on 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.
on 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.
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.
on June 26, 2009
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.
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. But in that county, the median detached house cost almost $700,000 in 2008- which means if you don't win the inclusionary zoning lottery and don't earn $200K per year, you are out of luck.
on October 1, 2013
I just read a Dan Brown book (Inferno) that dealt with the over-population of cities of the world in an entertaining way. This book...is interesting...but in a different fashion. By fashion, I mean...an angle that I've never thought of, and am really not convinced is accurate...but whatever. I'm from Detroit, don't tell me cars are ruining the world! To elaborate, the author begins in chapter one talking about GM's, "Futurama" at the World's Fair in 1939. He describes it as the birth of "drivable suburbanism", meaning...people who work in the city can now live 45 minutes or more away from work because they can drive. Thus, the "American Dream" was born, and we all bought our acre of land with a ticky-tacky house on it, and had 2.5 kids. I get it...and actually that makes sense to me. Post-War, that's all anyone wanted.
By chapter four, he's blaming Social Segregation, Environmental Problems, and Obesity...on this very drive. We use polluting cars for everything, our kids don't ride their bikes to school, poor people can't afford to drive...etc. Can I stretch my mind REALLY far...and kind of follow that logic? Maybe. But I don't feel I should have to strain my brain like this to make such a connection. He goes on to talk about parking and zoning policies, and how the Government has puppet strings on Real Estate...and TV and Media sway us toward or away from everything we do. Do I get that? Yes. I can follow some of these arguments, but it hurts my head.
I'm a girl who loves the city...and I believe in Urban Farming initiatives, car-sharing, and TRUST me...the convenience of city living if nothing else. According to the evidence cited in this book, we are slowly moving away from sub-urbanism, and back into, "walkable urbanism" or, city living. That would be just fine with me, but I don't think it's for everybody. There will definitely be a few generation cycles passing before we get there.
My biggest critique would be: leave the political stuff out. Talk about the positives of Walkable Urbanism, and people will catch on. We're not dummies...everyone I know HATES driving to work, and according to the book, we're already moving in that direction. With as many childless families as there are with children, and the baby boomers retiring...people will migrate back to the convenience of the city on their own. Don't hate on the American Dream just yet, we're always evolving.
on June 9, 2008
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.
As I grew up, I felt supply and demand dictated growth. This book explained government and economic factors that influence development.
on July 23, 2008
In _The Option of Urbanism_, Christopher Leinberger documents the history of both urban ("walkable urbanism") and suburban ("drivable sub-urbanism") settings. Before WW II, most people lived in cities and towns where most of their needs (shopping, etc.) could be met via a short walk, or perhaps, with public transportation.
After the war, the big swing was to the suburbs, due to several factors. Government and financial-institution policies tended to favor the suburbs, freeways, single-family housing and shopping malls....and discouraged any meaningful pro-urban development--at least until very recently. Nowadays there is a considerable demand for more dense housing, with destinations within walking distance.
Although Leinberger is very much in favor of urbanism, he does talk about some problems with it (affordability/gentrification is a big issue with some of the newer urban developments). Neither does he call for the suburbs to cease to exist, although he warns that some suburban developments may be hurt by the shift to the cities, rising gas prices, etc. (This book was written right before the current mortgage and gas price crises, and we're starting to see their effects on certain suburban areas as I write this)
on June 30, 2009
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 planning, explains how government policies and standardized real estate products have supported the growth of drivable suburbia over the past decades.
He demonstrates with refreshing arguments that `walkable urbanism' is actually favoured by a large portion of the population and challenges the market and governments to respond accordingly.
This concise, well-written eye-opener is light-years away from the rehashed New Urbanism discourses and should absolutely be read by all concerned with the future of our cities!
on September 9, 2009
Mr. Leinberger offers a thoughtful, challenging--sometimes disturbing--review of the forces have come together to create America's contemporary built environment. You will never look at the landscape around you again in quite the same way. Very informative and thought-provoking!!