5 Books Perfect for Summer Reading

These urban planning and placemaking books are essential reads for the season

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Now that Memorial Day has come and gone, it’s time to make summer plans, and if you’re like me, that means finding the best reads for the season.

I’ve put together a list of five of my favorites that I highly recommend you read over the summer. They’re in no particular order, but if you can only chose a few, you should pick Happy City and Vital Little Plans.

With these books in hand, you’re certain to not only have a great summer, but to end the season with more knowledge about the importance of green spaces, better designed streets and the future of our cities.


Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
By: Charles Montgomery

In Happy City, Montgomery examines the connection between the places we live and our levels of happiness. With statistics to back his claims that planning has vast impacts on our lives, Montgomery brings to light the importance of designing cities around people.

Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs
By: Jane Jacobs

Vital Little Plans is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. As a fan of Jacobs’ work including The Death and Life, it was enlightening to read more of her work. This book features many of Jacobs’ articles including some I had not previously read.

(I also had the opportunity to discuss this book and Jacobs’ work with the editor of Vital Little Plans, Nathan Storring. You can listen to this podcast episode here.)

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

This list wouldn’t be complete without including Jeff Speck’s Walkable City. Walkability is one of the most important aspects of designing vibrant, healthy neighborhoods. Speck has seen firsthand the impacts of street design on communities, and he discusses this in Walkable City. He also notes some shocking statistics about walkability and our dependence on cars. This book is a vital addition to your urban planning library.

(You can also listen to my conversation with Speck on our second episode of the Parksify Podcast.)

Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution
By: Janette Sadik-Khan

While working as New York City’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan helped transform the city from a car heavy metropolis into an urban center filled with small city parks, green spaces and more active places for pedestrians and cyclists.

In Streetfight, Sadik-Khan discusses how to overhaul streets from places solely designed for cars into arterials for use by bikers and pedestrians. She also examines other cities including Mexico City, Auckland and Los Angeles, and how these metropolitan areas are creating more pedestrian friendly streets. Streetflight hopefully highlights a promising future for street design.

Seeing the Better City: How to Explore, Observe, and Improve Urban Space
By: Chuck Wolfe

There are few books that are as relevant today as Seeing the Better City. In this gem of a book, Wolfe discusses how we can better observe our cities through photography and that by doing so, we can help improve our cities. Seeing the Better City helps you become a better advocate for improving our cities by using our photo lenses (whether through DSLR or iPhone) to document our neighborhoods. No other book I’ve read comes as close to individualizing urban planning as Wolfe’s Seeing the Better City.

(I also talked with Wolfe about Seeing the Better City in a recent interview for the Parksify Podcast. You can listen to this episode here.)


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