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Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas About Cities Paperback – September 2, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rybczynski (A Clearing in the Distance), professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania, offers a glimpse of an urban future that might very well serve as a template for cities around the world. Just as the dense and green Israeli city Modi'in mixes old and new modes of urban planning, this book integrates history and prediction in its survey of the development of the American city. A brisk look back takes us from colonial town planning through the Garden City and City Beautiful initiatives of the early 20th century that defined and delivered the distinctive aesthetic character to such cities as New York and Chicago to the big box era. He also examines how contemporary urban designers and planners are revisiting and refreshing older urban ideas, bringing gardens to a blighted Brooklyn waterfront. Rybczynski's study is kept relevant by his focus on what the past can teach us about creating the "cities we want" and "cities we need." The prose is instructive and always engaging, and the author's enthusiasm for the future of cities and his enduring love of urban settings of all kinds is evident. He not only writes about what people want from their cities, he inspires the reader to imagine the possibilities.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

So much of modern American architecture, for good or ill, derives from twentieth-century movements dubbed “city beautiful” and “the garden city” as well as the tumultuousness of highly regarded architects, from Le Corbusier to Frank Lloyd Wright. Acclaimed architecture writer Rybczynski begins with a review of nineteenth- and twentieth-century movements that produced magnificent parks and grand classical structures that continue to dominate the downtown areas of many American cities. He examines the fierce debates among architects and planners searching to balance grand design and practical use, a debate fueled by Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) and Lewis Mumford’s contrasting views on urbanism. Rybczynski goes on to examine the trend toward arcades, malls, and big-box retail stores and to critique mixed-use development projects in a variety of cities in a never-ending search to find the right mix of aesthetics and practical, user-friendly spaces in an era of scarce resources and emerging environmental issues. An engaging look at changing perspectives on urban architecture and development. --Vanessa Bush --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (September 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416561269
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416561262
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,364 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Richard S. Dixon Jr. on January 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is the fifth book of Witold Rybczynski's I have read and they just keep getting better. I admire the man for his calm discussions on so many aspects of architecture and cities (I find his book on Palladio: The Perfect House, most satisfying). For the professional architect or architectural historian, much of his discussions might seem basic stuff, but I find them instructive, clear and insightful. For anyone interested in the history of buildings in America, the idea of city life in Western Culture or even in the idea of what "home" means (forget Bill Bryson's book, At Home, Rybcynski's 1980s book on Home far surpasses that one), this is the author for you. His writing is consistently outstanding: clear, precise and tempered with the wisdom gained over many years of observing the subjects he discusses.
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Format: Paperback
This book presents the emergence of ideas regarding city planning and how they were refined over time. Present planning concepts favor more use of private sector entrepreneurism than many past planning theories considered.

Lewis Mumford is noted by the author as having ideas of regional planning that still resonate as he theorized the coming reality of sprawl spreading to exurbs. Jane Jacobs is noted as correctly foreseeing urban neighborhood vitality, but not with a steady middle class as Jacobs saw, but with wealthier results and more mobile newcomers. Frank Lloyd Wright correctly forecast urban decentralization. All together, these and others' planning ideas helped shape applicable theories today.

The U.S. has undergone relatively unplanned development, which is something Jacobs woud defend. Many of the primary factors determining how development occurs are decided by private developers rather than a few city planners. Planners strive to set and meet general goals of keeping cities livable and economically viable, safe from crime, diverse, and environmentally responsible. Economic decisions determine what people are willing to purchase. This had led to clashes between those desiring consistent urban design and those who want unique architectural designs. A major clash develops when the desires of what people wish to purchase may not be in the best interest for others, or the best for the environment.

Public parks are unique to North America. Most European cities, by contrast, have areas for visual viewing of gardens, flowers, and tended plants.

The public sector has often sought to work in conjunction with the private sector. An example of this is the Brooklyn Bridge Park where piers, parks, and housing are simultaneously under construction.
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Great book. My niece is in landscape architecture and her thesis is going to be about turning a city into an Olympic games site and the aftermath and how to beautify the city afterwards all while doing everything environmentally responsible. Great book for her to reference.
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