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Big Plans: The Allure and Folly of Urban Design (Center Books on Contemporary Landscape Design) Hardcover – January 4, 2002


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Product Details

  • Series: Center Books on Contemporary Landscape Design
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (January 4, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801866790
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801866791
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,078,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"[Big Plans] is a book that should be read by all those people, and there seem to be more of them as week chases week, who are thinking about the fate of lower Manhattan right now." -- Joe Mysak, Bloomberg News



"Kenneth Kolson has lots of material: Some of what's been built in cities lately is astonishing and not in a good way." -- Anthony Flint, Boston Globe



"Kolson is a passionate critic of urban schemes, with well-founded skepticism about the role rationality has played in designing them." -- Gail Lee Dubrow, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians



"A fascinating read about the utopian goal of Big Plans and the dystopian reality of lived experience." -- Design Issues



"A work similar in spirit to Lewis Mumford's The City in History and Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities with a distinctive postmodern tone and perspective. Wonderful, funny, idiosyncratic -- Big Plans is an original. Anyone interested in cities will want to read this book. It will be of special interest to professionals and practitioners in planning, architecture, and landscape design, as well as students and scholars in architecture and planning, urban studies, geography, American studies, history, and sociology." -- Frederick R. Steiner, professor and director of the School of Planning and Landscape Architecture, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Arizona State University

From the Publisher

"A work similar in spirit to Lewis Mumford's The City in History and Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities with a distinctive postmodern tone and perspective. Wonderful, funny, idiosyncratic—Big Plans is an original. Anyone interested in cities will want to read this book. It will be of special interest to professionals and practitioners in planning, architecture, and landscape design, as well as students and scholars in architecture and planning, urban studies, geography, American studies, history and sociology."—Frederick Steiner, professor and director of the School of Planning and Landscape Architecture, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Arizona State University

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steven G. King on April 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This book is a fascinating review of the way governments attempt to control the growth and architecture of cities. It proceeds chronologically from Trajan's Rome to present day London, with a special emphasis on Cleveland of the early 1900's. While this area of study has a long history (think of Lewis Mumford's "The City in History"), this is not just another academic tome. Ken Kolson has made both the history and the academic debates accessible to the layman.
Here's the question: Can a governmental unit, whether an emperor, city planner, zoning commission, or legislature, succeed in making a city more vibrant or livable? Here's a hint from the book -- in Reston, VA homeowners in a development pay $11,000 apiece to demolish a modernist plaza designed as public space for the community. From the forced imploding of public housing to the history of urban "renewal" in our large cities, the dismal track record of governmental actions in cities is in front of us every day. Ken Kolson lays it out here in a breezy, informative style that teaches but doesn't preach.
If you enjoy architecture, politics, or industrial archeology (my interest), buy this book! You won't be sorry! If you live in Northeast Ohio, buy it regardless -- just tying the history to the existing structures in Cleveland today should be fascinating!
I hope this book will keep alive the debate of what the future holds for America's cities.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Kolson's grasp of the history and politics of urban design is remarkable. My one criticism is "Big Plans..." is more about the former than the latter. The other point he makes is that Jane Jacobs was right and the planners and urban designers are more about order than about how a city develops, although sometimes they are guided by a firm political hand, e.g. the Catholic Church in Italy, the governments in Britain and France. I would have appreciated knowing what Mr. Kolson thinks urban design should be about, which ones succeeded and why, and how to make an urban design in the competitive development community, chaotic and competing opinions in our democracy, and just plain political stupidity of America's city planning markets. I would appreciate some ideas from Mr. Kolson about how urban designers should think and what should be the focus of their civic designs in today's world that needs order and a community focus more than ever.
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful By R. Cryan on July 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
Professional planners tend to be generalists with a taste for power. They are not architects, though they impose their designs on us. They are not economists, though they presume themselves to be more effective than the market in regulating land, the single most important non-human factor of economic life. They are typically not lawyers, although they write reams of ordinance and statute. Most of them are practitioners of process, without a vision.

But, as Mr. Kolson shows, sometimes the only thing worse than a city planner without a vision is a city planner with a vision.

The imposition of the "Big Plan" vision is usually a disaster, and this book demonstrates that beautifully.

It has been pointed out many times by many people (including in Mr. Kolson's book), that the greatest places in the world couldn't be built today because they would violate modern zoning laws. Most of these places were built with little or no regulation. If I understand Mr. Kolson right, the lesson from Jane Jacobs' great book is that the market should be allowed to drive development (even if that wasn't quite the lesson that Mrs. Jacobs was trying to offer.)

What should we do about it? Scrap zoning altogether? (Why not?) Greatly expand the scope of by-right development? Should we experiment with zoning-free zones? How do we overcome the overwhelming influence of NIMBY in the land use review process?

Like another reviewing reader, I'd like to hear more of Mr. Kolson's answers to these problems.
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