Books About What Went Wrong, How We Got Here, and Where We’re Headed
Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream, by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck. A thorough critique of the built environment in America, discussing what went wrong and the unintended consequences to society and community.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities (Modern Library Series), by Jane Jacobs. “A classic since its publication in 1961, this book is the definitive statement on American cities: what makes them safe, how they function, and why all too many official attempts at saving them have failed.” With its emphasis on blocks and neighborhoods, most of the observations about what works and what doesn’t applies to small cities and towns as well.
Thoughts on Building Strong Towns, by Charles Marohn. A collection of essays first published on the StrongTowns.org blog, civil engineer and planner Marohn makes a compelling case for the urgent need to re-think and re-engineer the way we build and finance development, and he does so in very clear, non-specialist language. This is a good place to start if the length or style of the two previous books makes your eyes glaze over.
The Original Green: Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability, by Stephen Mouzon. If you’re suffering from “green fatigue”, don’t worry. This is really about the story of people and communities across time and cultures, demonstrating how well they knew things that we’ve forgotten (or have ignored in the name of progress), and shows how relevant and practical these time-tested ideas remain today. Mouzon is an architect and urban designer who has done remarkable work in post-Katrina New Orleans, in the UK with Prince Charles’s “Prince’s Foundation”, and a number of other places.
The Great Reset: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity, by Richard Florida. Hey, I had to put in something by Richard Florida.
Putting it in context
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond
Cities, by John Reader
For further reading
The Geography of Nowhere, by James Howard Kunstler. Ever notice that no matter where you go in the U.S., you inevitably run into the ubiquitously ugly strip of big boxes and franchise stores? Kunstler provides a sometimes irritating but often laugh-out-loud-funny critique of the United States of Generica.
Sustainable Urbanism, by Doug Farr
Keeping Time: The History and Theory of Preservation in America, by William J. Murtagh
Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben
A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander
I love thought-provoking social commentary masquerading as entertainment. “Conversation with an Engineer” from the Strong Towns network.
Here’s a 20-minute TED talk by my favorite crackpot, James Howard Kunstler. It makes me laugh whenever I watch it. (Caveat: May not be safe at work or around children; Kunstler is notorious for his f*bombs.)