April 15 2014

Today’s Urban Encyclopedia: “The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t”

As cities grow and redevelop, community leaders are constantly imagining new ideas to improve their businesses and neighborhoods. But who is keeping track of all these new sustainability programs, zoning policies, and preservation programs? Evaluating past and existing practices can help avoid repeated mistakes and spur innovative partnerships. However, the volume and diversity of urban activity is enough to intimidate even the greatest of urban enthusiasts. Where to begin?

Fortunately, Alexander Garvin’s The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t acts as an encyclopedia for urban projects and programs that have been implemented across America. In 2013, Garvin revealed the third edition of his book, which expands the already comprehensive publication to include over 350 initiatives in 150 cities.

Cover of 'The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t'

The first two editions of the book, published in 1996 and 2002 respectively, review the many attempts to fix broken cities across America. Garvin gives the reader a toolbox of strategies to choose for their own city by 1) explaining the context of the initiatives, 2) providing case studies, and 3) identifying what worked and what did not. Garvin follows the same structure in the third edition and incorporates emerging urban trends, such as business improvement districts and public space planning.

Alexander Garvin

What makes this book especially unique and useful is the author’s engaging and authoritative tone. Alexander Garvin has a long track record of prominent urban planning and real estate positions, including former City Planning Commissioner of New York City, current president of the Forum for Urban Design, and current president of AGA Public Realm Strategists, Inc. Garvin’s belief in private, public, and community partnership led him to identify six key ingredients of project success:

  1. Market,
  2. Location,
  3. Design,
  4. Financing,
  5. Time, and
  6. Entrepreneurship.

Each of these ingredients, along with case studies, is applied to the book’s seventeen urban topics. The hundreds of photographs, maps, and diagrams throughout the book draw in its readers. Each illustration helps the reader visualize the outcome and better understand the project’s implications.

How has learning from the past led to successful development in your community?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Lynn Coppedge

Lynn Coppedge is a graduate student studying Urban and Environmental Planning at Arizona State University. Her interests lie in sustainable urban design and community-oriented planning. Currently working for a community planning consultant in the heart of Phoenix, Lynn endeavors to facilitate strong, vibrant communities in the Phoenix Metro area. After graduation, Lynn aspires to work with cities to advance sustainability through innovative public spaces and community empowerment.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 15th, 2014 at 9:39 am and is filed under Book Review, Infrastructure, Land Use, Lynn Coppedge, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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