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The American City : What Works, What Doesn't [Hardcover]

Alexander Garvin
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 19, 2002 0071373675 978-0071373678 2
This comprehensive, multidisciplinary approach to urban planning and design in America analyzes key projects initiated in 250 U.S. urban areas and details which strategies and programs were successful and which failed.

New to the Second Edition:
* New sections on stadiums, entertainment centers, business improvement districts, tax credit housing
* Checklists and tables for field use
* A review of recent failures and successes

This classic reference, fully revised for the new millennium, provides proven strategies for professionals and invaluable real-world insights for students.

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The American City : What Works, What Doesn't + The Death and Life of Great American Cities + The Image of the City (Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies Series)
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Garvin has served on various urban planning and development commissions in New York City and has taught an American cities course at Yale for nearly 30 years. He brings both working and teaching perspectives to this lively, well-illustrated, multidisciplinary history of two centuries of city planning. Garvin analyzes more than 250 projects and programs in 100 cities, assessing, as his subtitle indicates, what works and what has failed. The main thrust of much of Garvin's well-reasoned and carefully documented overview is a defense of urban planning; he believes that controversies over unsuccessful redevelopment projects have generated cynicism and negativity out of proportion to the facts. Many plans have succeeded in cities such as Chicago, Pittsburgh, Portland, and Charleston, and Garvin is eager to identify and celebrate them. He evaluates parks, monumental public structures (e.g., libraries, museums, and convention centers), and large-scale redevelopment projects. Garvin also discusses subsidized housing, planned communities, suburban development, rehabbing, and historic preservation. This is a vital resource for everyone interested in cities. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


In February, when urban planner and veteran City Hall insider Alexander Garvin was tapped to oversee the rebuilding of lower Manhattan, all the local papers hit the same historical note. "Not since Robert Moses imposed his single-minded mark on the region decades ago," the Daily News wrote, "has an individual been asked to lead the re-creation of such a crucial swath of real estate."

Ah, the ghost of New York's "master builder." There's no purging him, is there? Even as clean-up workers were still unearthing human remains from Ground Zero, pressure was building on Garvin to hurry up and deliver a master reconstruction plan in a New York minute -- long-term consequences be damned.

This month, just as Garvin plunges forward with a design that will remake Manhattan on a Moses-like scale, McGraw-Hill is reissuing a newly updated version of his critically acclaimed 1995 book, The American City: What Works, What Doesn't. If Garvin's blueprint for a revitalized downtown reflects the urban philosophy he's sketched out in his book, New Yorkers need not fret the second coming of Robert Moses.

Garvin's credo is straightforward: "Only when a project also has a beneficial impact on the surrounding community can it be considered successful planning. For him, there is no singular, shining model of urban planning that can be carbon-copied; a particular region, city, or neighborhood has its own distinct features and assets that need to be capitalized on by a given project.

Encyclopedic in scale, The American City is a sweeping survey of more than 250 urban and suburban revitalization projects in America. To fine-tune his recipe for a successful formula, Garvin casts his eye over the last hundred years. He cites Chicago's creation of a lakeshore network of parks in the early 1900s -- which spurred a residential housing boom -- as one successful example. Historic preservation, as it was pioneered by Charleston and New Orleans in the mid-20th Century, is another kind.

Portland's recent rebirth also embodies, to Garvin, another successful model -- and on a much larger and fuller scale. After the city invested in a riverfront park, mass transit (a light-rail system), and walkable streets, the business community responded in kind, resulting in a boomlet of retail stores, office buildings, hotels, and apartment houses.

"Thus," Garvin concludes, "urban planning should be defined as public action that will produce a sustained and widespread private market reaction." In particular, he indicts Moses' brand of redevelopment as producing the opposite effect, because many of his colossal structures -- such as the recently razed New York Coliseum and the superblock housing projects -- resulted in a form of de facto segregation, in which residents in the area were effectively cut off from their neighbors. "This separation," Garvin writes, prevents any redevelopment benefits from "spilling over into surrounding neighborhoods and thus stimulating further private activity."

A well-respected professor of planning and architecture at Yale University, Garvin's ethos is part Frederick Law Olmsted, part Jane Jacobs: he's passionate about parks and open space but he's also an ardent proponent of mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods. The dapper academic, who favors bowties, is also no ivory-tower theorist; he's been a member of the New York City Planning Commission for the last seven years, and from 1970 to 1980, he served in city government as deputy commissioner of housing and director of comprehensive planning. Perhaps most importantly, nothing in Garvin's book or career suggests he is about to turn into a 21st century public works despot a la Moses. (City Limits 2002-06-01)

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional; 2 edition (June 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071373675
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071373678
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 8.7 x 10.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #701,192 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The definitive modern planning manual...newly updated September 8, 2002
There is a very good reason that Garvin's The American City has become required reading for most of the major urban affairs programs across the country: it stands alone as the definitive book on practical urban planning as we enter the 21st century. The first edition of this book, released in 1995, was a breath of fresh air in the field as it avoided emotional polemics in favor of thorough, pragmatic analyses of virtually every aspect of urban planning. This new, 560 page edition builds on the strengths of the original but has been substantially updated. It now includes coverage of the effects of stadiums and entertainment centers, BIDs, environmental factors, and much more. It has also been updated with the latest statistical information and additional stunning photos, as well as follow-ups on the projects originally covered in the first edition.
Garvin himself is uniquely qualified to write this book. For over thirty years he has taught Yale University's Introduction to the Study of the City course, while remaining busy as an architect, real estate developer and Director of Comprehensive Planning for the City of New York. After the publication of the original edition he became the Managing Director for Planning of New York's bid to host the 2012 Olympics (which was just selected as one of the finalists), and this year he was chosen to head up the complete rebuilding of the World Trade Center site after September 11 as the Vice President for Planning, Design and Construction of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.
If you have any interest whatsoever in the history, design, or improvement of America's urban landscape, this is the book to get. As Paul Goldberger, the former architecture critic of the New York Times has written: "I will read it again and again, sometimes from front to back, sometimes from back to front, sometimes to page through at a random, sometimes to consult and help me with a particular problem. I guarantee dog-eared pages within a year."
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Alex Garvin has functioned singlehandedly as the entire Urban Planning department at Yale University for over twenty years, while serving at various times as the Director of Comprehensive Planning for the City of New York, a member of the New York City Planning Commission, an expert for the Urban Land Institute, a real estate developer and the facilities analyst for New York's bid for the Olympics. This book is his masterwork, providing an expanded version of his Yale course illustrated with hundreds of examples drawn (and photographed) from cities all over America.
Without question, if you are going to get only one book dealing with the problems and solutions of contemporary urban development, this MUST be it.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How cities work--an interdisciplinary approach September 26, 2002
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When Alexander Garvin's "The American City" was first published in 1996, it fast became a classic text in universities all over the country in the study of the city. Because it is an incredibly rich and profoundly insightful interdisciplinary exploration of all aspects of the planning of cities, it has been eagerly embraced by students of architecture, planning, urban studies, government, finance, and even sociology. Because it is so compelling written and marvelously accessible, however, it has also become a beloved book by lay people interested in any and every aspect of what determines the life and success of the created environment in which they live.
Since most of the original edition was actually completed by 1990, it did not include the last decade of development in the fast-changing world of urban thinking. In this second edition, Mr. Garvin brings his study of the city into the twenty-first century, including examples, issues, and trends that did not exist at the time the first edition was written. More strikingly, however, he has also succeeded in reorganizing and restating his original material-sometimes subtly, and sometimes more extensively-in even more powerful and effective ways. But whether it is the almost completely new chapter on Retail Shopping, or the only mostly preserved gem from the first edition on Parks and Playgrounds, all of the clarity and vitality so characteristic of Mr. Garvin's writing are enhanced in this new edition. The new edition also features numerous new photographs-a particular treat to the many readers who especially appreciate the masterful way he has illustrated his points with visual images, virtually all taken by Mr. Garvin himself.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Multidiscipinary approach to Creating Change October 15, 2003
Mr. Garvin addresses the key factors that actually create effective change for cities today. He places a heavy emphasis on sound real estate financing, but he also demonstrates the need for effective government action and political leadership to spur private develoopments. When combined with good design and a proper reading of market forces, American Cities can and will be changed for the benefit of all its citizens.
Readers must understand, however, that Mr. Garvin does not ascribe what is "Best for the City." Each city represents a unique example and requires specific consideration when planning its future. Instead, Mr. Garvin brilliantly provides an accurate set of tools to direct a city's future, thus allowing the reader to determine what the future of his or her city should be.
Whether you're intersted in planning the future of your city or simply learning what influences the development of your city, I highly recommend this book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars There is so much to learn
I have read almost the entire book by now, because I use it as a reference, which is very helpful to me.
Published 13 months ago by Richard J Maneval
4.0 out of 5 stars reader persistence pays off
This discussion of urban planning, rich in historical examples, tries to conclude what makes some attempts at urban planning successful, and other attempts failures; there are... Read more
Published 14 months ago by algo41
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough Coverage & Good Framework
This book goes into great detail a wide range of topics related to real estate development. It has a good framework of 6 key ingredients to success in real estate.
Published on October 3, 2008 by G9D
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best textbooks I have ever owned
The writing is clear and concise and Garvin does a great job of making the material interesting and relevant!
Published on March 10, 2006 by A. Hirsche
3.0 out of 5 stars High on concrete details, low on theoritical underpinnings
Garvin's text is of course a classic for students of American cities. As a sourcebook on successes and failures in cities all over the country it is unsurpassed. Read more
Published on September 24, 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
A great book on planning practice by one of America's leading planners and planning educators. The emphasis on empirical observations and real results makes this a vital addition... Read more
Published on August 12, 1997 by
4.0 out of 5 stars Understandable guide to the sucess of civic improvements
An easy to understand guide to civic improvements in the
United States - whether they were sucesses or failures. Read more
Published on January 23, 1997
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