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The Well-Tempered City: What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations, and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  278 ratings  ·  38 reviews
2017 PROSE Award Winner: Outstanding Scholarly Work by a Trade Publisher

In the vein of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Edward Glaeser’s Triumph of the City, Jonathan F. P. Rose—a visionary in urban development and renewal—champions the role of cities in addressing the environmental, economic, and social challenges of the twenty-first century.

ebook, 480 pages
Published September 13th 2016 by Harper Wave
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Sep 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I love the subtitle of this book, “What Modern Science, Ancient Civilizations and Human Nature Teach Us About the Future of Urban Life.” As an environmental engineer, I am fascinated on the topic of infrastructure. A little over ten years ago, I took a fascinating urban planning class at Marquette University in Milwaukee. It really got me thinking about the way we build and maintain cities. I also realized I am a “new urbanist” and prefer to live in an old house in the city and fix it up rather ...more
Oct 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received a copy of this book for free through a Goodreads First Reads giveaway.

The Well-Tempered City was a far more fascinating read than I had assumed when reading the title and description. The introduction put me off a bit, as it seemed like it was going to be way too deep for my understanding of both cities and music (yes, music). I got through it and immediately in chapter one I realized what I was actually going to be reading. There is actually a lot of history found in this book, and
I had the privilege of meeting Jonathan Rose and having lunch with him last October at the Cornell real estate conference in New York City. I was very impressed by his intelligence and his vision for the possibilities of modern cities. It was truly inspiring to listen to his ideas and the concrete steps he has taken toward addressing many of the challenges that our cities face.

This book goes a step further, and attempts to not only identify and answer the difficult questions facing our cities,
David Moss
Feb 16, 2017 rated it liked it
A complex tapestry of ideas woven together to create a veneer of understanding of the world, the book lacks real depth. New concepts are introduced every few pages, as if the profundity of it all would be self-evident. Not a bad book by any means, but not for stimulating deep contemplative pondering. Definitely an inch deep and a mile wide.
Brad B
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Well-Tempered City takes an integrative approach to urban planning and development that considers education, infrastructure, economics, and the environment. Using the music of J.S. Bach as a starting point gives more depth than the typical urban planning text. There are a few areas where I feel the analysis falls a little short. For example, the author advocates "smart cities" that make use of data from sources that include residents' smart phones, without addressing issues of privacy or ...more
Nancy Hirstein Smith
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book kept me busy and distracted while I was recuperating from a hip injury. I read it right after I was elected to city council. It really helped ground me to understand the issues modern cities face but also what levers of power city leaders have.

It took forever for me to read this book because I took time to research unfamiliar ideas and groups mentioned. I learned about circular economies, the Edmonton Canada well-being index indicators and net-zero energy buildings. I followed at
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An insightful and highly readable exploration into the music of urbanness. Through anecdotes and analysis across a spectrum of topics (history, psychology/cognition, economics, architecture, ecology etc.), Rose creates a cohesive vision of the theories and problems of urban life, while offering strategies/insights on how to repair them for the future. Fact-driven with heart.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought that the topic was very interesting but I felt that the connection the well-tempered clavier was not carried well throughout the book. I also don't think it was the right metaphor to use and in many cases just lost connection to it. The book was also too long for the topic. Many of the chapters could have been summarized in half the length.
Lisa Wright
Jun 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ok, I know a book about urban planning sounds like a snooze, but, believe me, it is compelling. Rose covers the history of cities from ancient to modern: where they went right, where they went wrong and where we can go from here. This book should start some interesting conversations.
Glitter Glidden
Feb 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Everyone needs to read this!

Get over the typos & occasional ungrammatical sentence.

Listeners of NPR would like this one!
Jake Davis
Oct 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Highly recommend this book. Great read whether you don't know the first thing about cities or whether you know a lot. It doesn't get _too_ deep but still offers insightful analysis of what makes cities successful (or not).

In particular, Rose presents five tenets that are critical to successful cities: coherence, circularity, resilience, community, and compassion. He breaks each of these down into practical policies and offers a number of case studies examining them. I found the sections on
Jul 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Do we know and understand the difference between complicated and complex? Are we as prepared to think about systems as we think or need to be? In his book The Well-Tempered City, Jonathan Rose takes the reader on a quasi-epic journey through the city-building ages. At its heart, Rose builds the case that for urbanization to continue successfully in a time of challenging megatrends such as climate change, people must think of cities more holistically - restoring wholeness through the lens of ...more
Marc Laderman
I met Johnathan Rose many years ago when he came to walk my neighborhood and we imagined an auto-centric traffic artery becoming a transit-oriented neighborhood.

I enjoyed the book. It is an excellent guide to get a handle on our next phase of city building.
One aspect I enjoyed was the metabolic accounting Mr. Rose proposes on the city level. While hardly the first to explore the concept I was, I’m sure, the first to propose what I termed ‘Metabolic Ledgers’ as a deliverable for environmental
Charles Wolfe
Sep 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The following is my review of September 27, 2016 from The Huffington Post:

Spoiler alert: I love epic stories with universal meaning for varied audiences around the world. In sum, that is why I think Jonathan F.P. Rose‘s new book will become a must-read classic. And, if 400-pagers are not your style, it’s at worst a well-written, must-browse wonder, with relevant lessons for us all.

Rose is a real estate developer, philanthropist and fine arts patron with prominent New York roots, and holds a
Joni Baboci
This is a really, really good book. Jonathan Rose has condensed decades of experience, data, stories and histories into a system of planning verbalizing a half-moral/spiritual, half functional/market-based approach. It is a great read with fantastic references and well-read author weaving the reader through the tapestry of the history of cities and city planning. It truly seems like a merge of Jane Jacobs and Ed Glaeser merging the efficacy of place-making with the efficiency of density.
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
At once a work of urbanism, political theory and poetry. Uses Bach's composition as metaphor for harmonizing all the facets that comprise a city. I am not an expert on classical music but had no difficulty following the argument. Its scope is sweeping and its stance humane. My one complaint, and it's but a slight one, is that in making his points he can overlook complexities. (For example he justly praises New Orleans's choice not to re-create their pre-Katrina design, but doesn't note that the ...more
Alice Lemon
*sigh* I really wanted to like this book. I really wanted it to be as interesting as it sounded like it would be. Unfortunately, it wasn't, and I couldn't.

The history-of-the-city section at the beginning was almost very interesting. I say almost because it was a bit too superficial, and had some embarrassingly bad factual errors in it that made me deeply distrustful of everything else in the book that I didn't already know. The rest of the book was just very lightweight and fluffy, and largely
Cale Brodersen
Jan 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book covered many different topics relating to humanity and the nature of cities, and through most of the book I was deeply interested. Because there were so many different ideas discussed, the depth of some topics and overall cohesion was sacrificed, but I think this is a very worthwhile read overall.
asih simanis
Apr 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a good book that tried to give us a broader perspective on cities. I found many interesting new information on it, but also found that as with many books at this size, it can at times be rather boring. Some chapters in the book are really interesting though and it is still worth reading just for an introduction to the topic of cities.
This is an interesting introductory text to what townplanners and city management should be aiming for in dealing with city planning and management. However, I found the book too superficial and would have liked more detailed information, especially in terms of engineering specifics where some examples were used. The author also has a rather simplistic view of politics and human nature.
Christopher L.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book is so much more than a manuscript about is a manifesto for aligning humanity not only with itself but with its surroundings. If you like books that weave a myriad of disciplines and perspectives into a well-researched and beautifully written argument, then read "The Well-Tempered City."
Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you can get past the repetitive phrases, this book contains a wealth of insight into the functionality of cities and how we might improve upon them as population density, transportation and other resources become strained/ more of a focal point.
Bryan Alkire
Mar 30, 2019 rated it liked it
Bit utopian but shows a way forward for urban areas
Nov 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really liking this book this far
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
A surprisingly complete worldview with evidence to support a better blueprint for cities and societies to thrive.
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
My only complaint is that Rose didn't address gentrification at all. Other than that, this was really informative.
Lucinda Hirth
Jul 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great introduction to the development, present state and future of urban environments.
Some rambles in there, but otherwise definitely worth it!
Julian Bu
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was ok
Overly ambitious.
An okay book but pulled thin. The Bach metaphor is quite lame. Cherry picked examples from history and various city projects that in the end aren't cohesive. Too much in too short a space and no true synthesis. I'll probably read it again just to make sure I'm not being overly harsh, but...let's just say he ain't no Jane Jacobs.
Theresa Pablos
Jan 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Steven Hawking's A Brief History of Time but for city planning instead of physics.
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