The best books on future cities and urban design

Who am I?

As a city researcher and urban planner I must constantly scan the urban world for trends and plans and projects. It really started when I was writing my PhD thesis on density and green spaces in cities. The thesis title became Compact Sprawl. I like counterpoints. Today I run to companies. Spacescape that is an urban planning consultancy and Placetoplan that is a webapp for citizen participation in planning. My home is covered with books about cities, architecture, transportation, parks, and natural landscapes. I am also a landscape architect, by the way. And I live in downtown Stockholm with two children and no car.


I wrote...

Closer Together: This is the Future of Cities

By Alexander Stahle,

Book cover of Closer Together: This is the Future of Cities

What is my book about?

What will future cities look like? In Closer Together city researcher Alexander Ståhle describes the economic and political driving forces of urban change and why we will drive less and live happier in the future.

The books I picked & why

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Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution

By Janette Sadik-Khan, Seth Solomonow,

Book cover of Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution

Why this book?

Janette Sadik-Khan is one of my absolute heroes. What she has done to transportation and streets in North America and globally is unprecedented. She has not only described why we must change our view of traffic in cities, she also described how and was able to make it real. As New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan managed to transform the streets of one of the world’s greatest, toughest cities into dynamic spaces safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Simply painting a part of the street to make it into a plaza or bus lane not only made the street safer, but it also lessened congestion and increased foot traffic, which improved businesses. Streetfight deconstructs, reassembles, and reinvents the future street.

Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution

By Janette Sadik-Khan, Seth Solomonow,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Streetfight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Like a modern-day Jane Jacobs, Janette Sadik-Khan transformed New York City's streets to make room for pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and green spaces. Describing the battles she fought to enact change, Streetfight imparts wisdom and practical advice that other cities can follow to make their own streets safer and more vibrant.

As New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan managed the seemingly impossible and transformed the streets of one of the world’s greatest, toughest cities into dynamic spaces safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Her approach was dramatic and effective: Simply painting a part of the street to make it into a…


Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

By Charles Montgomery,

Book cover of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

Why this book?

In Happy City, Charles, who is also is a good friend of mine, describes what is wrong with today’s cities and what we must do to fix them. Full of rich detail and new insights from psychologists and his own urban experiments, the book is an essential tool for understanding and improving our own communities. The message: by retrofitting our cities for happiness, we can tackle the urgent challenges of our age. The happy city, the green city, and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build them together.

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

By Charles Montgomery,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Happy City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Happy City is the story of how the solutions to this century's problems lie in unlocking the secrets to great city living

This is going to be the century of the city. But what actually makes a good city? Why are some cities a joy to live in?

As Charles Montgomery reveals, it's not how much money your neighbours earn, or how pleasant the climate is that makes the most difference. Journeying to dozens of cities - from Atlanta to Bogota to Vancouver - he talks to the new champions of the happy city to explore the urban innovations already…


Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

By Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia,

Book cover of Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

Why this book?

Although the concept sounds theoretical, this book is about very simple techniques on how to cheap and fast change urban spaces, streets, and plazas so that they are for people (not cars). The book provides a toolkit for conceiving, planning, and carrying out projects, including how to adapt them based on local needs and challenges. Tactical Urbanism can inspire and empower citizens, urban designers, land use planners, architects, and policymakers to become key actors in the transformation of their communities.

Tactical Urbanism: Short-Term Action for Long-Term Change

By Mike Lydon, Anthony Garcia,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tactical Urbanism as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Short-term, community-based projects - from pop-up parks to open streets initiatives - have become a powerful and adaptable new tool of urban activists, planners, and policy-makers seeking to drive lasting improvements in their cities and beyond. These quick, often low-cost, and creative projects are the essence of the Tactical Urbanism movement. Whether creating vibrant plazas seemingly overnight or re-imagining parking spaces as local gathering places, they offer a way to gain public and government support for investing in permanent projects, inspiring residents and civic leaders to experience and shape urban spaces in a new way. Tactical Urbanism, written by Mike…


Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

By Jeff Speck,

Book cover of Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

Why this book?

Jeff is a great speaker. Check him out on Youtube and TED Talks. He has rightly dedicated his career to cities. And he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. Making downtown into a walkable, viable community is the essential fix for the typical modernist city; it is eminently achievable and its benefits are manifold. Walkable City―bursting with sharp observations and key insights into how urban change happens―lays out a practical, necessary, and inspiring vision for how to make cities great again.

Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time

By Jeff Speck,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Walkable City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Jeff Speck has dedicated his career to determining what makes cities thrive, and he has boiled it down to one key factor: walkability. The very idea of a modern metropolis evokes visions of bustling sidewalks, vital mass transit, and a vibrant, pedestrian-friendly urban core. But in the typical American city, the car is still king and downtown is a place that's easy to drive to but often not worth arriving at. Making walkability happen is relatively easy and cheap; seeing exactly what needs to be done is the trick. In this essential book, Speck reveals the invisible workings of the…


Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

By Edward Glaeser,

Book cover of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

Why this book?

The Harvard professor Ed Glaeser is also a great speaker, and I have seen him live. In his book he describes so well why we have cities and why they are so successful. He travels through history and around the globe to reveal cities and how they bring out the best in humankind. Using analysis, and argument, Glaeser makes a great case for the city's importance, offering proof that the city is humanity's greatest creation and our best hope for the future. It is not only economics, it is about society.  

Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier

By Edward Glaeser,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Triumph of the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Understanding the modern city and the powerful forces within it is the life's work of Harvard urban economist Edward Glaeser, who at forty is hailed as one of the world's most exciting urban thinkers. Travelling from city to city, speaking to planners and politicians across the world, he uncovers questions large and small whose answers are both counterintuitive and deeply significant. Should New Orleans be rebuilt? Why can't my nephew afford an apartment in New York? Is London the new financial capital of the world? Is my job headed to Bangalore? In Triumph of the City, Glaeser takes us around…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Righteous Mind, The City in History, and Cities and the Wealth of Nations if you like this list.