The very first book I read related to urban planning, probably around 2005, was The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise & Decline of America’s Man Made Landscape by James Howard Kunstler. It is kind of pop history of urban planning and architecture in America. For how complicated of a topic it is, the book is very accessible, and Kunstler tells the sad history of America’s built environment with a uniquely entertaining and acerbic wit. The brief, tenuous optimism of his sequel, Home From Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the Twenty-First Century, in which he explores some recent optimistic trends, didn’t last. His later books, including The Long Emergency: Surviving The End of Oil, Climate Change, And Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, and his more recent foray into fiction with The World Made By Hand series of books, all grapple with his increasingly apocalyptic sentiments. It’s difficult not to sympathize with him, but I’ve also personally found his later writings and his blog and podcast a bit too depressing and, at times, even bitterly reactionary.
The Geography of Nowhere is still an excellent book, if a little dated at this point. I still recommend it and sell copies of it regularly, and it’s great for what it is. Fortunately for us, though, Kunstler is far from the only smart person writing about place, planning, and the built environment in recent years. In fact, as I learned and read more, I found a huge variety of books and authors writing brilliantly on the topic, with Kunstler being only a kind of curmudgeonly uncle at a dining table full of gifted writers helping lay people like me try to understand what is wrong with our built world, and what alternative futures for it we might be able to imagine.
Below is a list of some of the books I have read and enjoyed (or have on my “to read list” ) on the topic of urban planning, placemaking, housing, and related topics. I tried to stick to books that were written for everyday readers, and not overly technical titles intended for professionals, though many of these books would hold relevance for lay people and professionals alike.
urban planning, town planning, rural planning, community design, new urbanism, walkability, mixed-use development, livability, sustainable community, new urbanism