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100 books for city geeks

If you’re a city geek looking for a good book to read, head over to Planetizen and check out Brent Toderian’s list of the 100 best books on city-making. Toderian was formerly Chief Planner for the City of Vancouver.

I have a good number of those books on my own bookshelf, but also many that I should really read. I think I’ll start with #1: Cities for People by Jan Gehl.

Here’s the forward for that book by British architect, Richard Rogers:

“Cities are the places where people meet to exchange ideas, trade, or simply relax and enjoy themselves. A city‘s public domain — its streets, squares, and parks — is the stage and the catalyst for these activities. Jan Gehl, the doyen of public-space design, has a deep understanding of how we use the public domain and off ers us the tools we need to improve the design of public spaces and, as a consequence, the quality of our lives in cities.

The compact city — with development grouped around public transport, walking, and cycling — is the only environmentally sustainable form of city. However, for population densities to increase and for walking and cycling to be widespread, a city must increase the quantity and quality of well-planned beautiful public spaces that are human in scale, sustainable, healthy, safe, and lively.

Cities — like books — can be read, and Jan Gehl understands their language. The street, the footpath, the square, and the park are the grammar of the city; they provide the structure that enables cities to come to life, and to encourage and accommodate diverse activities, from the quiet and contemplative to the noisy and busy. A humane city — with carefully designed streets, squares, and parks — creates pleasure for visitors and passers-by, as well as for those who live, work, and play there every day.

Everyone should have the right to easily accessible open spaces, just as they have a right to clean water. Everyone should be able to see a tree from their window, or to sit on a bench close to their home with a play space for children, or to walk to a park within ten minutes. Well-designed neighborhoods inspire the people who live in them, whilst poorly designed cities brutalize their citizens. As Jan says: “We shape cities, and they shape us.”

No one has examined the morphology and use of public space to the extent that Jan Gehl has. Anyone who reads this book will get a valuable insight into his astonishingly perceptive understanding of the relationship between public spaces and civic society, and how the two are inextricably intertwined.”

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