Summer Reading: SPUR’s Favorite Books on Urbanism
By Allison Arieff, SPUR Content Strategist
June 18, 2013

Photo by Molly Sullivan

We’re often asked for recommended reading on urban planning and policy. It’s the sort of request we love, but it’s hard to commit to a manageable number of titles. A recent brainstorm of essential reading produced a lengthy list that covered everything from William Fulton’s Guide to California Planning (“The best academic textbook on the topic,” says SPUR Deputy Director Sarah Karlinsky) to The Submission, Amy Waldman’s engrossing novel about a controversial 9/11 memorial design.

A good place to start your urban immersion just might be Jeff Speck’s Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time, our first selection for SPUR Reads, a book discussion series launching in San Jose this summer. SPUR Transportation Policy Director Ratna Amin will lead the lunchtime discussion on July 25. Often provocative (“Specialists give bad advice,” “American parking is socialist”), Walkable City is refreshingly acronym- and jargon-free, and most of Speck’s suggestions feel wholly attainable (e.g., “plant trees” and “welcome bikes”).

Below you’ll find an ever-evolving list-in-progress of the SPUR policy staff’s favorite books about cities. We’d love to hear yours, too. What book should SPUR Reads take up next? And what's missing from our list? Email us at

The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Jane Jacobs
The urbanist classic makes a brilliant case that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

The Planning Game: Lessons from Great Cities
Alexander Garvin
Just published this month, a concise illustrated overview of how planning works vis-a-vis four cites and the planners who planned them: Paris (Haussmann), New York (Moses), Chicago (Burnham), and Philadelphia (Bacon).

Cities Are for People
Jan Gehl
The Danish architect/urban design consultant’s engaging ideas on how to design cities for the pedestrian, not the automobile.

The Contested City
John H. Mollenkopf
Key ideas on the evolution of cities and politics in the United States.

Collage City
Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter
The authors reject grand utopic visions in favor of a “collage city” that instead encompasses a broad range of tiny utopias.

Global City Blues
Daniel Solomon
Local treasure Solomon on how architecture and cities can counterbalance the forces of sprawl, urban disintegration and placelessness that have transformed our contemporary landscape.

The Rise of Urbanization and Decline in Citizenship
Murray Bookchin
A well-argued attempt at producing a unified view of city and country, rather than viewing them as two diametric opposites.

The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects
Lewis Mumford
An exhaustive exploration of how the urban form has changed throughout human civilization.

Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century 
Peter Hall
Traces the development of the modern planning movement over the entire span of the 20th century.

The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements
Manuel Castells
Castells argues that the Information Age can “unleash the power of the mind,” leading to seemingly incompatible increases in both productivity and leisure.

City Limits
Paul E. Peterson
“City politics,” says Peterson, “Is limited politics.”

What did we miss? Email us at

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