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The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream [Kindle Edition]

Christopher B. Leinberger
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Americans are voting with their feet to abandon strip malls and suburban sprawl, embracing instead a new type of community where they can live, work, shop, and play within easy walking distance. 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.


Highlighting both the challenges and the opportunities for this type of development, The Option of Urbanism shows how the American Dream is shifting to include cities as well as suburbs and how the financial and real estate communities need to respond to build communities that are more environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable.

Editorial Reviews


In his new book, the latest of his significant contributions to New Urbanism, Christopher Leinberger says American development comes in two basic patterns: "drivable sub-urbanism" and "walkable urbanism." Leinberger's aim is to show how these two kinds of development function and to expalain why it's in everyone's interest to make sure that walkable urbansim becomes more commonplace.
(Philip Langdon New Urban News )

From Planetizen's Top 10 Books List, 2008. "The new American Dream presented in this quick and easy read is one similar to the American Dream of the past: a slower-paced and neighborhood-centric lifestyle."
(Planetizen )

"In delightfully readable prose, Professor Leinberger overwhelms us with the advantages of development that is dense enough and mixed enough to make walking and transit worth it, while illuminating the unintended urban consequences of land use regulations, Wall Street finance, and the eleven o'clock news."
(Douglas Kelbaugh, FAIA, dean and professor of architecture and urban planning University of Michigan, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planni )

"Chris Leinberger has spent many years thinking about real estate economics and how our culture is affected by our built environment.  This book offers a cogent argument for changing that environment to achieve more lasting values, both economic and cultural."
(Robert Davis developer and founder of Seaside, Florida )

"Leinberger, a developer who teaches real estate at the University of Michigan, may be the boldest prophet of walkability anywhere."
(Alan Ehrenhalt Governing magazine )

"The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream is free of jargon and, more important, free of ideological resentments."
(Planning )

"In this book, [Chris Leinberger] carefully explains the decisions that have made the 'drivable suburban' model the dominant one and highlights the obvious and unintended consequences that come from spending 35 percent of the nation's weatlh building in this way, to the virtual exclusion of other approaches."
(Ray Bert Civil Engineering Journal )

"Christopher Leinberger, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who has called for D.C. to revisit its building-height limits, tracks the politics that led to auto-based development and shows how developers and their financial backers can build more sustainable communities. He doesn't mince words."
(Washington Business Journal )

"Leinberger isn't just a theoretician. He's a former new urbanist land developer. As he shows, if we're serious about reducing our car dependency, we need to go beyond making the personal decision to walk; we need to advocate for chagnes that will make walking a viable option for more Americans."
(Stacey Moncrieff Realtor magazine )

"In The Option of Urbanism, Leinberger deftly shares his wealth of knowledge through the musings of a writer, the patience of an academic, and the technical abilities of an active developer. The book is straightforward and manages to be an enjoyable reading experience for just about anyone interested in where the developing landscape goes from here."
(Howard Kozloff Urban Land magazine )

"The Option of Urbanism is a great read."
(John Calimente Re:place online magazine )

"In The Option of Urbanism, Christopher B. Leinberger aims to present a happy alternative to the usual apocalyptic accounts of urban srpawl and its consequences."
(Jeanne Haffner The Next American City )

"Leinberger, a developer who teaches real estate at the University of Michigan, may be the boldest prophet of walkability anywhere. 'The United States,' he writes, 'is on the verge of a new phase in constructing its built environment.'
(Alan Ehrenhalt Governing magazine )

"Christopher B. Leinberger admirably chronicles the real estate industry's critical role in the evolving nature of the Americna Dream.  Drawing equally from history, professional experience, research and pop culture, he makes a very readable case for the desirability and realization of the next American Dream - walkable urbanism.  Reading his analysis reinvigorates my passion for the dynamic potential of our industry."
(Albert B. Ratner co-chairman of the board of directors, Forest City Enterprises, Inc. )

“Could it possibly be that [metropolitan] Washington, for years bashed by politicians, its [city] population shrinking and, at one point, almost bankrupt, has become a model of how the entire nation might smartly develop in the 21st century? I never thought I'd see the day. But Christopher Leinberger… makes a startling case for it… in his book.”
(Neal Peirce Washington Post Writers Group )

Book Description

The Option of Urbanism shows how the American Dream is shifting to include cities as well as suburbs and how the financial and real estate communities need to respond to build communities that are more environmentally, socially, and financially sustainable.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Primer for Urbanism December 29, 2007
People outside the planning profession would find this book helpful in understanding new directions that are possible. Developers who are looking for a competitive advantage tool would do well to avail themselves to Leinberger's perspective on urbanism. It is an easy read, not technical, requires no specific background other than a healthy curiosity and drive to do better. City commissioners would also benefit from purusing these pages.

The author is a major mover and shaker in Albuquerque and a key proponent of their downtown revival. Leinberger writes from first-hand experience. I recommend reading books like this because it is a chance to get inside the head of a visionary. A person could easily read one book like this each week; how else could you immerse yourself in 52 change agents per year?? When a consultant of Leinberger's stature shares 5 hours of his insights for less than $20 it is a pretty good value.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Urbanism, meet Realism April 18, 2008
Written from a perspective that most urban critiques fail to provide, this book grounds the reader in the real estate, demographic and policy realities that have shaped the American built environment into what we see today. Leinberger knows this stuff cold, both as a developer and through his more recent positions in Brookings and academia. He writes in an approachable style and provides the most thorough discussion to date of the entrenched system of subsidies and practices fueling types of residential and commercial construction that is increasingly at odds with the "true" market. Late in the book, I think he makes a rare--but very appropriate--connection between the implication of the continuation of these policies and our future energy needs. For those of us who like a good, constructive reality check now and again in the midst of all the usual suburban finger-wagging, it's a must-read book this year.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fair treatment of urbanism and suburbanism December 22, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've drank the urbanist Kool-Aid, for sure. However, I was very pleased that this book presents both sides of the argument between walkable urbanism and driveable suburbanism. The author, who is a real estate developer and expert, goes through the benefits and drawbacks of each with some fairness, though he seems to prefer the urbanism argument.

I particularly liked his framing of the situation in terms of demographics, social policy, and long term effects, and how he posits that perhaps we've gone too far down the suburban path and need to swing back toward walkable urbanism. His arguments describe how Wall Street, large developers, and government policy lead us toward suburban development, and why urban areas are so expensive (longer term building timelines, more expensive land, and most of all, lack of supply.)

I highly recommend this for anyone unfamiliar with walkable urbanism, or who might be interested in why our built environment is the way it is. It's a pretty short book but well written and researched, and certainly more even-handed than Kunstler or Kotkin.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A New turn for the Old June 26, 2009
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Christopher B. Leinberger's book put a name to a desire I have had in my search to find a new home. I wanted a place where my family had the option of walking to most of the day to day places we tend to visit - school, post office, drug store, grocery store, barber, dry cleaning, coffee shop, bookstore, etc. It turns out the name for this is "walkable urbanism" - it's a return to an older time (pre-car) neighborhood, in terms of property value it has a premium compared to drivable suburbanism and there is a small movement making it more popular.

This book from a real estate professional offers a logical and positive view of "walkable urbanism" without bashing drivable suburbanism that has dominated the landscape for the past fifty years. It provides a historical context to how we got to where we are and why the next phase will be a return to "walkable urbanism". The benefits to mitigating climate change and eliminating dependence on foreign oil are obvious. However the additional benefits of personal health and feeling a part of a community are also just as appealing.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars not all urbanism is the same June 23, 2010
In this book, Leinberger posits that just as suburban sprawl (or as he calls it, "drivable suburbanism") became fashionable in the mid-20th century, walkable urbanism is experiencing a rebirth today. (The 2010 Census will test the proposition: if the market really is trending towards urbanism, cities that once lost population will start to gain people).

The most interesting part of Leinberger's book is his typology of walkable urbanism. Contrary to popular myth, not all walkable neighborhoods are downtown and/or dominated by high-rise condos. Leinberger points out that other types of walkable neighborhoods include "downtown-adjacent" intown neighborhoods, suburban mini-downtowns, "Greenfield" new urbanist developments in outer suburbs, and redeveloped strip malls.

Unlike some commentators, Leinberger does not suggest that sprawl has no future. Instead, he divides metropolitan land use into three categories: walkable urbanism (which he thinks will grow), low-density sprawl (which is also likely to grow to satisfy demand for cheap land), and an "unhappy medium" category of suburbs that he thinks are likely to decline- suburbs not built for walkability, but which are too old or congested to be appealing to suburbanites.

The one weakness in this book is its treatment of affordable housing. Leinberger writes that not everyone can afford walkable urbanism, at least not yet. As a remedy, he touts schemes such as inclusionary zoning, designed to set aside a small portion of regional housing as "affordable." But even if 5% of the people get to live in set-aside housing, such set-asides are a weak remedy indeed if 50% or more of the people can't afford most neighborhoods. For example, Leinberger considers Montgomery County, Maryland's inclusionary zoning as a success.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Published 5 months ago by DAVID GHESQUIERE
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!
This book truly gives a full view of urban geography of yesterday, today and where the US is heading! Kudos!
Published 5 months ago by Yvonne A
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book !!!!
Great Resource for school, it was very helpful. I will look at others like this. Good, Good, Good, Good Resource.
Published 18 months ago by C. Hunt Jr
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't know about the topic...but it was interesting either way.
I just read a Dan Brown book (Inferno) that dealt with the over-population of cities of the world in an entertaining way. This interesting...but in a different fashion. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Kendra Patocki
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Enough
If I passed the class, it was a good book. I hate studying so that's how I rate. Being able to find all my books on Amazon is the best deal ever.
Published 22 months ago by darkdiva34
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and Challenging Review of the Modern American Landscape
Mr. Leinberger offers a thoughtful, challenging--sometimes disturbing--review of the forces have come together to create America's contemporary built environment. Read more
Published on September 9, 2009 by Anthony Albence
5.0 out of 5 stars Visionary!
This book could very well be the `Death and Life of Great American Cities' of the 21st century!

The author, a specialist in real estate development and not in urban... Read more
Published on June 30, 2009 by Pierre Gauthier
4.0 out of 5 stars Return to the cities
In _The Option of Urbanism_, Christopher Leinberger documents the history of both urban ("walkable urbanism") and suburban ("drivable sub-urbanism") settings. Read more
Published on July 23, 2008 by Charles P. Hobbs
4.0 out of 5 stars The Option of Urbanism
Great book. I lived the phases of walkable neighborhoods to driving-suburban. Now we have return to sustainable, walking neighborhoods especially with the gas cost. Read more
Published on June 9, 2008 by Book Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, clear and easy to read
I met Chris Leinberger 13 years ago when we began in earnest to address how we were growing in Atlanta. Read more
Published on June 4, 2008 by James F. Durrett
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