Posted June 6th 2011 at 4:47 pm by
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The Summer Reading List for City Planners

We (@MITCoLab) put out a few tweets asking for city planning summer reading recommendations in the first week of June, 2011. The ideas tweeted back to us were as diverse as the field of Urban Planning itself. We’ve tried, albeit clumsily, to categorize the list. We’ll start with our favorite category:

• City Planning-ish Books that Go Down Smooth Like a Pimm’s Cup (or Fiction) •

@mitlibraries recommends Travels with Lizbeth by Lars Eighner and Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families

Travels with Lizbeth is Eighner’s first-hand account of being homeless with his dog in the late 1980s and early 1990s in the Unites States. His book opens:

When I began this account I was living under a shower curtain in a stand of bamboo in a public park. I did not undertake to write about homelessness, but wrote what I knew, as an artist paints a still life, not because he is especially fond of fruit, but because the subject is readily at hand.

Common Ground won the Pulitzer in 1986. Blogger Steve Reads wrote an excellent review of the book, which starts with this:

To say that it’s a book about Boston’s 1970s-era busing crisis is to be, at some level, accurate, but to miss the immense, teeming landscape that Lukas has painted. Common Ground is nothing less than a history of race in the United States. It is a landmark.

CoLab’s own recommendation, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, is a good companion to Common Ground. In beautiful prose, Wilkerson recounts the lives of three African American southerners who moved north to escape the pre-Civil Rights South. MIT alum @gaylelyag seconded the recommendation, tweeting “Best book I read last year!”

@gaylelyag suggested My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe. @gaylelyag wrote her urban planning thesis on small business owners in Camden, New Jersey, so she knows how to spot a good story about a small business. The second paragraph of the book reads:

We have different ideas about what our store should look like. My mother-in-law, Kay, the Mike Tyson of Korean grandmothers, wants a deli with a steam table, one of those stainless steel, cafeteria-style salad bars that heat the food just below the temperature that kills bacteria–the zone in which bacteria thrive.

In the category of small-business-owners-who-know-the-city, @fkh recommended Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. It’s a lovely, captivating story. (On June 7 @fkh noted that it’s also heart-wrenching, depressing, etc. Admittedly, we were on page 32 when this post was published. The prose, at least, is lovely and captivating.) The back of that book reads:

The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

@ifilose recommended Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau, and we’re thankful for the recommendation. Texaco is about a city planner who is mistaken for Christ when he comes to raze the town of Texaco in Martinique. Enough said, for this audience; CoLab has already checked the book out of @mitlibraries.

The New York Times review of the this book looks at the extraordinary breadth and depth of Texaco with more elegance than our single, self-focused sentence.

@thepolisblog recommended City of Glass by Paul Auster, and City of Glass: The Graphic Novel adapted from the original by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli. Polis recently highlighted the connection between the two books in a lovely blog post with a quote from one book and an image from the other.

@thepolisblog also recommends Netherland by Joseph O’Niell — a story about a family in post-9/11 London and New York — their relationships with each other and with the City. Polis is an international network of urban planners and scholars who blog about cities together on the same site. Their recommendations are valuable.


• Urban Planning Books with Good Photos •

@thepolisblog came in with two great recommendations:

Tiny Houses by Mimi Zeiger (click on that tiny picture to the left to see some of them), and

Pocket Neighborhoods: Creating Small-Scale Community in a Large-Scale World by Ross Chapin. @kairudat seconded the latter.

@pedestre suggested a beautiful book: Building Up and Tearing Down: Reflections on the Age of Architecture by Paul Goldberger. It’s a collection of essays on important buildings.


• Urban Planning Classic that are Hot Right Now •

@pedestre nailed it with Cities of Tomorrow by Peter Hall. @caitlin_elaine concurred, and so do we.

@jessekb is might try to slog through The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro.

@planetizen keeps a list called Top 20 Urban Planning Books (Of all time).


• Planning Books that Look at the Big Picture, and other Great Books •

We don’t really believe in books being so strictly categorized, especially when we haven’t read many of these. The following is a list of planning books that came through as #summerreading since we asked on June 3, 2011.

The Triumph of the City by Ed Glaeser is required reading for incoming students at @penndesign

Green Metropolis (the book, not the article) by David Owens, from @GoodyClancyPlan

Ill fares the Land by Tony Judt, from @pedestre

Aerotropolis by John D. Kasarda and Greg Lindsay, from @drewaustiin and @fkh

Seeing like a State by James C. Scott, from @a_stitely and @fkh

Seeking Spatial Justice (Globalization and Community) by Edward Soja, from @nickkauf

The Just City by Susan Fainstein, from @fkh

Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil by James Holston, from @nickkauf

The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and Planning from Edo to the Twenty First Century by Andre Sorensen, from @nickkauf

Planet of Slums by Mike Davis, from @IMontgomeryLDN

Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places by Edward Soja, from @IMontgomeryLDN

Team of Rivals: Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, from @urbandata (Absolute must-read for anyone interested in leadership)

Plan C by Pat Murphy, from @enablingcity

A Paradise Built in Hell by Rebecca Solnit, from @enablingcity

The Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places by Sharon Zukin, from @enablingcity

Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World by Doug Saunders, from @enablingcity

Lights Out in the Territories Iain Sinclair, from @IMontgomeryLDN


• Urban Planning Books by MIT Faculty •

There are many of them, and most are great. For summer fare, @mitsap recommends Reclaiming Public Housing: A Half Century of Struggle in Three Public Neighborhoods by Lawrence J. Vale. It’s a great read, and perhaps should be in the first category in this post.

For regular information on MIT publications, follow @mitsap.

What do you recommend?



One response to “The Summer Reading List for City Planners”

  1. Alexa Mills says:

    An additional tweet came through. @sklarskyj wrote: @MITCoLab I guess it’s a little late, but this is on my list: No One had a Tongue to Speak, about Machhu dam disaster