An urban designer presents a compact case and provides practical advice for the revitalization of American cities.
City planners and urban advocates take notice: This excellent debut book may be the solution to your most vexing problems. Crandall, who co-founded an urban design firm 20 years ago and has worked on high-profile projects for cities such as Portland, Oregon, puts forth a smart, comprehensive, no-nonsense method for renewing any city. In a sobering first chapter, the author highlights and summarizes urban deficiencies he says result from three basic problems: “(1) a depletion of the retail offering, (2) the creation of a hostile pedestrian environment, and (3) the preponderance of visual blight and chaos.” He offers a litany of bulleted points for each and discusses such key issues as flawed planning, automobile emissions, and the effects of climate change. But more importantly, Crandall lucidly explains his “Transformation Strategy,” a three-part process intended to change the way city plans are created. Each of these three parts (“Public Support,” “Framework Plan,” and “Implementation Rules”) is discussed in appropriate, highly comprehensible detail in the remainder of the book. In covering Public Support, for example, the volume offers specific ways to obtain public involvement, concentrating on “information workshops,” a technique the author’s firm has used with great success.
The chapter concerning the Framework Plan is the meatiest. In clear and uncomplicated fashion, Crandall talks about all the necessary elements: “healthy retail,” public spaces, urban parks and neighborhoods, employment districts, civic and cultural aspects, transportation, and implementation fundamentals. Particularly captivating in this section are brief illustrations of three “business case scenarios” that demonstrate different ways a strategy can be implemented. Also intriguing is the author’s lively discussion of “Game Changers” (“Public investments that stimulate private development momentum”) and “Silver Bullets” (“Public actions with long-term negative political and/or financial impacts”). Here, Crandall supplies specific examples from Portland and other cities, with “before” and “after” full-color photographs to enhance the text. In fact, the entire Framework Plan chapter includes superb explanatory charts and photos. The chapter regarding Implementation Rules is equally elucidating. The author deftly discusses the need for rules, the development of guidelines and standards, and the design review process, helpfully illustrating the last with a detailed chart. He also shares his “Design Guidelines Checklist,” sure to be useful to city planners. The most absorbing and forward-thinking chapter of the book, “Radical Transformation Strategy,” addresses a city’s more complex needs. Again, Crandall explains in uncomplicated terms how to implement such a tactic and uses the specific example of “what Portland must do to become proactive in regard to climate issues.” This particular case is both enthralling and prescient in terms of its relevance to future development in any city. In closing the volume, the author boldly proposes the possibility of creating a new class of professionals he calls “Urban Architects” to work on modern cities’ pressing challenges. Crandall’s eloquent treatise delivers an accomplished practitioner’s sensible perspective on what cities need to become livable.
Extremely pertinent and engrossing; essential reading for city planners.