The New Urban Crisis by Richard Florida

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.

The superstar cities are dense, urban hubs that hold all the major industries. Their increased population has led to economic success and increased home values. The poster child for the superstar cities is San Francisco home to the tech industry and all time high housing costs. While the clustering effect the author describes is driving growth, it increases competition for land and drives up costs for homes. One of the most striking facts in the book is that the value of housing markets in some of these superstar cities are more than the entire GDP of many large countries. And these trends have not been growing slowly, but sky rocketing in the last 20 years.

I have heard the definitions of NIMBY (not in my backyard), but the author gave a striking connection between NIMBY attitudes and development. I typically see NIMBY’s upset that developers are winning and ruining the neighborhood. But what the NIMBY effect is doing is driving up prices by halting development. The little land leftover that is possible to develop becomes priced so high that middle and lower class residents cannot afford it. The same goes for the absentee landlords. Their properties just sit vacant, driving up the cost of the leftover lots that can be rented or purchased.

Another fascinating observation from the book is that affluent populations are moving back into cities are bringing the suburban atmosphere with them. We are constantly permitting new apartments or warehouse retrofits with rooftop amenity decks comprised of grills, pools, hot tubs, and patio space. Just the sort of atmosphere you would find in a suburban apartment complex, but in the urban core they are on the rooftop, not in the middle of the complex.

The biggest effect of this shift back into the city is to create areas of concentrated poverty, especially in the rust belt cities. This leads to inequality of opportunity, which gets compounded over generations. What is striking is that the most dense, liberal, diverse, economically successful cities have the worst economic segregation. The author charges cities to fix this problem through a chapters worth of suggestions including more dense development, taxing vacant and under performing land, investing in infrastructure that supports clustered growth like transit, building affordable housing, turning low wage service jobs into middle class work, combating poverty head on, and giving cities control to make the changes they see as priorities.

In the end, urban clustering is the solution to the new urban crisis. While the leaders of the 1950’s and 60’s relied on transportation projects to clear blighted areas and solve their urban crisis, the leaders of today need to invest in our cities instead of tearing them down for highways. It will take commitment and creativity, but the tools are there to solve the problems of economic inequality and poverty in our most economically successful cities.

Retrofitting Suburbia by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson

Retrofitting Suburbia by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson

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.

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The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

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. 

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Snob Zones by Lisa Prevost

Snob Zones by Lisa Prevost

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.

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Street Fight by Janette Sadik-Khan

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.

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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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