Street Fight by Janette Sadik-Khan

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.

There is a simple fact that I keep coming across with each book on transportation that I read--more roads creates more congestion. Lewis Mumford in 1955 said "trying to fix congestion by adding lanes is like trying to prevent obesity by loosening your belt." It's the "if you build it they will come" mentality, except with roads that is the opposite of what you want.

For each mile of road built there is an extra vehicle mile traveled added.

Getting beyond the problem of traffic, Sadik-Khan demonstrated how NYC completely retooled the way their transportation department operated. By looking at who was using a space, they could plan for not just cars, but pedestrians and bicyclists too. Desire lines, worn paths that show where people actually walk, were useful tools in building paths that would actually be used. In one example, the paths cars left in the snow showed a small rectangular space untouched by vehicles that could be turned into a pedestrian island, increasing safety at the intersection.

Rebalancing the street to favor the most efficient means of travel along it is the greatest form of transit equity.

Creating these changes was not easy. The department saw incredible backlash and opposition to many of their changes, something every city faces. But instead of cowing to the vocal minority, the department after plenty of public engagement moved forward with their plans which had the backing of significant amounts of data on the benefits that would result from the projects. If they had tried to get unanimous support it would have taken almost twice as long and thousands of dollars more. 

One of the biggest take away's from the book was that no matter what city you live in, someone will always try to argue that your idea is bad because your are not [insert bigger city here]. People were against bike lanes because NYC is not Copenhagen, and apparently Minneapolis should not create more density because we are not NYC.

Like any public project, street debates are rooted in emotional assumptions about how change will affect a persons commute, ability to park, perception of safety, and the bottom line of local businesses. Rarely do residents care about the data, which is what matters when making educated decisions about the future of our cities. Even in Minneapolis business owners are outraged at bike lanes in front of their stores replacing parking, but as Sadik-Khan demonstrated in her book, businesses in this situation were actually performing better with more pedestrian and bike amenities in front of their spaces.

I found this book to be incredibly inspiring and it has changed the way I look at streets in my city. I look at the extra wide lanes of East Hennepin Avenue and think about how a simple restructuring of the the currently dangerous street would provide plenty of space for two lanes of cars with the addition of a separate bike path. After all, why does something we spend an hour of our day in take up so much space in our cities?

 

Bike Lanes Are White Lanes by Melody Hoffmann

Bike Lanes Are White Lanes by Melody Hoffmann

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. 

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Minnesota 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State

Minnesota 1918: When Flu, Fire, and War Ravaged the State

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.

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Walkable City by Jeff Speck

Walkable City by Jeff Speck

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:

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The Art of Building Cities by Camillo Sitte

The Art of Building Cities by Camillo Sitte

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.

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Route 66 by Jim Hinckley

Route 66 by Jim Hinckley

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. 

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Divided Highways by Tom Lewis

Divided Highways by Tom Lewis

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.

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City of Parks by David C. Smith

City of Parks by David C. Smith

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. 

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The Exploding Metropolis

The Exploding Metropolis

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.

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Milwaukee Avenue by Robert Roscoe

Milwaukee Avenue by Robert Roscoe

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.

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The Chessboard and the Web by Anne-Marie Slaughter

The Chessboard and the Web by Anne-Marie Slaughter

While reading the Chessboard and the Web: strategies of connection in a networked world, it became evident just how connected the world has become. It is easy to spot the personal connections we have thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, and every other social media website, but networks exist in the private sector, nonprofit groups, in social movements, and even in government agencies. The most successful enterprises are those that have realized the value of networking beyond their typical circle. 

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Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson

Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson

A friend of mine recently suggested I read Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health by Jo Robinson. I found the book fascinating and overwhelmed my husband with the facts and figures about nutritional content and history of fruits and vegetables. Anyone interested in choosing the most nutritious varieties to get the most from their meals should read this book. It has also inspired me to redesigning my garden for next spring to include a berry bush and quite possibly an apple tree (there may not be space for the tree though). 

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How to Kill a City by Peter Moskowitz

How to Kill a City by Peter Moskowitz

In cities across America we are seeing the negative effects of gentrification and how it has the potential to destroy culture, heritage, and displace long time residents. People are being priced out of homes, forced to "drive until they qualify." This phenomenon may seem relegated to high population centers like New York City and the tech hubs in California, but it lies in struggling communities like Detroit and New Orleans as well. No city is protected from the results of increased investment and spending.

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Mega Tech: Technology in 2050

Mega Tech: Technology in 2050

Bullets that can move around objects in air, self driving vehicles, drones filling the sky, a neural interface connecting your mind with the internet, and farm equipment that can be sent out to work your field while you are on vacation. These all seem like ideas from a fiction novel, but many of them will be realized by the year 2050. As a planner, I often look twenty years in the future to make predictions and make plans for the best possible growth patterns. The book, Mega Tech edited by Daniel Franklin, looks out more than thirty years to suggest what the future could hold.

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Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Design with Nature by Ian McHarg

Cities all across the world are realizing their mistake in covering up natural features to construct bigger and better communities. After decades of building over rivers and streams, dredging wetlands for lakes, and sprawling across prime agricultural land, we are finally seeing the devastating impacts. The solutions to these problems are already being implemented, quicker in some municipalities than others, but they have at least started to make progress unearthing the natural features that have long been suppressed under the concrete jungle.

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Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

As a city planner working with a rental licensing program I found Evicted by Matthew Desmond to be an eye opening and insightful book on the life of both renters and landlords. Desmond tells the story of the rental climate of Milwaukee in 2008 and 2009, just after the housing market collapsed and rents soared through the roof. While the situations Desmond wrote about in the book occurred almost ten years ago, they still proliferate throughout the U.S. today. 

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Genius of the European Square by Suzanne H Crowhurt Lennard and Henry L Lennard

Genius of the European Square by Suzanne H Crowhurt Lennard and Henry L Lennard

Imagine yourself seated on a patio overlooking a large public square. You are enjoying evening drinks with some friends before you run a few errands on the plaza on your way home for the evening. While you are seated, an old acquaintance happens by on their way to pick up a few groceries. They sit down and join in the conversation for a little while, watching their child play at the fountain a short distance away. As the sun sets everyone pays their tab, says their good byes, and heads off in different directions. 

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If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

As a result of a recent preservation battle to save a 117 year old house in Minneapolis I began looking into the life of a former local author, Brenda Ueland. She was born in Minneapolis in 1891 and passed away at the age of 94 while residing at 2622 West 44th Street. It was this home that caused a controversy because the new owner set his sights on demolition in favor of more dense residential construction. The neighborhood was outraged that the City would let the last remaining tie to Ueland go, altering the area in a significant way. The City Council voted for the developer, against the decision of the Heritage Preservation Commission.

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The Permaculture City by Toby Henemway

The Permaculture City by Toby Henemway

To those like myself who did not know what permaculture was before coming across this book I will give a quick summary. Permaculture principles include both natural and human ecosystems. While it tends to be thought of as a system for designing gardens, it can be applied to a range of human activities that are both physical and non-physical. The permaculture flower is composed of ten human needs: water, shelter, waste, health, spirit, community, justice, livelihood, food, and energy. The flower, and the cities it represents, function properly when the relationships and connections between the parts is considered. Most strategies look at the sum of the parts only and loose the valuable connections that underlay the system.

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