Sunday, August 5, 2007

Summer Reading: Part II

My recent reading list unintentionally has focused on urban issues. While I'm in a superb urban planning program, I try to keep the summer readings focused on items that I do not have time to read about during the other three-fourths of the year.

It wasn't until I visited Detroit in late July that I realized that most of the titles that I was reading focused to some extent on the riots the rocked Detroit forty years ago this past July. The picture in this post is borrowed from the cover of Thomas Sugrue's The Orgins of the Urban Crisis (1997), which is an excellent analysis of the urban problems facing the Detroit metropolitan region in the years after WWII. Sugrue demolishes the commonly held perception that the riots were a cause of Detroit's urban decline; rather, it's decline led to the riots that occurred in the summer of 1967. Sugrue details the massive manufacturing job losses, ethnic flight to the suburbs in Wayne and Macomb County in the 1950s and early 1960s, and the crippling effect the interstate highway system had upon existing urban neighborhoods. I would highly recommend reading Sugrue's work if you have an interest in urban history. I would also suggest reading Kevin Boyle's excellent essay reflecting on the impact of the riots on southeastern Michigan.

Two books by Robert Beauregard, an urban historian at Columbia University, focused on the America's transformation into a suburban nation from 1950 to 2000. Voices of Decline (2003) dealt with varying interpretations of fates that touched most urban centers in the US, while When America Became Suburban (2006) narrates the increasing identification of America as a suburban nation in the late 1950s and 1960s, and the implications of this transformation. Both works are lighter on the analytical side, but do an excellent job at examining the thinking of various city planners, intellectuals, and national leaders during this fifty year period.

Evelyn Gonzales's The Bronx (2004) was a title that I have long been waiting to read. I know little about the Bronx besides the fact that the Yankees play there and that it has a zoo. Gonzales's work, a revision of her dissertation, focuses on the urban growth within Bronx County from 1840 to the present, and does a decent job detailing the physical changes that occurred within various sections of the city. This work really should be titled The South Bronx, as the book focuses on this part of the borough, and even with this title the book has several weaknesses. First, the description of the neighborhoods is surface deep, and the maps the accompany various chapters of woefully inadequate to the task of explaining a part of NYC that numbers 1.5 million people. Still, this is a good book to read if you want to learn more about NYC, and are waiting for a history of Brooklyn to be published.

Two other lighter reads that I finished this past week were Mark Hinshaw's True Urbanism (2007) and Harm de Blij's Why Geography Matters (2005). The latter book is a slimmed down version of the textbook that I used for my World Regions Geography class that I took at Calvin College almost ten years ago with Professor Curry. This class remains one of my favorite classes that I took while in college, as it opened my mind up to entirely new way of thinking about the regions of the world. True Urbanism was a much less exciting book, examining the return of residents to downtown regions of various US cities. Much of it was stories and simple little pithy lessons. Don't bother with this one.j

The final title that was on my nightstand over the past few weeks was Jon Peterson's The Birth of City Planning in the United States (2003). This was a good overview for the earliest days of the city planning profession, but clearly felt like a dry revised dissertation. I did enjoy reading about some of the feuding between the early leaders in the field, as planners duked it out over a variety of issues, including the City Beautiful movement, zoning, and the role of the national government in planning.

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