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How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken (Constructs)

3.83  ·  Rating Details  ·  119 Ratings  ·  13 Reviews
Do cities work anymore? How did they get to be such sprawling conglomerations of lookalike subdivisions, megafreeways, and "big box" superstores surrounded by acres of parking lots? And why, most of all, don't they feel like real communities? These are the questions that Alex Marshall tackles in this hard-hitting, highly readable look at what makes cities work.

Marshall arg
Paperback, 270 pages
Published January 15th 2001 by University of Texas Press (first published January 2001)
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Jan 25, 2009 Ben rated it really liked it
Shelves: architecture, design
A really interesting criticism of New Urbanism, with some suggestions about other ways to tackle the problems of sprawl, fragmentation, and loss of place. The basic claim is that New Urbanism is an aesthetic solution to what is at its root a structural problem.

Marshall is very honest about the fact that structural decisions involve trade-offs. Ultimately he concludes that to regain a sense of community and place in American (and, to a lesser extent, European) society, we will need to give up th
Apr 18, 2011 Wade rated it it was amazing
An amazing book which cataloged in great and expert detail why we like the places we do and why we don't like so many others. Alex breaks it down by transportation type and shows that the car had changed our cities forever. Forget zoning, cars separate people, and our cities now are harbors on oceans and rivers of highways. What makes this book rise above any other planning book is that he sees the true structure of cities and calls them out. He then informs us that city making is about choices. ...more
Sep 14, 2008 Carrie rated it it was ok
The author's basic ideas are - with some exceptions - more or less sound, interesting, and helpful.

However, this guy gets the award for the most poorly constructed sentences ever to roll off an academic press. Where was Mr. Marshall's copy editor when he most needed him? They both should be embarrassed. Some examples below (all bold text mine):

"It's a Zen thing. A tongue cannot taste itself; a metro area cannot limit itself."

As they say in the parlance of our times: OMG.

"Cars produce parking lot
Khalil James
Apr 02, 2013 Khalil James rated it really liked it
It seems as though Urban studies has become more approachable to journalists ever since Jane Jacobs decided to be.......Jane Jacobs. Many of the issues dicussed in How Cities Work (somewhat of a misnomer) have been pounded out in a number of similar books but Marshall gave me a much needed thoroughness and directness that his 'peers' might have failed to deliver. He craftfully crosses the thin boundary between pragmatic and idealistic, but I like that Marshall's thesis tackles not only the roots ...more
Mar 10, 2012 Sophia rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, cities, 2012
How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken helped me think more deeply about sprawl and its root causes. Originally intended as a critique of New Urbanism, journalist Alex Marshall developed this theme into a book which articulately demonstrates that ultimately the decision is political, but with time how this authority has been wielded became less direct. Economy, transportation, and politics ultimately decide what and where things get built. Marshall gives four atypical examples ...more
Alyce E
Jan 05, 2014 Alyce E rated it liked it
For like a second, I was pretty sure Urban Planning was perfect for me. I got some books from the library, but as they are dense rather than super easy, kept ignoring them (I've still got one! I WILL read it!). This book was accessible to me as a smart, news-reading, and analytic layperson, and I enjoyed reading about different examples of towns, such as Celebration, Florida (a town basically run by Disney) and about the growth boundary around Portland. However, it was QUITE repetitive - YES, I ...more
Matt Maldre
Sep 10, 2012 Matt Maldre rated it really liked it
Shelves: culture
Chapter six alone is worth getting this book. "The Master Hand: The Role of Government in Building Cities." After reading this chapter, you will come to appreciate government much more in how it "lays down the concrete slap that economies and places are built upon." Government is essential to any economy. The author gives many strong supporting cases.

This chapter has made me into someone who is happy to pay taxes.

I have lots of marginalia on this chapter. If you'd like a copy of my notes, plea
Apr 24, 2009 Lindsay rated it really liked it
I like this. The author is a good writer. Harsh critic of New Urbanism, but in the last couple years, New Urbanists have actually adapted to some of Marshall's ideas for planning, so it feels a bit outdated. But still good for thinking about urban issues.
Dec 04, 2009 Nick rated it really liked it
Should be required reading for anyone involved in or thinking of getting into planning or urban design. But one point deducted for poor editing.
Dec 13, 2008 kathryn rated it it was ok
so far we're discussing new urbanism. i had to check the publication interesting to see "smart growth" in "quotes"
Jul 23, 2007 Bynum rated it really liked it
I think this book might the reason that I took so many transportation classes in grad school.
Jul 11, 2008 Patrick rated it really liked it
This is the first urban planning book I read, and it really shaped my thinking.
Erin Mcdonald
Jan 14, 2008 Erin Mcdonald rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Motorists
Interesting perspective on the built environment.
Amy marked it as to-read
Apr 21, 2016
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Interesting but a bit overcooked 1 5 Apr 26, 2007 04:22PM  
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I was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and raised in the suburban wilderness of Virginia Beach. I went away to the Catholic, Polish lands of Pittsburg for college, and then ended up exiling myself in Spain for two years. I returned, and after a sojourn teaching school and visiting Central America during the war then, I became a journalist. I worked at The Virginian-Pilot for almost 10 years, after gradu ...more
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