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Charles Montgomery ponders, “is urban design really powerful enough to make or break happiness?” In an engaging new book, he explores the philosophy and the psychology of happiness as it relates to urban denizens. In proposing a ‘basic recipe of urban happiness’, Happy Cities contrasts progressive, sustainable, ‘new urbanist’ and ‘peer-to-peer’ values with the commercialized, auto-centric and top-down planning of the last century.
With all the attention paid by planners and urban designers today to implementing the current theories on what makes places vibrant and popular, it is surprising how little time is invested in actually going out and watching how people use such spaces. Jan Gehl has always been at the forefront of the study of human behavior in public, and his book Life Between Buildings -- published in 1971 -- is still incredibly relevant today. So what does How to Study Public Life add to Gehl's legacy?
The Metropolitan Revolution was one of the most lauded, dissected and debated, books of the year – and with good reason. It synthesizes much of what those of us on the front lines of urban planning, design and development have witnessed first-hand: In an urbanizing and globalizing world, federal disinvestment and dysfunction has allowed (in many cases pushed) localities to provide the leadership in innovation and execution required to steer the United States into a new era. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, metropolitan areas are shaping the country’s social and economic transformation from the ground up.
Smart Cities is a manifesto of the coming of age of cities. Lauding the technological potential to re-imagine urban planning in the vain of ‘smart’, yet also critical of the often shortsighted and technocrati-elite, Townsend speaks directly to the urbanist skeptical of technology-as-panacea.
A funny thing is happening among transportation engineers and officials -- they're starting to listen to what urban planners have been saying for years. Namely, that designing streets to favor driving and automobiles over any other use degrades the human environment. "(S)treets are public spaces for people as well as arteries for traffic and transportation," the book fires off in its opening paragraph.
The world is facing a housing emergency, according to Bridgette Meinhold's new book Urgent Architecture. It's an emergency of various causes -- from natural disasters and wars to entrenched issues like poverty and limited resources. It's also an emergency of huge proportions: more than a billion people worldwide live in inadequate housing in slums, and upwards of 100 million people have no home at all. But it's a problem we can solve.
The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti is a visual journey to every corner of the globe. Author Rafael Schacter investigates 100 monumental urban artists from 25 countries in this comprehensive guide to street art, artists, schools, and styles. Organized geographically by country and city, the Atlas chronicles the historical development of urban art in each region. Through 750 stunning images and accompanying artist profiles, the Atlas offers deep insights into the evolution of street art and its relationship with community and environment.
Of all the heartening news that comes from The End of the Suburbs, the most heartening of all may be the background of its author. Unlike the many tireless champions of smart growth whom she mentions, Leigh Gallagher is not herself an urban activist. She is a business reporter -- a veteran of Fortune Magazine -- and her premise is not merely that the suburbs are ugly or soulless or inefficient but rather that they no longer make business sense.
Daniel Brook's achievement does not exactly rival that of building the world's tallest skyscraper or pulling a new Paris out of frozen mud, but he makes a good showing nonetheless. History of Future Cities is either a history book with an incredible urban sensibility or an urban book with an impressive grasp of history. Either way, it does for the cities of St. Petersburg, Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai something that few urban histories ever do: it makes them interesting.
As another of this year’s Top Books superbly explains, localities across the United States are taking ownership of their own destinies. Though many cities are in desperate need of economic and physical renewal, the levers of power do not allow easy access to transformative change. In most ways that’s a good thing. But in a time when it takes hundreds of meetings, political horse-trading, and the determination and resiliency to overcome legal and financial challenges to realize even moderately scaled projects, it’s easy to long for a Robert Moses-type figure who can get things done.