Thursday, January 26, 2012

Books About Place

A recent visit to San Louis Obispo, the happiest place in America, rekindled my interest in the study of "place". That is, why is one place better than another, and what makes for a great place to live and work and play. So I searched my bookcase for a few titles on the subject that are worth rereading.

James Howard Kunstler's The Geography of Nowhere is a classic that explores the ideas of American place and on the history of development. Don't be put off by Kuntsler's current reputation as an alarmist and world-class pessimist, he was much more reasonable in 1994.

Terry Pindell's A Good Place to Live is now out of print. It was the first book that really got me thinking about the elements that must come together to make a good place. Pindell visits his list of noteworthy small cities and describes why they work well. It gets marginal Amazon reviews, but I thought it was brilliant.

Suburban Nation, by Duany, Plater-Zyberk and Speck, deals with the failure of car-based sprawl and promotes "new urbanism". And it's written by the folks that really popularized the idea.

Finally, and really more about lifestyle than place, is A Reasonable Life, by Ferenc Mate. This book has essentially been rewritten as A Real Life, but I prefer the original. Mate is always an immensely entertaining writer. Here he examines what we have lost in modern America and urges us to reconsider what is important. It will make you laugh and, more importantly, think.

There has been a lot more written recently about place, particularly "new urbanism', smart-growth, etc. But I think the titles above are classics and worth reading more than once. They'll make good company on upcoming flights to Asia and back.

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