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Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (Anchor Books) Paperback – September 1, 1992
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From Publishers Weekly
A thought-provoking account of the new urban centers that are developing on the edges of major metropolitan areas in the U.S.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"Readable... a fascinating transcontinental tour... Mr. Garreau has the ability to categorize and clarify trends before they are apparent to the rest of us. His instincts are sharp, and his arguments are often persuasive...Edge City... is a provocative introduction to demographic and business patterns that are likely to becom more important as the twenty-first century edges nearer." -- New York Times Book Review.
"Superb reporting." -- The Wall Street Journal.
"Fascinating... no one has explained the geographical, economic and sociological forces that have produced these 'new downtowns' as well as Garreau." -- Washington Post.
"Edge cities are America's next urban frontier, and Garreau's book is the best new guide to the territory." -- Plain Dealer.
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It is an easy read. The author has a bias against these type of cities it appears, but the book is written in a pretty non-biased manner.
Just moving to the Atlanta Metro (and living inside of an "Edge City") last year it was interesting to read about the past.
One thing remains constant - he's supportive of the developers (who he still calls out as short sighted), and thinks planners and architects are a bunch of whiny, unrealistic sissies. He's probably half true on both, but approaches the issues in a childish, off the cuff way. The developers who create these edge cities (circa 1992, which include places like Schaumburg, IL, Clayton, MO, and Las Colinas, TX), strive(d) to manufacture places where people could work, play, and live, and ultimately succeeded at only one of those - places for people to work. Most of the cities, with a couple notable exceptions, have turned into large office parks with the occasional house nearby.
I didn't enjoy reading this disjointed series of works that would have been better as a series of magazine articles. It doesn't have a coherent point or flow from chapter to chapter; it is quite obvious that he wrote one chapter at a time without utilizing an overall framework for his ideas. The concept of the Edge City is an intriguing, albeit very sad one - that a developer can do better in a matter of years what has taken proper cities decades.
Through a succession of chapters, each nominally dedicated to a single metropolitan area, Mr. Garreau examines the edge city in its relation to some key issues in American society (transportation, race, quasi-governmental institutions, etc.) and then proceeds to investigate the edge city's compatibility with the traditional concepts of civilization, community, soul, and finally "hallowed ground."
An engaging and informative discussion of the forces shaping the new communities under construction throughout America. I recommend Edge City strongly to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of why we build the way we do.
My recent re-reading of Edge City was prompted by my first reading of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. First published in 1961, Ms. Jacobs' work is now a classic that I wish I had read years earlier.
In a chapter entitled "Erosion of cities or attrition of automobiles," Ms. Jacobs expresses extreme pessimism regarding the place of the automobile in a livable urban environment. She counsels deliberate "attrition" of automobiles as the only protection against "erosion" of the city by continual further accommodations to them. Her well reasoned analysis of the conflict between car and city left me convinced of the wisdom of her recommendations.
But I remembered vaguely that Mr. Garreau had by contrast seemed entirely optimistic about the quality of life in edge cities built from the ground up to accommodate automotive traffic. So I read Edge City again.
My memory was not mistaken. Mr. Garreau seems optimistic about nearly every aspect of the edge city, cars included, about which he declares: "The system of individual transportation we Americans have devised, of course, is the finest method of moving the most people and freight in the most directions at the most times ever devised by the mind of man. At its center is the automobile and the hard-surfaced, all-weather road (p. 108)."
Ms. Jacobs, on the other hand, emphasizes the inefficiencies of automobiles. They are generally under-occupied when in use. They require vast areas of land for roads and parking lots that go unused for much of the time. Negative feedback is a chief characteristic of systems built to accommodate them: they always use up all of the roads and parking, requiring enlargement of both, spreading the buildings even farther apart, with the result of inducing even more travel by car.
Oddly enough, Mr. Garreau admits all of these drawbacks in his book (Death and Life of Great American Cities is in his bibliography.). Nevertheless, he remains optimistic.
One explanation for this difference in attitude before the same facts rests on a difference between the two authors regarding the definition of the term "density." Both praise what Mr. Garreau calls "urbanity"-the variety and uniqueness of life in our most attractive urban environments. Both also agree that "density" is necessary to urbanity.
The problem is that Ms. Jacobs is a walker while Mr. Garreau is a driver. She wants to experience continuous urbanity (hence also density) over the paths she walks, starting from her own front door. Mr. Garreau is content to experience urbanity at a locus of density to which he drives over asphalt parking lots. Ms. Jacobs wants her urbanity along a city sidewalk, whereas Mr. Garreau will take his in a suburban mall. The automobile is destroyer of the former and enabler of the latter.
For Mr. Garreau, density may be discontinuous, presenting loci of dense human activity separated by lots full of the cars that bring the humans together. For Ms. Jacobs, density is continuous, uninterrupted by the freeways and parking lots that are indeed forbidding to pedestrians.
Another explanation for the difference in attitude is that Ms. Jacobs sees the car as one of many influences destroying the urbanity of the established older "center" city. Inversely, Mr. Garreau sees the automobile as the prerequisite for the construction of a new "edge" city that will in his view gradually develop the same urbanity-with the HELP of the automobile: "But the best bet is probably the one we are engaged in right now: building Edge City. It is a world that does not deny the automobile, but at the same time increases density, putting everything a person desires as close as possible to his house while reducing the number of different places he has to park in order to go about his affairs (p. 129)."
Personally, I am a walker, but I see his point, and I liked the book.
I should mention before closing that there are some interesting appendixes: (1) list of edge cities to be found in each major metropolitan area in the United States; (2) dictionary of important jargon used by developers of edge cities; and (3) list of the "laws" (primarily quantitative) determining the layout of edge city development ("Americans won't walk more than 600 feet," for example). There is also an extensive bibliography, partially annotated.
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