Home » Books » Recent Articles:

Maybe The World Breaks On Purpose, So We Can Have Work To Do

August 24, 2011 Books, Events/Meetings 2 Comments

Earlier this month I attended a couple of events with Peter Kageyama, author of For the Love of Cities. In his presentations he talked about attachment with where we live, quoted here from his website:

“A 2009 Gallup study that looked at the levels of emotional engagement people have with their communities, found that just 24% of people were “engaged” with their community. Gallup also found a significant relationship between how passionate and loyal people are to their communities and local economic growth. The most “attached” communities had the highest local GDP growth. Despite this, it feels as though our places and our leadership have forgotten how to connect with us emotionally and our cities have suffered because of it.”

Attachment, he explained, might be as simple as voting, going to a PTA meeting, etc. Forty percent were not attached, thirty-six percent were neutral, and only twenty-four percent attached. See the Gallup Soul of the Community website for the detailed reports.

“Over the past three years, the Soul of the Community study has found a positive correlation between community attachment and local GDP growth. Across the 26 Knight communities, those whose residents were more attached saw more local GDP growth. This is a key metric in assessing community success because local GDP growth not only measures a community’s economic success, but also its ability to grow and meet residents’ needs.” (p5 2010 report)

I asked  Peter Kageyama to say a few words to St. Louis:


Good advice! In the presentations he mentioned a January 2011 report in Newsweek listing the top 10 dying cities.  Those listed were:

  • 10. Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • 9. Flint, Michigan
  • 8. South Bend, Indiana
  • 7. Detroit, Michigan
  • 6. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • 5. Cleveland, Ohio
  • 4. Rochester, New York
  • 3. Hialeah, Florida
  • 2. Vallejo, California
  • 1. New Orleans, Louisiana

Newsweek wrote:

“Michigan dominates much of this list, with several cities experiencing significant declines in population as the state suffered high unemployment rates and above average foreclosures in recent years due mainly to the collapse of the auto industry.”

As you can imagine Grand Rapids wasn’t pleased.  But their response was not the typical stuffy political press release as if so often the case from municipalities. Check out this news report:


In short the city leaders listened to a 20-something controversial local artist, Rob Bliss. The result was the 9+ minute Grand Rapids LipDub:


This video has now been viewed more than 4 million times! The $40,000 production cost was raised through private donations and was a bargain given the positive PR it has generated for Grand Rapids. Thousands of residents participated. Newsweek said they didn’t do the study and they think better of Grand Rapids.

Another town Kageyama mentioned was Braddock PA, a 19th century suburb of Pittsburgh. It has lost 90% of it’s population from a peak of 20,879 in 1920.  They know they have issues, no rose colored glasses. They partnered with jeans maker Levi’s on the following:


“People think their are no frontiers anymore, they can’t see how frontiers are all around us.”

“Maybe the world breaks on purpose, so we can have work to do.”

Powerful stuff! Thanks for the Regional Arts Commission (RAC) and STL-Style for bringing Peter Kageyama to St. Louis!

– Steve Patterson


Opening Reception for American City: St. Louis Architecture: Three Centuries of Classic Design Friday June 10th


Click image for PDF with details of opening reception

Tomorrow night will be a great event, the “opening night reception with photographer William Zbaren and architectural writer Robert Sharoff, creators of American City: St. Louis Architecture: Three Centuries of Classic Design.”  Both the reception and exhibit are free.

The reception is Friday June 10th from 5-7pm at the Missouri Botanical Garden, 4344 Shaw Boulevard. You can use this address link to check transit routes in Google Maps.

ABOVE: Photographer Zebaren (left) and writer Sharoff (right) at Macy's last month

I reviewed their book in January and had the pleasure to meet both last month at the reopening of the downtown Macy’s. I can’t wait to see the images in large format at the exhibit.  If you can’t make the reception tomorrow be sure to get to the exhibit by August 21st.

The authors also have two book signings scheduled: Saturday June 11, 2011 @ The Missouri Botanical Garden 11am -1pm and June 12, 2011 @ Left Bank Books 399 North Euclid from 4-6pm

– Steve Patterson



Readers: ‘Death and Life’ a Classic, Happy Birthday to the Late Jane Jacobs

May 4, 2011 Books 2 Comments



Cover of Death and Life of Great American Cities
Cover of Death and Life of Great American Cities

Jane [Butzner] Jacobs was born on May 4, 1916, ninety-five years ago today. Jacobs was 45 when she finished & published Death and Life of Great American Cities.  Jacobs died on April 25, 2006.

The poll (and post) last week asked:

Q: Have you read ‘Death and Life of Great American Cities’ by Jane Jacobs?

  1. Yes, a must-read classic! 38 [37.25%]
  2. No, it is on my list to read 23 [22.55%]
  3. No, never heard of the book before 20 [19.61%]
  4. No, I have no desire to read it 11 [10.78%]
  5. Other answer… 6 [5.88%]
  6. Yes, but it has been years 4 [3.92%]
  7. Yes, wasn’t impressed 0 [0%]
  8. Yes, no longer relevant though 0 [0%]

It is nice to see that more than half have read it or plan to do so. From the other answers we see that some are currently reading the book.

  1. Never heard of it, but I’m curious.
  2. no, but i think i’ve heard of it before somewhere
  3. I just started reading it a couple weeks ago
  4. almost finished; amazingly relevant and still underappreciated 50 yrs later
  5. Yes, A real eye-opener that still applies to mistakes being made today
  6. Just started the other day. It all seems right so far!

To me the book is an enjoyable read filled with excellent observations and lacking the pompous theories that fill so many books on urban planning and architecture. THE classic on urban planning.

Happy Birthday Jane Jacobs!

– Steve Patterson


Poll: Have you read ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’ by Jane Jacobs?

April 24, 2011 Books, Sunday Poll 8 Comments
ABOVE: Jane Jacobs on the cover of Death & Life of Great American Cities

Fifty years ago Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a harsh criticism of the state of urban planning at the time.  Jacobs was 45 when Death and Life was first published. Tomorrow marks five years since her death at age 89.

A direct and fundamentally optimistic indictment of the short-sightedness and intellectual arrogance that has characterized much of urban planning in this century, The Death and Life of Great American Cities has, since its first publication in 1961, become the standard against which all endeavors in that field are measured. In prose of outstanding immediacy, Jane Jacobs writes about what makes streets safe or unsafe; about what constitutes a neighborhood, and what function it serves within the larger organism of the city; about why some neighborhoods remain impoverished while others regenerate themselves. She writes about the salutary role of funeral parlors and tenement windows, the dangers of too much development money and too little diversity. Compassionate, bracingly indignant, and always keenly detailed, Jane Jacobs’s monumental work provides an essential framework for assessing the vitality of all cities. (description via Left Bank Books)

I can think of no other book on urban planning and cities that continues to be debated decades later or have their own Facebook page.

The mistake made by Jacobs’s detractors and acolytes alike is to regard her as a champion of stasis—to believe she was advocating the world’s cities be built as simulacra of the West Village circa 1960. Admirers and opponents have routinely taken her arguments for complexity and turned them into formulas. But the book I just read was an inspiration to move forward without losing sight that cities are powerful, dynamic, ever-changing entities made up of myriad gestures big and small. The real notion is to build in a way that honors and nurtures complexity. And that’s an idea impossible to outgrow. (Metropolis)

The poll this week asks if you have read this book and your thoughts on it.  The poll is in the upper right corner of the site.

– Steve Patterson


From Death & Life to Retrofitting Suburbia

February 8, 2011 Books, Planning & Design 3 Comments

Fifty years ago Jane Jacobs published her now-classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities.  Her book was a criticism of the Urban Renewal policies she observed in the 1950s.  Unfortunately too few paid any attention to her observations until it was too late.  Inner cities were gutted and suburban sprawl has leapfrogged way beyond anything sustainable.  Jacobs’ book offers little t0 help us  in the 21st century.

In the last 50 years we’ve had various planning trends & terms:

“There’s a 15- to 20-year cycle on urban planning terms,” says Robert Lang, urban sociologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. “Remember ‘urban renewal’? Smart growth is near the end of its shelf life.” (USA Today : Will ‘intelligent cities’ put an end to suburban sprawl?)

I’m betting on “retrofitting suburbia” as a lasting planning process for the next 25-40 years.  In April 2009 I did a book review on a new volume: Book Review: Retrofitting Suburbia, Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs. The book is $75  and worth every penny (Left Bank Books).  Unfortunately neither the St. Louis or St. Louis County library systems have this excellent book.

In January 2010 co-author Ellen Dunham-Jones presented an excellent TED Talk on the subject.  In 20 minutes you can get, for free, the basic concepts presented in the book.  Please take time to watch all 20 minutes.


I’m excited about gradually building on parking lots, densifying corridors, daylighting creeks, and restoring wetland areas.  This retrofitting should be applied to the suburbanized parts of the City of St. Louis as well the rings of suburbs around the city.

Dunham-Jones says:

“The growing number of empty and under-performing, especially retail sites, throughout suburbia gives us actually a tremendous opportunity to take our least sustainable landscapes right now and convert them into more sustainable places.”

Agreed!  The St. Louis region must begin planning for the future now, if we wait our jobs and economy will suffer.  I have a framed picture of the cover of Death & Life next to my desk because it is such an important book.  I may need to frame the cover of Retrofitting Suburbia as well.

– Steve Patterson