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My home town is developing an Arkansas River Master Plan in an effort to merge the river and city into some type of livable arrangement that will be both sensitive to the environment and the needs of residents along the river as well as through out the community. Thus, I was most interested in the theme of this book; that being urban planning.
The book is a series of seventeen essays by a panel of respected contributors that discusses innovative proposals and doable strategies for dealing with such intense urban issues as sustainable growth, traffic management, safe neighborhoods and riverfront redevelopment in a non-technical manner that tends to fill in the gaps between those that study such matters and those that actually live them. For example, in "City Places, Sacred Places," Terrell Dixon urges the reader to consider the notion that an urban nature walk is not an oxymoron and indeed is vital to American cities. The essay titled "The Region, the True City," by Myron Orfield argues the city and suburbs are intertwined and the old fashioned idea of working together is, after all, the best policy. Two essays, "Reinventing A Vibrant Riverfront," by Judith A.Martin and "The Empty Harbor and the Dilemma of Waterfront Development," by Phillip Lopate deal with water development issues in Minneapolis and New York respectively and will be of particular interest to all those remotely interested in planning for any type of River development.
In addition to the thought provoking essays there is a helpful reading list, a listing of Public Interest Organizations complete with websites and a comprehensive index.
This is a must have book for anyone interested in the concept of a truly livable city regardless of their level of expertise or involvement. The contributors manage to seriously discuss the possibilities of a livable city without succumbing to the usual tendency of discussing eye-glazing issues like tax policy, arcane zoning matters and other issues traditionally favored by city builders, planners and other professionals. The book will appeal both to the professional and layman alike and will help bring the readr up to speed on the latest proposals, ideas and suggestions to make our cities and yes, even our rivers, a better place to live.
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on October 19, 2007
I bought this book because I have been commuting a sizeable distance every day from a major city (San Francisco) to a more suburban city in the east bay area. Over that time, I have been developing a vested interest in urban planning, mass transportation, and a number of quality-of-life issues.

"Toward the Livable City" is an anthology of a number of short essays coming from a variety of perspectives on urban living. There's even a series of comic strips- Roadkill Bill, which is not only entertaining, but rings with a lot of truth in addressing the issues and problems with commuting by that dominant form of transportation, the automobile.

But I give this book only three stars because several of the stories, while heartfelt, seemed very out of place in a compilation that deals with very concrete, objective subject matter. In particular, Lynda Morgenroth's "Divorcing the City" is a depiction of her struggles and move from the urban Cambridge, MA area to a quieter, outlying suburb that takes an awful lot of words to point out the obvious: that many of us are torn between the stimulus of living in the city and the peace, quiet, and comfort of the suburbs. The main feeling I got out of her story is that she may be one of those borderline hypochondriac, high maintenance, hypersensitive individuals with so much time on their hands that they have nothing better to do than to obsess over their surroundings.

Other stories fare better, though they are only small slices of the totality of urban living: Kristin Brennan's "Food for the City, From the City" and Terrell Dixon's "City Places, Sacred Places", which deal with urban vegetable gardens and the community, and observing nature in an urban setting, respectively.

The real meat of this book-- and by far the more interesting parts of the book-- comes from the more dispassionate essays that deal directly with development and planning issues. In particular, Philip Lopate's "The Empty Harbor" and Judith Martin's "Reinventing a Vibrant Waterfront" can describe any number of the waterfronts of major cities across the country. It was enlightening to find out the historical and logistic reasons why the waterfront areas are often the last to be developed and utilized to their full potential.

James Kunstler's "Cities of the Future in the Long Emergency" is also an eye-opening work and is remarkably prescient about the inherent problems with suburban sprawl and commuting by car. In fact, a number of these stories reflect and predate the current issues we as a country are facing in terms of global warming, energy consumption, and dependence on foreign oil.

It is heartening to realize that it is possible to reconcile urban living with smart growth, minimal per-capita environmental impact, and even emotional and physical health. In fact, these two things often go hand in hand. Word of caution: overall, this book has a definite uber-liberal slant on urban planning and lifestyle issues-- I have to CRINGE every time I hear a liberal, white, urban professional refer to a favorite restaurant, cafe, or bookstore as "funky". But a number of the essays are worth reading for their intelligent insights into the issues that affect our way of life in major cities.
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on September 21, 2008
Toward the Livable City contains short stories and narratives by journalists, planners, and writers describing their experiences in their favorite cities - explaining both simple and subtle details that make each place great. Not the best book on planning, but does describe some qualitative aspects outlined by different writings (such as Portland, Cambridge Mass., etc).
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on January 26, 2009
I received my item in decent condition, but it could have easily been damaged in transit due the shipper's lack of adequate packaging/protection. The book (soft-cover) was only wrapped in a single piece of paper!?! One of the corners of the package was torn open, which was luckily minimal extent of what the damage could have been. In the future I would suggest to this shipper to pachage their items in a bubble-wrap folder or something similar.
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