"Reading’tis the season for the summer reading list! After watching this TEDx talk  (The Suburbs are Dying, so Let’s Create a New American Dream), I hunted down Leigh Gallagher’s The End of the Suburbs. I liked the way she spoke about the shift in what the American Dream means to those looking for a home today, so I wanted to hear more of her ideas.

“In The End of the Suburbs journalist Leigh Gallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the stately railroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the 19th and early 20th centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spend as much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbia was unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternative communities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape our way of life for the better.”

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s happening around the idea of walkable cities — and walking in general — we’ve compiled a handful of good reads to keep you occupied:

  • Walkable City by Jeff Speck: Speck is an urban planner and advocate for sustainable growth. His book tackles both the process and the benefits of growing cities that fully embrace walkability as a value. (Note:  I follow Jeff on Twitter and he posts great links to interesting shorter web reads, too.)

    “Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the typical American city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold. Walkable City—bursting with sharp observations and key insights into how urban change happens—lays out a practical, necessary, and inspiring vision for how to make American cities great again.”

  • Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit: A history of walking, that most human of activities. Solnit’s book features poets and ramblers and philosphers and takes us walking in  — can you believe it? — Las Vegas.

    “What does it mean to be out walking in the world, whether in a landscape or a metropolis, on a pilgrimage or a protest march? In this first general history of walking, Rebecca Solnit draws together many histories to create a range of possibilities for this most basic act.”

  • The Option of Urbanism by Christopher B. Leinberger: What made the car dependent suburbs so popular and how does the US government continue to favor suburban development? Leinberger examines the intersection of politics, development and sustainability.

    “In The Option of Urbanism visionary developer and strategist Christopher B. Leinberger explains why government policies have tilted the playing field toward one form of development over the last sixty years: the drivable suburb. Rooted in the driving forces of the economy—car manufacturing and the oil industry—this type of growth has fostered the decline of community, contributed to urban decay, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and contributed to the rise in obesity and asthma.”

  • Unlocking Home by Alan Durning: A look at how zoning and regulations are limiting housing options, slowing the development of the kind of density that makes for great walkable cities, and as an unfortunate by product, limiting affordable housing.

    “Hidden in city regulations is a set of simple but powerful barriers to affordable housing for all. These rules criminalize history’s answers to affordable dwellings: the rooming house, the roommate, the in-law apartment, and the backyard cottage. In effect, cities have banned what used to be the bottom end of the private housing market. They’ve made urban quarters expensive and scarce, especially for low-income people such as students, seniors, blue-collar workers, artists, and others who make our cities diverse and vibrant.”

  • Completing Our Streets by Barbara McCann: Barbara McCann founded the National Complete Streets Coalition, an organization that advocates that streets are not just for cars, they’re for transit, cyclists, and pedestrians too. Her book is a practical take on how to work for Complete Streets in your community.

    “The complete streets movement is based around a simple idea: streets should be safe for people of all ages and abilities, whether they are walking, driving, bicycling, or taking the bus. Completing Our Streets gives practitioners and activists the strategies, tools, and inspiration needed to translate this idea into real and lasting change in their communities.”

Did we leave anything out?

And a safety warning to keep you on your feet — don’t walk and read, kids! The worst ankle injury I’ve ever had was because I was reading and walking at the same time.

Reading is good. Walking is good. Do both, just not at the same time.

Image: Reading in Central Park via Flickr (Creative Commons)

1 Comment

  1. Heather

    Jan Gehl’s Cities for People

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