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The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream 2nd Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1597261371
ISBN-10: 1597261378
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"In the latest of his long list of notable writings and accomplishments, author Christopher B. Leinberger introduces in The Option of Urbanism a new framework within which to tackle the question of sprawl and imagine the future. In [his book], Leinberger deftly shares his wealth of knowledge through the musings of a writer, the patience of an academic, and the technical ability 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" (01/11/2007)

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"

"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" (02/01/2008)

"A readable synthesis of history, planning, and real estate, the book is not yet another polemic about How We Should Live, but an informed and realistic argument about future growth and what choices we face along the way. Leinberger's book offers the novice a readable introduction to some of the debate surrounding the American city, and the veteran a lively respite from the house of mirrors. With well-selected references that provide a good jumping-off point for further reading, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the book to my students or friends looking for a fresh take on the form and future of our cities." -- Rob Goodspeed "Goodspeed Update" (02/22/2008)

"The clarity of the descriptions and the grounding in economics and market are the best of our collective efforts. I particularly like the chapter on the costs of sprawl - a powerful summary that should be read by all new urbanists." -- Peter Calthorpe (06/03/2009)

"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"

"Developer and professor Christopher B. Leinberger...has written the book to give to colleagues, constituents, and public officials who don't quite get what's going on in American cities and suburbs. The Option of Urbanism: Investing in a New American Dream is free of jargon and, more important, free of ideological resentments." -- Harold Henderson "Planning magazine" (02/01/2008)

About the Author

Christopher B. Leinberger is a developer, professor, consultant, and author whose work has focused on making progressive development profitable. He is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Brookings Institution and is director of the Graduate Real Estate Program at the University of Michigan. He is a founding partner of Arcadia Land Company, a progressive real estate development firm, and has written award-winning articles for publications such as The Atlantic Monthly and The Wall Street Journal.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; 2 edition (July 6, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1597261378
  • ISBN-13: 978-1597261371
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #645,266 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jane Talkington on December 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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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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Format: Paperback
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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