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Reading: Seeing the Better City: How to Explore, Observe, and Improve Urban Space by Charles R. Wolfe

March 3, 2017 Books, Featured Comments Off on Reading: Seeing the Better City: How to Explore, Observe, and Improve Urban Space by Charles R. Wolfe

The latest book I have really speaks to my philosophy about personal observation, I generally don’t write about something until I experience it in person.

From the publisher:

In order to understand and improve cities today, personal observation remains as important as ever. While big data, digital mapping, and simulated cityscapes are valuable tools for understanding urban space, using them without on-the-ground, human impressions risks creating places that do not reflect authentic local context. Seeing the Better City brings our attention back to the real world right in front of us, focusing it once more on the sights, sounds, and experiences of place in order to craft policies, plans, and regulations to shape better urban environments.

Through clear prose and vibrant photographs, Charles Wolfe shows those who experience cities how they might catalog the influences of urban form, neighborhood dynamics, public transportation, and myriad other basic city elements that impact their daily lives. He then shares insights into how they can use those observations to contribute to better planning and design decisions. Wolfe calls this the “urban diary” approach, and highlights how the perspective of the observer is key to understanding the dynamics of urban space. He concludes by offering contemporary examples and guidance on how to use carefully recorded and organized observations as a tool to create change in urban planning conversations and practice.

From city-dwellers to elected officials involved in local planning and design issues, this book is an invaluable tool for constructive, creative discourse about improving urban space.

As always, I look first at the contexts. In this case, short and to the point:

Introduction: Why Urban Observation Matters and Tools for Seeing the Better City

Chapter 1: How to See City Basics and Universtal Patterns
Chapter 2: Observation Approaches
Chapter 3: Seeing the City through Urban Diaries
Chapter 4: Envisioning our Personal Cities
Chapter 5: From Urban Diaries to Policies, Plans, and Politics

Conclusion: What the Better City Can Be

You can see a preview here. We need more policy based on experience and observation.

— Steve Patterson


Reading: Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design by Timothy Beatley

February 6, 2017 Books, Featured Comments Off on Reading: Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design by Timothy Beatley

Several book publishers contact me regularly to see if I’m interested in a review copy of new books, some know my interests and just send the book — like today’s.

I usually understand at least the title of the books, but today’s required a quick search to understand one word: Biophilic.

The biophilia hypothesis suggests that humans possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life. Edward O. Wilson introduced and popularized the hypothesis in his book, Biophilia (1984). He defines biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”. (Wikipedia)

Ah…makes sense. People have since applied this hypothesis to the built environment. Here’s a trailer for a documentary on the subject:

Twice before I’ve posted about books by Timothy Beatley, in March 2005 I included his book  Green Urbanism: Learning from European Cities in a post on my favorite urban books, in November 2013 I included a book he edited called Green Cities of Europe: Global Lessons on Green Urbanism in a post on new books on urban planning.

In his latest book Beatley continues the green theme by applying Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis to cities.

What if, even in the heart of a densely developed city, people could have meaningful encounters with nature? While parks, street trees, and green roofs are increasingly appreciated for their technical services like stormwater reduction, from a biophilic viewpoint, they also facilitate experiences that contribute to better physical and mental health: natural elements in play areas can lessen children’s symptoms of ADHD, and adults who exercise in natural spaces can experience greater reductions in anxiety and blood pressure.

The Handbook of Biophilic City Planning & Design offers practical advice and inspiration for ensuring that nature in the city is more than infrastructure—that it also promotes well-being and creates an emotional connection to the earth among urban residents. Divided into six parts, the Handbook begins by introducing key ideas, literature, and theory about biophilic urbanism. Chapters highlight urban biophilic innovations in more than a dozen global cities. The final part concludes with lessons on how to advance an agenda for urban biophilia and an extensive list of resources.

As the most comprehensive reference on the emerging field of biophilic urbanism, the Handbook is essential reading for students and practitioners looking to place nature at the core of their planning and design ideas and encourage what preeminent biologist E.O. Wilson described as “the innate emotional connection of humans to all living things.” (Island Press)

One of the best ways to initially size up a new book is to review the table of contents:

Part I. The Power and Promise of Biophilic Cities

Chapter 1. The Power of Urban Nature: The Essential Benefits of a Biophilic Urbanism
Chapter 2. Placing Biophilic Cities: Planning History, Theory and the New Sustainability
Chapter 3. Urban Trends and Nature Trends: Can the Two Intersect?
Chapter 4. Biophilic Cities: Examining the Metrics and Theory

Part II. The Practice of Biophilic Urbanism: Cities Leading the Way
Chapter 5. Singapore: City in a Garden
Chapter 6. Wellington, NZ: Nature on the Edge
Chapter 7. Milwaukee: Greening the Rust Belt
Chapter 8. Birmingham: Health, Nature and Urban Regeneration
Chapter 9. Phoenix: The Promise of Biophilia in the Desert
Chapter 10. Portland: Nature in the Compact City
Chapter 11. San Francisco: From Park City to Wild City
Chapter 12. Oslo: The City of Forest and Fjord
Chapter 13. Vitoria-Gasteiz
Chapter 14. Global Survey of Cities: Shorter City Cases and Exemplars

Part III. Exemplary Tools, Policy Practices
Chapter 15. Detailed Profiles of Biophilic Design Tools Techniques, Design Ideas

Part IV. Successes and Future Directions
Chapter 16. Biophilic Cities in the Age of Climate Change: Mitigation, Resilience Through Nature
Chapter 17. What Can Be Learned From the Best Biophilic Cities?
Chapter 18. Key Obstacles to Biophilic Cities (And Ways To Overcome Them)
Chapter 19. Conclusions and Future Directions

The publisher also provides a link to a Google Books preview.  It’s available in hardcover, softcover, and E-book formats.

— Steve Patterson


Reading: Design Professional’s Guide to Zero Net Energy Buildings by Charles Eley

December 5, 2016 Books, Featured Comments Off on Reading: Design Professional’s Guide to Zero Net Energy Buildings by Charles Eley

zne-netzerobuildingsMany of the books I receive each year are written for general consumption, filled with beautiful color photos and written for both professionals & non-professionals. This book, however, is written for design professionals. There are far more tables, charts & diagrams than photos — all in black & white. This is a technical book addressing a fascinating subject matter.

From the publisher:

In the United States, direct energy use in buildings accounts for 39% of carbon dioxide emissions per year—more than any other sector. Buildings contribute to a changing climate and warming of the earth in ways that will significantly affect future generations. Zero net energy (ZNE) buildings are a practical and cost-effective way to reduce our energy needs, employ clean solar and wind technologies, protect the environment, and improve our lives. Interest in ZNE buildings, which produce as much energy as they use over the course of a year, has been growing rapidly.

In the Design Professional’s Guide to Zero Net Energy Buildings, Charles Eley draws from over 40 years of his own experience, and interviews with other industry experts, to lay out the principles for achieving ZNE buildings and the issues surrounding their development. Eley emphasizes the importance of building energy use in achieving a sustainable future; describes how building energy use can be minimized through smart design and energy efficiency technologies; and presents practical information on how to incorporate renewable energy technologies to meet the lowered energy needs. The book identifies the building types and climates where meeting the goal will be a challenge and offers solutions for these special cases. It shows the reader, through examples and explanations, that these solutions are viable and cost-effective.

ZNE buildings are practical and cost-effective ways to address climate change without compromising our quality of life. ZNE buildings are an energizing concept and one that is broadly accepted yet, there is little information on what is required to actually meet these goals. This book shows that the goal is feasible and can be practically achieved in most buildings, that our construction industry is up to the challenge, and that we already have the necessary technologies and knowledge.

Potential clients interested in the environment might also find the book helpful for educating them to work with their design professionals on a future project(s). Design Professional’s Guide to Zero Net Energy Buildings is available from the publisher, Left Band Books, and Amazon. I meant to check the AIA St. Louis bookstore, but didn’t get a chance.

— Steve Patterson








Reading: People Cities: The Life and Legacy of Jan Gehl by Annie Matan & Peter Newman

November 28, 2016 Books, Featured Comments Off on Reading: People Cities: The Life and Legacy of Jan Gehl by Annie Matan & Peter Newman

One of my favorite memories is attending the 2006 Rail-Volution conference in Chicago, the closing plenary session in particular:

Participate in this lively presentation and discussion about the strong commitment to pedestrian accessibility in European cities — a critical hallmark of those cities’ livability and sense of community — and how some of those attitudes can “jump the pond” and be adapted in U.S. cities. Learn from one of the world’s premier pedestrian experts and hear how Europeans’ attitudes toward pedestrians have evolved during the past 50 years. Hear his views on what U.S. cities need to do to increase their pedestrian potential. Also hear from the current CNU president, who has been described as a “fiscally-conservative socialist” and who is nationally recognized for his commitment to light rail and innovative, effective urban design. Learn about his views on the applicability of European pedestrian approaches in the U.S. — what could work, what challenges lie ahead, and what some U.S. cities have already done.

The two speakers were former Milwaukee  mayor and then-Congress for the New Urbanism president & CEO John Norquist and Danish architect Jan Gehl. They debated if Gehl’s ideas were universal or limited to his European home turf. Seeing them debate pedestrian issues a decade ago was fascinating to me. At the time I’d just started grad school, later my unfinished capstone project was on pedestrian malls in North America.

Though I disagree with Gehl about the universal application of pedestrian streets, I have huge respect for his lifetime of work and his deep understanding of the European pedestrian. This is what makes him so important — he studied pedestrians in Copenhagen and the obstacles they faced. By the early 1960s cars had severely degraded the public realm there, but over many decades he pushed, studied, and pushed for more change.

Apeoplecities-gehluthors Annie Matan & Peter Newman in People Cities: The Life and Legacy of Jan Gehl look at his work and influence. It’s an inspiring celebration of a man who refused to give up on pedestrians and their role in healthy cities.

From the publisher:

“A good city is like a good party—you stay for longer than you plan,” says Danish architect Jan Gehl. He believes that good architecture is not about form, but about the interaction between form and life. Over the last 50 years, Gehl has changed the way that we think about architecture and city planning—moving from the Modernist separation of uses to a human-scale approach inviting people to use their cities.

At a time when growing numbers are populating cities, planning urban spaces to be humane, safe, and open to all is ever-more critical. With the help of Jan Gehl, we can all become advocates for human-scale design. Jan’s research, theories, and strategies have been helping cities to reclaim their public space and recover from the great post-WWII car invasion. His work has influenced public space improvements in over 50 global cities, including New York, London, Moscow, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Sydney, and the authors’ hometown of Perth.

While much has been written by Jan Gehl about his approach, and by others about his influence, this book tells the inside story of how he learned to study urban spaces and implement his people-centered approach.

People Cities discusses the work, theory, life, and influence of Jan Gehl from the perspective of those who have worked with him across the globe. Authors Matan and Newman celebrate Jan’s role in changing the urban planning paradigm from an abstract, ideological modernism to a people-focused movement. It is organized around the creation of that movement, using key periods in Jan’s working life as a structure.

People Cities will inspire anyone who wants to create vibrant, human-scale cities and understand the ideas and work of an architect who has most influenced how we should and can design cities for people.

The last sentence says it all, though his solutions for other cities might not work here, we can be inspired to find ways to make our cities work for us.

Available through Left Bank Books, publisher, Amazon, and others.

Here’s an hour-long presentation by Jan Gehl, note a few words are not safe for work:

In St. Louis we need to change the culture.

— Steve Patterson


Reading: What Makes A Great City by Alexander Garvin

November 21, 2016 Books, Featured Comments Off on Reading: What Makes A Great City by Alexander Garvin

whatmakesagrearcity-coverWhen I saw the author’s name it looked familiar to me, but I searched the last 12 years of blog posts — no mention. Ah, the answer is in his bio:

Alex Garvin is currently an adjunct professor at the Yale School of Architecture and President and CEO of AGA Public Realm Strategists, Inc., a planning and design firm in New York City that is responsible for the initial master plans for the Atlanta BeltLine as well as other significant public-realm projects throughout the United States. Between 1996 and 2005 he was managing director for planning at NYC2012, the committee to bring the Summer Olympics to New York in 2012. During 2002–2003, he was Vice President for Planning, Design and Development of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Over the last 46 years, he has held prominent positions in five New York City administrations, including Deputy Commissioner of Housing and City Planning Commissioner. He is the author of numerous books including The American City: What Works and What Doesn’t, now in its third edition. 

I’ve often referred to my first edition (1996) copy of his book The American City: What Works and What Doesn’t when researching a topic.

From the publisher:

What makes a great city? Not a good city or a functional city but a great city. A city that people admire, learn from, and replicate. City planner and architect Alexander Garvin set out to answer this question by observing cities, largely in North America and Europe, with special attention to Paris, London, New York, and Vienna.

For Garvin, greatness is not just about the most beautiful, convenient, or well-managed city; it isn’t even about any “city.” It is about what people who shape cities can do to make a city great. A great city is not an exquisite, completed artifact. It is a dynamic, constantly changing place that residents and their leaders can reshape to satisfy their demands. While this book does discuss the history, demographic composition, politics, economy, topography, history, layout, architecture, and planning of great cities, it is not about these aspects alone. Most importantly, it is about the interplay between people and public realm, and how they have interacted throughout history to create great cities.

To open the book, Garvin explains that a great public realm attracts and retains the people who make a city great. He describes exactly what the term public realm means, its most important characteristics, as well as providing examples of when and how these characteristics work, or don’t. An entire chapter is devoted to a discussion of how particular components of the public realm (squares in London, parks in Minneapolis, and streets in Madrid) shape people’s daily lives. He concludes with a look at how twenty-first century initiatives in Paris, Houston, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and Toronto are making an already fine public realm even better—initiatives that demonstrate what other cities can do to improve.

What Makes a Great City will help readers understand that any city can be changed for the better and inspire entrepreneurs, public officials, and city residents to do it themselves.

Publisher summaries always sound good, the place to start is the table of contents — does it cover the right subjects:

Preface: What Makes a Great City

Chapter 1: The Importance of the Public Realm

  • Defining the Public Realm
  • Streets, Squares, and Parks
  • Beyond Streets, Squares, and Parks
  • Making Cities Great

Chapter 2: The Characteristics of the Public Realm

  • Open to Anybody
  • Something for Everybody
  • Attracting and Retaining Market Demand
  • Providing a Framework for Successful Urbanization
  • Sustaining a Habitable Environment
  • Nurturing and Supporting a Civil Society

Chapter 3: Open to Anybody

  • Overwhelmingly Identifiable, Accessible, and Easy to Use
    • Plaza Mayor, Salamanca, Spain
  • Creating an Identifiable, Accessible, and Easy-to-Use Public Realm
    • The Paris Metro
    • Federal Center, Chicago
    • Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy
    • The Squares of Savannah
    • Sixteenth Street, Denver
  • Keeping the Public Realm Safe
    • Gran Via, Barcelona
    • Piet Heinkade, Amsterdam
    • The Streets of Paris
    • Feeling Comfortable
    • Jardin du Palais Royale, Paris
    • Commonwealth Avenue, Boston
    • Kungstradgarten, Stockholm
    • Via dei Condotti, Rome
    • Via Aquilante, Gubbio, Italy
    • Worth Avenue, Palm Beach
    • Levittown, Long Island
  • Forever Welcoming

Chapter 4: Something for Everybody

  • A Reason to Return Again and Again
    • Boulevard des Italiens, Paris
    • Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris
    • Washington Park, Chicago
  • Having Fun
    • Playgrounds
    • Piazza Navona, Rome
  • Animating a Multifunctional Public Realm
    • Market Square and PPG Place, Pittsburgh
  • A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place
    • Central Park, New York City
    • Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona
  • Reclaiming Bits of the Public Realm for Public Use
  • Plenty of People

Chapter 5: Attracting and Retaining Market Demand

  • Using the Public Realm to Trigger Private Development
    • Place des Vosges, Paris
    • The Revival of the Place des Vosges
    • Regent’s Park, London
    • Avenue Foch, Paris
  • Enlarging the Public Realm to Accommodate a Growing Market
    • An Administrative Center for the Modern City of Paris
    • North Michigan Avenue, Chicago
  • Responding to Diminishing Market Demand by Repositioning the Public Realm
    • Kärntner Straße, Vienna
    • Bryant Park, New York City
  • Continuing Investment

Chapter 6: Providing a Framework for Successful Urbanization

  • Alternative Frameworks
    • Atlanta
    • Dubrovnik, Croatia
    • Rome
    • St. Petersburg, Russia
    • The Paris Street Network
    • Ringstrasse, Vienna
    • Radio-Concentric Moscow
    • Houston’s Highway Rings
    • The Manhattan Grid
  • Maintaining the Public Realm Framework
    • Thirty-Fourth Street, Manhattan
  • Determining the Location of Market Activity

Chapter 7: Sustaining a Habitable Environment

  • What Does It Take to Sustain a Habitable Environment?
    • Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn
  • Using the Public Realm to Create a Habitable Environment
    • Boston’s Emerald Necklace
    • Long Island’s Network of Parks, Beaches, and Parkways
  • Reconfiguring the Public Realm to Improve Habitability
    • The Public Squares of Portland, Oregon
    • New York City’s Greenstreets Program
  • Transportation Alternatives that Improve Habitability
    • Union Square, San Francisco
    • Post Office Square, Boston
    • Congestion Pricing in London
    • Congestion Targets in Zurich
  • An Ever More Habitable Public Realm
    • The Chicago Lakeshore
    • Reviving the San Antonio River
  • Operating the Public Realm
    • Park Management in New York City
  • An Ever-Improving Public Realm

Chapter 8: Nurturing and Supporting a Civil Society

  • The Nurturing Role of the Public Realm
    • The Streets of Copenhagen
    • Palace Square (Dvortsovaya Ploshchad), St. Petersburg
    • Red Square, Moscow
  • Ensuring that the Public Realm Continues to Nurture a Civil Society
    • Times Square, Manhattan
  • The Public Realm as a Setting for Self-Expression

Chapter 9: Using the Public Realm to Shape Everyday Life

  • Whose Realm Is It?
  • Determining the Daily Life of a City
    • The Squares of London
    • The Minneapolis Park System
    • The Madrid Miracle
  • The Key to Greatness

Chapter 10: Creating a Public Realm for the Twenty-First Century

  • The Patient Search for a Better Tomorrow

    • Place de la République, Paris
    • Post Oak Boulevard in the Uptown District of Houston
    • Brooklyn Bridge Park
    • Atlanta’s BeltLine Emerald Necklace
    • Waterfront Toronto
  • What Makes a City Great

In my view this book covers the right topics, including market demand. In chapter 5 sections discuss the public realm in both growing & shrinking market demand.  The public realm can impact market demand.

This book can be ordered through Left Bank Books, Amazon, or your favorite bookseller.

— Steve Patterson