This is a list of books I’ve read on transportation, planning, cities, and other related topics. I’ll try to separate books by subject, but the broad nature of urbanism many of these books seek to tackle often defies a narrow definition.
This list is by no means authoritative or complete, I’ll work on adding to it over time.
For various blog and internet items worth sharing, my del.ici.ous feed is available here (also in the blog sidebar)
If there’s one classic of American urbanism, this is it.
An excellent summary of the systemic transportation issues facing cities and regions in the US. Marshall approaches the issues as a journalist, not a planner, offering unique insights and accessible explanations of how our cities evolve following their transportation skeletons.
Cities in Full – Steve Belmont (2002)
Belmont tackles every issue regarding the physical form of cities and regions in this book, from density to transportation. An excellent synthesis of the multitude of elements and feedback loops in our cities.
Classic history of DC home rule up through 1994 – and therefore, a history of Marion Barry. Unfortunately out of print; cherish your copies!
The ultimate inquiry into market based allocation of parking resources and the implications for urbanism. It’s a lengthy read, but well worth it for anyone interested in urbanism. Transportation is vital to urbanism, and parking is often forgotten as a key element in transportation.
A comprehensive history of the circumstances leading up to the planning and building of DC’s Metro. A must-read for any DC resident interested in transportation. Like all things urban, the history of the transportation system carries with it a great deal of the history of the city, as well.
Walker does well to write for multiple audiences, both professionals and lay people. He emphasizes the role of geometry in transit, and how clear thinking on any number of trade-offs will allow for better decision-making.
This short e-book looks at the regulatory constraints on American cities (and therefore American urban economies) and the costs and consequences of those policies. The example of local zoning regulations so restricting growth in Silicon Valley that housing costs are out of reach of even well-payed engineers (yet alone janitors and line cooks) has real costs to our economy. Also includes excellent summaries of the economic benefits of dense urban environments.
The Rent Is Too Damn High - Matthew Yglesias (2012)
Similar to The Gated City, Yglesias looks at regulatory impacts on American cities and examines the unintended consequences of such regulation. Short and concise, yet does a good job in summarizing the issues. More discussion here and here.
Triumph of the City – Edward Glaeser (2011)
Book-length praise of all things urban – backed with data and analysis – from the Harvard economist. The descriptive and theoretical portions are excellent, particularly on the benefits of density. The policy prescriptions are less so. Nevertheless, valuable for the broad support of cities and the economic agglomerations they represent.
The Economy of Cities - Jane Jacobs (1969)
Some of Jacobs’ best work: notes that cities drive economic development, focusing on import replacement.
Cities and the Wealth of Nations – Jane Jacobs (1984)
Jacobs here argues that cities, not nation-states, are the key players in the global economy.
Excellent summary of research on behavioral economics and human decision making. Kahneman’s thesis describes two systems, in wiki’s words: “System 1 is fast, instinctive and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical.” The book looks at the strengths and weaknesses of each and how they influence our actions.
The lessons can be applied to many disciplines, but for urban issues: the ideas of loss aversion and that influence on NIMBY actions, as well as how we end up with the regulations that provide such unintended consequences (as described by Yglesias and Avent); framing issues and the consequences on decision making and governance; sunk cost and how a good project might sprawl into a boondoggle; among others.
A classic urban design book, dealing primarily with conceptual understandings of space, wayfinding (the book coins the term), and navigation.
An excellent history of urban design, touching on the main elements of cities throughout the evolution of human civilization. The book features amazing visuals in illustrations accompanying the text. Kostof’s prose can be over the top, but the combination with the visuals makes for a superb primer on the elements of urban design.
Duneier’ ethnography of sidewalk vendors in Greenwich Village offers unparalleled insight into the day to day life of various street people in New York. Thanks to Duneier’s painstaking research, the book offers a readable narrative that captures the details of daily life while also addressing the larger issues of city life.
Excellent narrative of the integral histories of water resources and the development of the American West – including the history of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers. It’s the real story behind Chinatown.
Green Metropolis – David Owen (2009)
Makes the case that urban environments are ‘green’ and sustainable, despite appearances that defy our ideas of what is ‘natural.’ The arguments in favor of density are good, but Owen’s use of height-capped DC, with its broad avenues as a foil for New York’s green density is a weak spot. Why not use suburbia instead? DC is dense and urban and not the real villain.