The best books about planning livable cities from the bottom up

Who am I?

I’m an urban planner and educator who is fascinated not just by cities and the experience of place, but also by the ideas and actions that go on “behind the scenes” in the planning of cities. Almost all US cities are guided by some sort of local plan and, while no plan is perfect, my hope is always that inclusive planning can help communities solve their problems to make any place a better place. I was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and have lived mostly in the eastern US – from Michigan to Alabama – where I'm constantly intrigued by the everyday “nooks and crannies” of the places and communities where I live, work, and play.


I wrote...

Urban Planning For Dummies

By Jordan Yin,

Book cover of Urban Planning For Dummies

What is my book about?

Writing Urban Planning for Dummies drew on 20 years of experience as an urban planner and college educator constantly answering the question of “What exactly do you do?” Explaining urban planning is a bit like explaining air – you can’t see it, but it’s always there, and we can’t live without it (or it’s at least pretty darn important). Urban plans use a wide range of tools to help shape aspects of communities ranging from land use and housing to jobs and the environment in ways that help make places more sustainable and improve people’s lives. The book follows the tried and true “for Dummies” approach by walking through the “how to” of community planning in a way that is approachable and easily understood (with an occasional bad pun).

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life

Jordan Yin Why did I love this book?

This is one of my favorite books to introduce to my students because it makes a powerful statement about the need for spaces within cities where people can come together to share their everyday experiences. Klinenberg shows how libraries, parks, churches, schools, and other public places represent the “social infrastructure” of a community that serve both functional needs and social purposes that can help overcome social exclusion and unite communities.

By Eric Klinenberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Palaces for the People as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“A comprehensive, entertaining, and compelling argument for how rebuilding social infrastructure can help heal divisions in our society and move us forward.”—Jon Stewart

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR • “Engaging.”—Mayor Pete Buttigieg, The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

We are living in a time of deep divisions. Americans are sorting themselves along racial, religious, and cultural lines, leading to a level of polarization that the country hasn’t seen since the Civil War. Pundits and politicians are calling for us to come together and find common purpose. But how, exactly, can this be…


Book cover of Main Street: How a City's Heart Connects Us All

Jordan Yin Why did I love this book?

Every community can benefit from a thriving “main street” and this book’s opening drew me in with a walk down Coventry Road in my hometown of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, capturing the essence of what gives meaning to special places. The author is a social psychiatrist who operates from the fascinating premise that a thriving Main Street is a sign of a healthy urban body, but a community without a strong center can be seen as having a social disease. It’s also a fun read with lots of scribbled drawings and listicles of good advice for creating communities that promote deep personal connections.

By Mindy Thompson Fullilove,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Mindy Thompson Fullilove traverses the central thoroughfares of our cities to uncover the ways they bring together our communities

After an 11-year study of Main Streets in 178 cities and 14 countries, Fullilove discovered the power of city centers to "help us name and solve our problems." In an era of compounding crises including racial injustice, climate change, and COVID-19, the ability to rely on the power of community is more important than ever. However, Fullilove describes how a pattern of disinvestment in inner-city neighborhoods has left Main Streets across the U.S. in disrepair, weakening our cities and leaving us…


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

Jordan Yin Why did I love this book?

Cities have become more pedestrian-friendly over the last decade and Jeff Speck’s book is one of the reasons for this movement. Walkability saves lives, promotes a sense of community, and makes places more sustainable. Speck’s guide to “Ten Steps of Walkability” is an instant classic in the practice of urban planning with approachable ideas such as “mixing uses” and “getting parking right” that can help bridge the gap between activists, politicians, and developers to work together improve any community.

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…


Book cover of How to Turn a Place Around: A Placemaking Handbook

Jordan Yin Why did I love this book?

I chose this book because it collects decades of wisdom and experience about urban design into an easy-to-read guide with lots of visual cues and tactile inspiration. The book shows off the work of community-driven placemaking that has been the practice of the Project for Public Spaces since the 1970s. The book’s “how to” section is organized around 11 principles which all emphasize that a well-designed community starts at the ground level by working directly with the community and using their knowledge and experience to guide the way forward.

By Kathy Madden,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked How to Turn a Place Around as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How to Turn a Place Around is a user-friendly, common sense guide for everyone from community residents to mayors on how to create successful places. The ideas presented in this book reflect over 40 years of Project for Public Spaces experience helping people understand and improve their public spaces. The book illustrates a community-based, place-oriented process organized around eleven basic principles for creating successful public spaces, as well as methods that anyone can use to evaluate a space.

People who read this handbook will learn how short-term actions and visible changes can lead to better public spaces in their own…


Book cover of Missing Middle Housing: Thinking Big and Building Small to Respond to Today’s Housing Crisis

Jordan Yin Why did I love this book?

This book is a call to action for communities to create more diverse housing opportunities. Missing middle housing refers to a wide range of housing types that are gradually disappearing from US cities, including duplexes, smaller homes, and garden apartments. These types of housing have traditionally represented an affordable option within cities that also promotes a sense of community. The book’s premise falls in line with my own experience growing up in an inner-ring suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, where there were single-family homes, duplex and triplex houses, small apartment buildings, and a genuine Rockefeller mansion all in the same thriving neighborhood. The book goes beyond design with lots of “how to” advice on building local support for city leaders, real estate developers, and residents to work together to create stronger and more affordable communities.

By Daniel G. Parolek,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Today, there is a tremendous mismatch between the available housing stock in the US and the housing options that people want and need. The post-WWII, auto-centric, single-family-development model no longer meets the needs of residents. Urban areas in the US are experiencing dramatically shifting household and cultural demographics and a growing demand for walkable urban living.

Missing Middle Housing, a term coined by Daniel Parolek, describes the walkable, desirable, yet attainable housing that many people across the country are struggling to find. Missing Middle Housing types, such as duplexes, fourplexes, and bungalow courts, can provide options along a spectrum of…


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Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

By Chris Lukather,

Book cover of Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

Chris Lukather Author Of Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

New book alert!

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What is my book about?

Homes by Byrd examines the story of this father-son team, demonstrating their impact on the design of homes in Southern California and describing the hallmarks of their enduring style.

Byrd homes are archetypes of California living. Many elements of a Byrd Home, such as exposed wood beams, turned posts, rock and flagstone finishes, and whimsical brickwork, may be familiar to those in Hollywood and Beverly Hills during the mid to late twentieth century. Byrd homes were built in the California Ranch style and featured natural materials that lent the homes a comfortable, symbiotic, and timeless ambiance.

Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary

By Chris Lukather,

What is this book about?

Chris Lukather, founder and editor of the literary journal, The Writing Disorder, has released the latest in his series of books featuring iconic California 20th Century home builders. In his new book, Homes by Byrd: The Art & Architecture of Robert Byrd and His Son, Gary, he examines the story of this father and son team, demonstrating their impact on the design of single-family homes in Southern California, describing the hallmarks of their enduring style. Byrd homes are archetypes of California living. While many people in Hollywood and real estate are familiar with the name and distinctive style of Robert…


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