous research for creating a local historic district in Lincoln, Nebraska. This is also how I found out about restrictive covenants that prohibited people from living in a house based on race, religion, and nationality. But what I did not know prior to this book was that racial segregation went far beyond these practices and was part of a broad swath of government policies aimed at segregating America. This de jure segregation was neither "subtle nor intangible," as the author puts it.
In cities across America, residents balk at the idea of density. "Putting twenty-eight homes on just under four acres is crazy." This is almost the exact density of my neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis which seems perfect to me. My yard is just the right size to mow with a reel lawn mower, but still large enough for my vegetable garden and dogs to run a little. I understand some people do not want to hear their neighbors talking or see them from their back yard, but cities cannot all wait for the next town over to provide more housing. This may have been accepted as recent as the 1980's, but those kinds of development plans are no longer legal.
One of the most interesting books I have read this year was Street Fight by Janette Sadik-Khan. The title may be misleading for those in the planning profession, but it truly is the story of a fight over space in the streets. Space for not only cars, but pedestrians and bicyclists too. So many years were devoted to building six lane in town "highways" that our cities have become inhospitable places for individuals that either have to or choose to walk or bike to get around. While working as the Transportation Commissioner in New York City, Janette changed the way not only New Yorkers, but cities across the U.S. thought about who our streets should be designed for.
For decades bicycle advocates fought against standard transportation planning methods that put the car above all other modes of transportation. They were persistent and finally gained ground in most major cities. As Justin Spinney said, "biking is understood as apple pie; no one can hate apple pie." The problem now that we have fairly equal treatment of bicycle infrastructure as vehicular is we can see the impacts they have had on low income and minority neighborhoods.
When I began reading Minnesota 1918: When Flue, Fire, and War Ravaged the State I thought it would be merely an interesting historical account of events. Early into the book I realized how closely tied to city planning the historical account was. The effects of the fall 1918 fires devastated the northeast portion of the state. Entire towns were leveled, while others were spared. This meant cities had to make decisions on how and where they would rebuild. The Spanish flu pandemic that was raging around the world, was especially detrimental to the Minnesota residents left homeless, forced to live in small, crowded quarters. Again, this had a drastic effect on cities with daily life and the need to build more hospitals to accommodate the sick.
I stopped buying books after about the third time I moved, realizing they weigh a ton, but after checking Walkable City by Jeff Speck out from the library, I wished I had just purchased it. The number of sticky notes stuffed into the book from reading on the bus caused me twice as much work as I transferring them to my notes later. All the sticky notes reflect what a great source of knowledge and ideas this book is. I found many quotes, including this one from page 3:
My family has come to know that I love to read books, especially if they are related to planning. So this past Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me the Art of Building Cities by Camillo Sitte. I am surprised I have yet to come across this book, especially when I was conducting research for my public square paper last summer. This book was written and published in 1896, but the teachings within are still relevant today. Some however will be very difficult to implement given the rigid grid we chose to lay our cities out with.
Anytime I hear the name Route 66 I immediately think of the animated movie Cars. Little did I know that those cartoon vehicles were based on real people and the town is a compilation of real cities along the highway that stretches from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. Route 66 was established in 1926 and takes up much of the National Old Trails Highway which was the primary way to travel during the early 1900's. Route 66 officially ceased to be recognized as part of the official highway system in 1984. It was replaced by the Interstate Highway System started in 1956.
No single act of congress has so drastically changed the American landscape like the 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act signed by President Eisenhower. Originally expected to cost $25 billion and take 12 years to create the Interstate System, it was not completed until 1992 at a cost of $114 billion. It is easy to look back now and see the glaring problems of the system and criticize the engineers of the 1950's and 1960's, but they were just trying to solve the transportation system lying in front of them. Their failure came when they ignored the socioeconomic and environmental problems created by the system.
I read the City of Parks by David C. Smith shortly after moving to the Twin Cities. I had visited a few of the parks, but was fascinated by the rich history that encompassed the Minneapolis park system. Until reading the book, I did not know that an independent board of elected representatives ran the park system instead of a city department. It was not easy however to get the park board established.
Despite what it may appear, back in the 1950's when the car was starting to take over the city, there were people concerned. William Whyte Jr., along with Francis Bello, Symour Freedgood, Daniel Seligman, and the infamous Jane Jacobs each wrote a chapter to contribute to the book The Exploding Metropolis. Their topics ranged from designing downtown's from the pedestrian, not architectural perspective view, slum creation, urban sprawl, and the strength and power of government officials.
When we first moved to Minneapolis, my husband and I relied heavily on our friends to navigate us as we biked around the city. On one of these early excursions, they took us on what seemed like a peculiar shortcut through the middle of a residential block. It was a wide sidewalk with Victorian-style houses along both sides, their front porches within feet of the path. I remembered thinking that these homes must have been part of the urban planning movements of the early 1900's. I had no idea until reading Milwaukee Avenue: Community Renewal in Minneapolis the incredible history that this neighborhood had.