The best urban renewal books

Who picked these books? Meet our 20 experts.

20 authors created a book list connected to urban renewal, and here are their favorite urban renewal books.
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A People's Atlas of Detroit

By Linda Campbell (editor), Andrew Newman (editor), Sara Safransky (editor), Tim Stallmann (editor)

Book cover of A People's Atlas of Detroit

Krysta Ryzewski Author Of Detroit Remains: Archaeology and Community Histories of Six Legendary Places

From the list on Detroit’s hidden histories.

Who am I?

Few things bother me more than the negative stereotypes that portray Detroit as a deserted city in ruins - a crime-infested, neglected place where residents don’t care about their connections to the city’s history or its future. Detroit is a proud, living city. As a historical archaeologist at Wayne State University, I’ve been on the front lines of leading community-based archaeology projects in Detroit for the past decade. These projects involve advocacy for more inclusive historic preservation efforts, youth training initiatives, collaborative exhibits, and lots of interactions with the media and public. I view historical archaeology as a tool for serving local community interests, unearthing underrepresented histories, and addressing the legacies of social justice issues.

Krysta's book list on Detroit’s hidden histories

Discover why each book is one of Krysta's favorite books.

Why did Krysta love this book?

Detroit is a city shaped by social movements. Even in the city’s darkest times of violent uprisings, outmigration, and bankruptcy, ordinary Detroiters remained committed to transformative change - banding together to challenge issues of racial injustice, housing access, food sovereignty, workers’ rights, and accountable governance. A People’s Atlas of Detroit is community-based scholar-activism at its best.

The brilliantly illustrated collection of maps, essays, photographs, poetry, and interviews is the outcome of a multi-year project involving over fifty residents from all walks of life who are at the forefront of local social justice initiatives. Through its combination of radical cartography, historical perspectives, and firsthand reflections, A People’s Atlas elevates the voices of the underrecognized people who are actively charting courses for a more equitable urban future. 

By Linda Campbell (editor), Andrew Newman (editor), Sara Safransky (editor), Tim Stallmann (editor)

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A People's Atlas of Detroit as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In recent years, Detroit has been touted as undergoing a renaissance, yet many people have been left behind. A People's Atlas of Detroit, edited by Linda Campbell, Andrew Newman, Sara Safransky, and Tim Stallmann comes from a community-based participatory project called Uniting Detroiters that sought to use collective research to strengthen the organizing infrastructure of the city's long-vibrant grassroots sector and reassert residents' roles as active participants in the development process. Drawing on action research and counter-cartography, this book aims to both chart and help build movements for social justice in the city.

A People's Atlas of Detroit is organized…


Urban Regeneration and Social Sustainability

By Andrea Colantonio, Tim Dixon,

Book cover of Urban Regeneration and Social Sustainability: Best Practice from European Cities

Müge Akkar Ercan Author Of Regeneration, Heritage and Sustainable Communities in Turkey: Challenges, Complexities and Potentials

From the list on critical urbanism and building sustainable communities.

Who am I?

I am a researcher and professor of Planning and Urban Design at Middle East Technical University, Ankara (Turkiye). I am interested in how we can develop sustainable communities in urban and rural areas, modern and historical areas, and create a much more just world for all living beings. This question has become increasingly important for our life as uncertainties arise. New paradigms appear daily with climate change, wars, energy crises, pandemics, migrations, safety and security, growing diversity, and socio-spatial inequalities. I chose these books because they helped me think of new ways to achieve a sustainable and just world for all living beings. 

Müge's book list on critical urbanism and building sustainable communities

Discover why each book is one of Müge's favorite books.

Why did Müge love this book?

I think this book is very illuminating in learning the social aspect of sustainability.

She particularly focuses on urban regeneration projects in European cities. It shows how social sustainability can be assessed, measured, and monitored by using various regeneration projects in five European cities (Sant Adria de Besos in Spain, Turin in Italy, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Leipzig in Germany, and Cardiff in the UK).

I like this book because of its comprehensive assessment of the social sustainability of these projects by examining the institutional arrangements, financial products and tools, stakeholders’ involvement, and their contribution, monitoring, and measurement systems. In this way, it provides us with a new framework for assessing social sustainability. 

By Andrea Colantonio, Tim Dixon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Urban Regeneration and Social Sustainability as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Urban regeneration is a key focus for public policy throughout Europe. This book examines social sustainability and analyses its meaning and significance - an area of research which has, until now, been comparatively neglected. The authors offer a comprehensive European perspective to identify best practice in sustainable urban regeneration in five major cities in Spain, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, and the UK. Urban Regeneration & Social Sustainability: best practice from European cities examines the extent to which social sustainability is incorporated within urban regeneration projects in the EU, but also investigates how local authorities, developers, investors and other key stakeholders approach…


Boom Cities

By Otto Saumarez Smith,

Book cover of Boom Cities: Architect Planners and the Politics of Radical Urban Renewal in 1960s Britain

Rosemary Hill Author Of God's Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain

From the list on the way that architecture reflects British history.

Who am I?

Since childhood I have wanted to know why things look as they do. Every object expresses what was once an idea in someone’s mind. Looking from things to the people who made them and back again, we understand both better. This single question has led me through a lifetime of writing about material culture, architecture, applied art and craft. I have written books about Stonehenge, the Gothic Revival and antiquarianism in the Romantic age. I also hosted a podcast series, for the London Review of Books

Rosemary's book list on the way that architecture reflects British history

Discover why each book is one of Rosemary's favorite books.

Why did Rosemary love this book?

The 1960s saw Britain destroy more of its own built environment than all the bombing of the second world war. The car was king, the high rise and the shopping precinct transformed city centres. In many cases this is now seen as a disaster. Otto Saumarez Smith, one of the brightest of the rising generation of architectural writers, tells us how and why it happened, why it stopped and why he has come to love some of it. 

By Otto Saumarez Smith,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Boom Cities is the first published history of the profound transformations of British city centres in the 1960s.

It has often been said that urban planners did more damage to Britain's cities than even the Luftwaffe had managed, and this study details the rise and fall of modernist urban planning, revealing its origins and the dissolution of the cross-party consensus, before the ideological smearing that has ever since characterized the high-rise towers, dizzying ring roads, and concrete precincts that were left behind.

The rebuilding of British city centres during the 1960s drastically affected the built form of urban Britain, including…


Sites Unseen

By Scott Frickel, James R Elliott,

Book cover of Sites Unseen: Uncovering Hidden Hazards in American Cities

Elizabeth Kryder-Reid Author Of Toxic Heritage: Legacies, Futures, and Environmental Injustice

From the list on pollution, politics, and why history matters.

Who am I?

I’m deeply concerned about the health of the planet and am puzzled by our failure to act. As someone who thinks a lot about museums and heritage (aka the stories we tell about ourselves), I’m intrigued by how we think about places of environmental harm as heritage and how we pay attention to the environmental impact of heritage sites like WWI battlefields, English ironworks, and Appalachian coal mines. Interrogating what we remember and what we forget illuminates the systems of power that benefit from ignoring environmental and social costs. My hope is that understanding the history of toxic harm points us to a more sustainable, just future.

Elizabeth's book list on pollution, politics, and why history matters

Discover why each book is one of Elizabeth's favorite books.

Why did Elizabeth love this book?

The authors examine urban environmental harm in three US cities and the environmental and social cost of growth.

The powerful takeaway is their explanation of why this harm remains largely hidden – the “churning” of industry and residential areas and the political incentives to reward short-term gain and ignore long-term costs.

By Scott Frickel, James R Elliott,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the 2020 Robert E. Park Award for Best Book from the Community and Urban Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association

From a dive bar in New Orleans to a leafy residential street in Minneapolis, many establishments and homes in cities across the nation share a troubling and largely invisible past: they were once sites of industrial manufacturers, such as plastics factories or machine shops, that likely left behind carcinogens and other hazardous industrial byproducts. In Sites Unseen, sociologists Scott Frickel and James Elliott uncover the hidden histories of these sites to show how they are regularly produced…


The Image of the City

By Kevin Lynch,

Book cover of The Image of the City

Matthew Carmona Author Of Public Places Urban Spaces: The Dimensions of Urban Design

From the list on urban design books that inspired me.

Who am I?

Looking at the books I have chosen, one might say they are all rather long in the tooth. They are, yet they are also the books that inspired me to do what I do today which is to teach and research the subject of urban design. I am a Professor of Planning and Urban Design at The Bartlett, UCL and firmly believe that understanding a subject like my own begins from the foundations upwards. Each of these classic texts represents part of those foundations, foundations that my own work attempts to build upon. 

Matthew's book list on urban design books that inspired me

Discover why each book is one of Matthew's favorite books.

Why did Matthew love this book?

This third selection was published contemporaneously with the first two, but while the first two are really polemics, this book reports on empirical research. Perhaps because of that, it may seem a little dry, but the messages it has for us about the way we perceive cities are profound (albeit they have since been challenged). If you want to understand urban design then Kevin Lynch’s body of work is a must, and this is the best place to start.  

By Kevin Lynch,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Image of the City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The classic work on the evaluation of city form.

What does the city's form actually mean to the people who live there? What can the city planner do to make the city's image more vivid and memorable to the city dweller? To answer these questions, Mr. Lynch, supported by studies of Los Angeles, Boston, and Jersey City, formulates a new criterion—imageability—and shows its potential value as a guide for the building and rebuilding of cities. The wide scope of this study leads to an original and vital method for the evaluation of city form. The architect, the planner, and certainly…


Bulldozer

By Francesca Russello Ammon,

Book cover of Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape

Catherine McNeur Author Of Taming Manhattan: Environmental Battles in the Antebellum City

From the list on histories of nature in unexpected places.

Who am I?

Catherine McNeur is an award-winning historian, interested in the ways that issues of power impact how humans understand and transform their environments. She has long found the books, art, and other creative expressions that mischievously push at the edges of what we consider “nature” compelling, whether it’s a celebration of the beauty of weeds in an abandoned lot or nature writing on the flora in our guts. After having written about social and environmental battles in New York City, she is now researching the lives, work, and erasure of two forgotten female scientists from nineteenth-century Philadelphia. She lives in Oregon where she is a professor at Portland State University.

Catherine's book list on histories of nature in unexpected places

Discover why each book is one of Catherine's favorite books.

Why did Catherine love this book?

I’ll admit that bulldozers seem like the very antithesis of nature and that’s why I love this book. Francesca Ammon looks at how the cultural embrace of bulldozers following World War II, whether through planning, urban renewal, or even children’s books, reshaped the way Americans dealt with their environment in the second half of the twentieth century. Bulldozers gave Americans immense power to level hills, neighborhoods, and orange groves to create blank slates so they could build highways and redesign cities. This book changed the way I understood the cultural and technological rise (and fall) of this destructive tool.

By Francesca Russello Ammon,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The first history of the bulldozer and its transformation from military weapon to essential tool for creating the post-World War II American landscape

Although the decades following World War II stand out as an era of rapid growth and construction in the United States, those years were equally significant for large-scale destruction. In order to clear space for new suburban tract housing, an ambitious system of interstate highways, and extensive urban renewal development, wrecking companies demolished buildings while earthmoving contractors leveled land at an unprecedented pace and scale. In this pioneering history, Francesca Russello Ammon explores how postwar America came…


Book cover of The Death and Life of Great American Cities

David Emanuel Andersson Author Of Property Rights, Consumption and the Market Process

From the list on understanding how societies develop.

Who am I?

I have always been curious about why societies develop, which is why I was drawn to the social sciences as a student. I first encountered attempts to explain development in economics, but found that mainstream models were too neat and abstract to account for my everyday observations. Why are there no entrepreneurs in the models, and why do most economists assume that property rights are unambiguous? I eventually discovered that non-mainstream economic theories and some of the other social sciences are more concerned with reality. Eventually I developed an eclectic framework with a focus on entrepreneurship, institutions, and spatial agglomerations as factors that shape socio-economic development. 

David's book list on understanding how societies develop

Discover why each book is one of David's favorite books.

Why did David love this book?

This is the book that made me question what I had learned in urban economics as a Ph.D. student.

Cities are not neatly divided into homogeneous districts. Instead, cities are always changing and the most creative and productive areas tend to be diversified rather than specialized, since diversity begets creativity and innovation.

Jacobs argued that there are four design principles that cultivate dynamism: mixed primary uses, a high population density, a mixture of new and old buildings, and short blocks. 

By Jane Jacobs,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Death and Life of Great American Cities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this classic text, Jane Jacobs set out to produce an attack on current city planning and rebuilding and to introduce new principles by which these should be governed. The result is one of the most stimulating books on cities ever written.

Throughout the post-war period, planners temperamentally unsympathetic to cities have been let loose on our urban environment. Inspired by the ideals of the Garden City or Le Corbusier's Radiant City, they have dreamt up ambitious projects based on self-contained neighbourhoods, super-blocks, rigid 'scientific' plans and endless acres of grass. Yet they seldom stop to look at what actually…


Barrio America

By A.K. Sandoval-Strausz,

Book cover of Barrio America: How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City

Beryl Satter Author Of Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America

From the list on urban history.

Who am I?

I never read much urban history until I wrote one. For me, the problem was that most urban histories felt repetitive – they presented the same story over and over, just set in different locations. This was because most narrated the results of deeper, structural shifts (in spheres such as federal strategies of home finance, technological developments, demographic shifts, the rise or decline of manufacturing, political realignments, etc.) without sufficiently illuminating the causes. Regardless of whether they focus on Las Vegas or Philadelphia or Chicago or Dallas, each of these books – which I am presenting in order of publication date, not quality, as they are all excellent – will leave you smarter about the forces that shape our cities.  

Beryl's book list on urban history

Discover why each book is one of Beryl's favorite books.

Why did Beryl love this book?

Sandoval-Strausz examines Latino neighborhoods in Chicago and Dallas to explain “How Latino Immigrants Saved the American City.” Along the way, he illuminates federal policies and private industries that together damaged cities. These include U.S. immigration policies that combined with economic conditions in Mexico and Central America to spur Latino immigration while creating obstacles to legal settlement within the U.SExplaining everything from international labor flows to urban architectural styles to the politics of gentrification, Barrio America is also an implicit account of how Latinos became “white.” Also recommended is anything by Arlene Davila, whose specialty is understanding the implications of neoliberalism on Latino communities.

By A.K. Sandoval-Strausz,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Starting around 70 years ago, white flight out of America's major cities caused rapid urban decline. Now we are witnessing a resurgence of American urbanism said to be the result of white people's return. But this account entirely passes over the stable immigrant communities who arrived and never left: as whites fled for the suburbs and exurbs in increasing numbers, Latin Americans immigrated to urban centres in even greater numbers. Barrio America charts the vibrant revival of American cities in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, arguing that we should attribute this revival to the influx of Latin American immigrants --…


Black Politics / White Power

By Yohuru Williams,

Book cover of Black Politics / White Power: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Black Panthers in New Haven

Paul Bass Author Of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of a Killer

From the list on Black protest and government resistance.

Who am I?

Paul Bass is the co-author with Douglas W. Rae of Murder in the Model City: The Black Panthers, Yale, and the Redemption of A Killer. Paul has been a reporter and editor in New Haven, Conn., for over 40 years. He is the founder and editor of the online New Haven Independent.

Paul's book list on Black protest and government resistance

Discover why each book is one of Paul's favorite books.

Why did Paul love this book?

Williams mined volumes of government documents and the memories of survivors of the era in which the country’s most concentrated experiment in urban renewal came face to face with grassroots demands for deeper change. His book reveals the limits of liberalism, as well as dynamics within different groups pushing for social justice about how to negotiate with (or take on) power.

By Yohuru Williams,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Black Politics / White Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The popular media have portrayed the Black Panthers mainly for the rhetoric of violence some members employed and for the associations between the Panthers and a black militancy drawing on racial hostility to whites in general. Overlooked have been the efforts that branches of the organization undertook for practical economic and social progress within African-American neighborhoods, frequently in alliance with whites. Yohuru Williams' study of black politics in New Haven culminating in the arrival of the Panthers argues that the increasing militancy in the black community there was motivated not by abstractions of black cultural integrity but by the continuing…


The Resilient City

By Lawrence J. Vale (editor), Thomas J. Campanella (editor),

Book cover of The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

From the list on the importance of community during disasters.

Who am I?

We moved to New Orleans in July 2005. We had six weeks in our first home, filling it with furniture, buying a new car, and taking advantage of my first job. When Hurricane Katrina collapsed the levees holding back the nearby lakes, our home – and those of 80% of the city – filled with water. As I waited for FEMA and insurance to help us, I saw instead it was our friends, friends of friends, and faith-based organizations that helped us get back on our feet. Using our own experiences as a start, I traveled to India and Japan to study how communities around the world survived and thrived during shocks. 

Daniel's book list on the importance of community during disasters

Discover why each book is one of Daniel's favorite books.

Why did Daniel love this book?

We can all think of cities that have been hit by some horrible events – envision Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, hit by atomic weapons. Or the Oklahoma City bombing that leveled a whole block. Yet these cities not only survived, but thrived. In chapters written by different experts from around the world this book shows how resilient cities are to shocks and disasters. I especially liked the way that the authors focus on the way that we memorialize and remember the past, trying to learn lessons from shocks and bringing those emotions and learning into the present.

By Lawrence J. Vale (editor), Thomas J. Campanella (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For as long as they have existed, cities have been destroyed-sacked, shaken, burnt, bombed, flooded, starved, irradiated, and pillaged-in almost every case they have risen again. Rarely in modern times has a city not been rebuilt following destruction, be it natural or man-made. The Resilient City explores urban disasters from around the globe and the ongoing restoration of urban life. It examines why cities are rebuilt, how a vision for the future gets
incorporated into a new urban landscape, and how disasters have been interpreted and commemorated in built form. An international cast of historians, architects, and urban studies experts…


Walkable City

By Jeff Speck,

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

Jordan Yin Author Of Urban Planning For Dummies

From the list on 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.

Jordan's book list on planning livable cities from the bottom up

Discover why each book is one of Jordan's favorite books.

Why did Jordan 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…