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New Book: The World of Urban Decay by Martin ten Bouwhuijs

March 6, 2014 Books, Featured 5 Comments

Exploring, and photographing, urban decay is a natural attraction to many of us. There’s something fascinating about viewing abandoned buildings as they slowly decay. A new book takes a look at urban decay in European:

Arresting art photography takes the curious into the depths of worlds that normally remain hidden behind gardens overrun with wild vegetation and tall fences blazoned with “Keep Out!” signs. Photographer Martin ten Bouwhuijs’s regular urban exploration missions throughout Western Europe have culminated in this collection of haunting images made in abandoned hospitals, morgues, monasteries, power plants, schools, factories, swimming pools, and castles. Each location is described in a brief history. Capturing the venues in various states of neglect, these photographs reveal remnants of once-habitable spaces: from furniture still in place but covered in thick dust to dramatic vaulted ceilings speckled in mold and water stains to walls that have given way in complete disrepair. More than 150 dramatic images continually heighten anticipation by showing long views down empty corridors and wide views of rooms with doors that lead elsewhere – you never really know what you are going to see around the next corner. (Schiffer Books)

This book is beautifully photographed, with 196 color photos. I’d love to see someone do a St. Louis version.

Cover of the hardbound book
Cover of the hardbound book

Urban decay usually involves very old buildings, but can also include abandoned Olympic sites. The World of Urban Decay is available locally through Left Bank Books.

— Steve Patterson


People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener. Healthier Cities by F. Kaid Benfield

Cover of the softbound book, $25
Cover of the softbound book, $25

Decades ago books on cities talked about razing buildings, clearing away the old to make way for the new, segregating uses & people, etc.  These days the subjects are sustainability, health of the inhabitants & the city, regionalism, etc. This shift requires new ways of thinking about old problems. Enter People Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities by F. Kaid Benfield:

With over 80 percent of Americans now living in cities and suburbs, getting our communities right has never been more important, more complicated, or more fascinating. Longtime sustainability leader Kaid Benfield shares 25 enlightening and entertaining essays about the wondrous ecology of human settlement, and how to make it better for both people and the planet.

People Habitat explores topics as diverse as “green” housing developments that are no such thing, the tricky matter of gentrifying inner cities, why people don’t walk much anymore, and the relationship between cities and religion. Written with intellect, insight, and from-the-heart candor, each real-world story in People Habitat will make you see our communities in a new light. (Island Press)

You can view the table of contents and read excerpts at peoplehabitat.comPeople Habitat: 25 Ways to Think About Greener, Healthier Cities by F. Kaid Benfield is available locally through Left Bank Books.

— Steve Patterson


Eight Great New Books on Urban Planning

Book publishers have been busy this year, here are eight books I received that expand and illustrate the latest efforts of planners to design cities & suburbs for people, not just their cars.


Charter of the New Urbanism, 2nd Edition, edited by Emily Talen

Thoroughly updated to cover the latest environmental, economic, and social implications of urban design, Charter of the New Urbanism, Second Edition features insightful writing from 62 authors on each of the Charter’s principles. Featuring new photos and illustrations, it is an invaluable resource for design professionals, developers, planners, elected officials, and citizen activists. Real-world case studies, plans, and examples are included throughout.

My take: An important update to the 1999 original. A must-read for advocates & critics of New Urbanism.


City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form by Emily Talen

Many planners look down on zoning and think of it more as limiting rather than enabling. While the initial intentions behind zoning were noble and egalitarian, zoning became a huge disappointment in many cities, failing to either protect the public good, promote public health, or keep nuisances away from people. These discrepancies between zoning intentions and its outcomes have become subjects of heated debate among planners and policymakers. For example, how does top-down zoning stack up against the virtues of self-regulating voluntary cities? Does Houston’s model of land development, regulation based solely on the inner workings of the private market, exemplify a more efficient, democratic, and egalitarian planning mechanism compared to the growth boundaries and zoning laws of Portland, Oregon? How has zoning affected residents’ quality of life? And, can we conclude that zoning regulations have become instruments for snobbism and exclusion? Against the backdrop of these questions and debates, City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form critically examines zoning and explores why it has sometimes harmed more than helped cities.

My take: This book has long been needed to show the unintended consequences of use-based “Euclidean” zoning, how we need to change our regulations to achieve a more desirable outcome.


Designing Suburban Futures: New Models From Build A Better Burb by June Williamson

Suburbs deserve a better, more resilient future. June Williamson shows that suburbs aren’t destined to remain filled with strip malls and excess parking lots; they can be reinvigorated through inventive design. Drawing on award-winning design ideas for revitalizing Long Island, she offers valuable models not only for U.S. suburbs, but also those emerging elsewhere with global urbanization.

Williamson argues that suburbia has historically been a site of great experimentation and is currently primed for exciting changes. Today, dead malls, aging office parks, and blighted apartment complexes are being retrofitted into walkable, sustainable communities. Williamson shows how to expand this trend, highlighting promising design strategies and tactics.

My take: Excellent color color illustrations show how to design better suburbs, without trying to make them into Manhattan.  A great design resource!


Good Cities, Better Lives: How Europe Discovered the Lost Art of Urbanism by Peter Hall

The book is in three parts. Part 1 analyses the main issues for urban planning and development – in economic development and job generation, sustainable development, housing policy, transport and development mechanisms – and probes how practice in the UK has fallen short.

Part Two embarks on a tour of best-practice cities in Europe, starting in Germany with the country’s boosting of its cities’ economies, moving to the spectacularly successful new housing developments in the Netherlands, from there to France’s integrated city transport, then to Scandinavia’s pursuit of sustainability for its cities, and finally back to Germany, to Freiburg – the city that ‘did it all’.

Part Three sums up the lessons of Part Two and sets out the key steps needed to launch a new wave of urban development and regeneration on a radically different basis.

My take: Hall takes a complex problem and breaks it down into manageable lessons.


Green Cities of Europe: Global Lessons on Green Urbanism, edited by Timothy Beatley

Timothy Beatley has brought together leading experts from Paris, Freiburg, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Heidelberg, Venice, Vitoria-Gasteiz, and London to illustrate groundbreaking practices in sustainable urban planning and design. These cities are developing strong urban cores, building pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and improving public transit. They are incorporating ecological design and planning concepts, from solar energy to natural drainage and community gardens. And they are changing the way government works, instituting municipal “green audits” and reforming economic incentives to encourage sustainability.

My take: Contributors look at 7 European cities, then Beatley draws conclusions. I’ve not yet visited Europe so I don’t have personal experience to draw from, but now I want to go more than ever.


The Nature of Urban Design: A New York Perspective On Resilience by Alexander Washburn

In this visually rich book, Alexandros Washburn, Chief Urban Designer of the New York Department of City Planning, redefines urban design. His book empowers urbanites and lays the foundations for a new approach to design that will help cities to prosper in an uncertain future. He asks his readers to consider how cities shape communities, for it is the strength of our communities, he argues, that will determine how we respond to crises like Hurricane Sandy, whose floodwaters he watched from his home in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

My take: Washburn helps the reader look at the city differently, and care about its future. His approach works regardless of your city.


Principles of Urban Retail: Planning and Development by Robert J. Gibbs

The retail environment has evolved rapidly in the past few decades, with the retailing industry and its placement and design of “brick-and-mortar” locations changing with evolving demographics, shopping behavior, transportation options and a desire in recent years for more unique shopping environments.

Written by a leading expert, this is a guide to planning for retail development for urban planners, urban designers and architects. It includes an overview of history of retail design, a look at retail and merchandising trends, and principles for current retail developments.

My take: St. Louis planners, aldermen, retail developers, and urban naysayers need to study this book cover to cover!


The Urban Masterplanning Handbook by Eric Firley & Katharina Groen

A highly illustrated reference tool, this handbook provides comparative visual analysis of major urban extensions and masterplans around the world. It places an important new emphasis on the processes and structures that influence urban form, highlighting the significant impact that public or private landownership, management and funding might have on shaping a particular project. Each of the book’s 20 subjects is rigorously analysed through original diagrams, scale drawings and descriptive texts, which are complemented by key statistics and colour photography. The case studies are presented in order of size rather than date or geographical location. This offers design professionals, developers and city planners, as well as students of architecture and urban design informed organisational and formal comparisons, leading to intriguing insights.

My take: Wow, so much useful information is packed into this book, presented in a way to make it easily accessible.

— Steve Patterson







Lecture and New Book on The Architecture of Maritz & Young

August 10, 2013 Books, Events/Meetings, Featured, History/Preservation Comments Off on Lecture and New Book on The Architecture of Maritz & Young

Authors Kevin Amsler and L. John Schott will give a lecture on the architecture of Maritz & Young next week, here are  the details:

When: Wednesday, August 14 2013 at 7:00 pm
Where: Missouri History Museum, AT&T Foundation Multipurpose Room (lower level)
How Much: Free

This lecture coincides with the release of their book The Architecture of Maritz & Young: Exceptional Historic Homes of St. Louis

Cover of new book
Cover of new book

The Missouri History Museum Press is pleased to announce the publication of it latest book, The Architecture of Maritz & Young: Exceptional Historic Homes of St. Louis. No single architecture firm has shaped the style of St. Louis more than Maritz & Young. Anyone who has driven along Lindell Boulevard across from Forest Park or strolled the sidewalk on Forsyth by Washington University has seen the residential architecture of two men named Raymond Maritz and William Ridgely Young. The homes include the French Renaissance splendor ofhotel owner Morris Corn’s Lindell mansion and the Spanish-influenced Forsyth home of William Lewin.

From the beginning of the 20th century, Raymond E. Maritz and W. Ridgely Young built more than 100 homes in the most affluent neighborhoods of St. Louis County, counting among their clientele a Who’s Who of the city’s most prominent citizens. The Architecture of Maritz & Young is the most complete collection of their work, featuring more than 200 photographs, architectural drawings, and original floor plans of homes built in a variety of styles, from Spanish Eclectic toTudor Revival. Alongside these historic images, Kevin Amsler and L. John Schott have provided descriptions of each residence detailing the original owners. Lovingly compiled from a multitude of historical sources and rare books, this is the definitive history of the domestic architecture that still defines St. Louis.

I’ve only had time to browse the book, but it is packed with great vintage images and detailed text. The book is on sale now, copies will be available for purchase at the lecture as well. The authors will sign copies following the lecture.

— Steve Patterson


Central Library After Hours Book Return For Motorists, Not Pedestrians

Our library system is wonderful, I feel fortunate to live just two blocks from the magnificent Central Library, which recently had a $70 million dollar renovation. Returning a few items the other day when the library wasn’t open I realized the renovation included a new return box.

There I am on the sidewalk in my wheelchair looking for the slot to slide the items in.

East side of the after hours book return at the Central Library
East side of the after hours book return at the Central Library
The return slots are only accessible from Locust, not the sidewalk
The return slots are only accessible from Locust Street, not the sidewalk

I had previously assumed the ramp you see behind the library return box was for passenger loading/unloading, but perhaps it is so pedestrians could easily get into the street to return books & videos.

Most other libraries in St. Louis have easily accessed return boxes, not requiring competing with moving traffic. Here are a few examples:

Central Express 4 blocks east
Central Express 4 blocks east of Central
Baden, far north city
Kingshighway at Southwest
Kingshighway at Southwest
Buder, south Hampton
Buder, south Hampton

Does someone at the St. Louis Public Library think everyone downtown drives everywhere? Returning books a few blocks away means getting in the car? Another day I asked a librarian at the circulation desk who confirmed they only have the one return box.

It appears the new book return is accessed from below so librarians don’t need to go out with a cart to retrieve items, a wise choice given the volume at Central. Not providing a way for pedestrians to return items without having to enter the street is yet another example how everyone involved either 1) drives and didn’t consider the pedestrian viewpoint or 2) deliberately made a decision to make returns a challenge for pedestrians.

Neither is good.

— Steve Patterson