Insurgent Public Space: Guerrilla Urbanism and the Remaking of Contemporary Cities, by Jeffrey Hou

Routledge, 2010 Reviewed by Nicola Szibbo

Jeffrey Hou’s collection of catalytic articles provides a critical look into how contemporary social, political, economic and cultural issues are being framed and contested in the public realm today. Insurgent public spaces—spaces of civic contestation and informal activity—are no longer confined to conventional places such as city parks, plazas, community gardens, and other planned or landscaped spaces. The insurgent activities occurring within these spaces now stretch beyond the popular imagination of public protest in the city. Taking on a new challenge, Jeffrey Hou expands and re-defines insurgent public space to include ‘self-made’ urban spaces, temporary events, and even ‘flash mob’ spaces, which vary greatly by culture and geography.

As the book’s title coyly suggests, insurgent public space is at once spontaneous and radical, yet also planned and progressive. Actions in these public, urban arenas typically have no particular leader or associated bureaucracy but rather they are shaped decisively from the bottom-up through a collective grassroots consensus. Hou observes that guerilla urbanism is fostering “smaller yet grander” public spaces. The book features many case studies demonstrating how marginalized and under-represented groups are now staking claims in the public realm.

Hou presents 20 articles on insurgent actions in public spaces , organized into six chapters based upon a typology of interventions:

  1. Appropriating,
  2. Reclaiming,
  3. Pluralizing,
  4. Transgressing,
  5. Uncovering, and
  6. Contesting.

The first chapter, ‘Appropriating’, looks at how people tactically use open space and imbue it with new meaning, while the second chapter, ‘Reclaiming’, looks at how underutilized and oft-abandoned urban spaces have been revived to be newly productive. A chapter on ‘Pluralizing’ examines how different ethnic groups interpret and transform meaning and function within open space, creating a more heterogeneous spectrum of spatial realities. 'Transgressing' examines how public-private domains of open space have been infringed upon, traversed, and negotiated by groups of people. ‘Uncovering’ gives examples of public spaces that were reconfigured and rediscovered, through the uncovering and revealing of latent and hidden memories in the urban landscape. The final chapter, ‘Contesting’, brings to light the struggle for identity and rights within the public realm.

Although Hou’s typological organization proves interesting, one wonders if a geographical grouping of the articles from a place-based, contextualized basis would be more insightful and comparative. For example, both James Rojas and Michael Rios investigate cases of Latino Urbanism in the United States. Whereas Rios analyzes the role of Latinos making collective spatial claims in the city through three theoretical frameworks of a) adaptive, b) assertive and c) negotiative spatial production, Rojas chooses to analyze how Latinos have used space in a functional sense, by focusing on Latino mobility, business and home, and use of open space from a cultural, every-day urbanism standpoint. Given the increasingly topical nature of immigration in the United States, a side-by-side pairing or commentary is warranted. Similarly, there are five articles that focus on Taiwan, many of which focus on gender or increasing Southeast Asian immigration. Yung-Teen Annie Chiu’s article on the preservation of the Wenminglo brothel in Taipei, Taiwan stands out as an extraordinary case study because it challenged the traditional eligibility for historic landmark status. Chiu’s case illustrates the clash of private sites and bodies with public memories, and the challenge to acknowledge geographies of illicit desire.

Hou does utilize place-based comparison to some extent, for instance, three articles from Japan are paired together under the ‘transgressing’ chapter. This chapter provides rich fodder for understanding Japanese cultural conceptions of private and public space, and the human relations within those spaces. Isami Kinoshita’s article capitalizes on the Japanese concept of gai-roju (street trees), by introducing the concept of niwa-roju—private gardens that embellish and frame the public realm. Inherent in this clever ‘play-on-words’ is the notion that homeowners can creatively enhance and contribute to the Japanese public streetscape through the design of their private gardens and trees.

The different articles presented vary widely in their journalistic and scholastic integrity. This variety ranges from Caroline Chen’s methodologically robust essay on public spaces appropriated for Yanggye dancing in Beijing, to more descriptive, playful pieces, such as Blaine Merker’s narrative on Park(ing) Day interventions in San Francisco. Some pieces are more design-oriented and deal directly with the built environment, as exemplified by Erick Villagomez’s graphic typology urban residual spaces. However, others are more policy and process-oriented, such as Andrew Pask’s critique on public space activism in Vancouver and Toronto. Among this variation is Hou’s own piece documenting the community design process that led to the creation of Seattle’s night market, a once obscure phenomenon that has become popular in major cities in the Pacific Northwest.

Although the geographic focus of the book covers cases in the United States, Canada, Japan and Taiwan, one of the book’s clear shortcomings is that it overemphasizes case studies from the Asia-Pacific region. This over representation of the Asia-Pacific region is likely due to Hou drawing heavily upon a compilation of working papers from the 6th Conference of the Pacific Rim Community Design Network in Quanzhou, China. As a result, the book does not represent a truly global perspective and leads to wondering about the rest of the world. Additional case studies are surely worthy of further investigation in the realm of new insurgent spaces— especially given the recent divisions and dissension spawned by the Occupy movement.

Due to the book’s broad range of articles, the book will appeal not only to serious scholars, students and academics, but also to working professionals and citizens whose personal interests touch on the public realm. The discussion on public defiance has broadened to include more people and a more nuanced understanding of public spaces, and Hou’s book offers a refreshing, critical glimpse into these acts of spatial resistance.

Nicola Szibbo is a PhD student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley, currently studying livable community strategies.

Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism, by Stephen Graham

Verso, 2010 Reviewed by Ilaria Giglioli

In the fall of 2011, global media were characterized by strikingly similar images of the repression of urban citizen movements throughout the world. Similar military tactics were used to dislodge protesters from Tahrir square in Egypt and Occupy encampments in the U.S., among other examples, raising the question of whether security forces in these different cities do indeed collaborate, and to what extent. In his latest work, Cities Under Siege, Stephen Graham—co-author of the classic Splintering Urbanism—provides a probing insight into this interrogative. The multi-thematic, 400-page-plus book revolves around one main argument: experiments in urban warfare in cities of the global south have led to the increasing militarization of North American and European cities, in a classic example of Foucault’s ‘boomerang effect.’ Drawing on historical examples of the transfer of models of urban planning and surveillance from the space of the colony to that of the metropole (see Ross 1996), Graham understands a similar transfer of techniques to be occurring in the present. By juxtaposing the proliferation of security within cities of the Global North, the ‘urbicide’ of Palestinian and Iraqi cities, the militaristic undertones of U.S. car culture, and the world-wide proliferation of U.S. military bases, he aims to show “ resurgent imperialism and colonial geographies characteristic of the contemporary era umbilically connect cities within metropolitan cores and colonial peripheries.” (p. xxvii). The result of this process he calls “the new military urbanism.”

The initial section of the book lays out the theoretical framework that will be used to analyze the subsequent case studies in the latter part of the book. The first three chapters touch on the broad themes of the militarization of cities of the global south and parts of cities of the global north, and the ideological binaries (Manichean geographies) that legitimize this militarization. Graham discusses the multiple ways in which the ‘new military urbanism’ is manifested, including a multiplication and militarization of borders, an increased collaboration between police and military, a creep in function between neoliberal and security infrastructure, and a tendency to conflate internal urban minorities with external enemies. On this basis, the book then delves into a series of thematic chapters dealing with the proliferation of borders and surveillance within urban settings, ranging from the increased technologization and depersonalization of war, to ‘urbicide’ and targeting of urban infrastructure in military operations. Graham discusses the role of the U.S., from the simultaneous proliferation of urban military bases abroad and domestic urban training centers to the spread of large militaristic SUVs in U.S. cities. The book closes with a focus on urban counter-geographies.

A few minor shortfalls characterize Cities Under Siege. First, the final chapter, ‘Counter-geographies,’ is considerably shorter and less developed than the other sections of the book, and reads as an appendage somewhat at odds with the rich analytical detail of the rest of Graham’s account. The second shortfall concerns the author’s methodology. Graham criticizes the birds-eye view of cities that lies at the basis of the ‘new military urbanism,’ whereby cities are depicted as lifeless, dehumanized spaces which can thus be targeted with little concern for the loss of human lives or physical and social infrastructure. While Graham criticizes this vision of cities, his account also adopts a birds-eye view, and does not descend to the level of the lived experience of people within cities targeted by the ‘new military urbanism’—a limit which he himself does acknowledge.

While Graham does not provide substantial new empirical material (the more empirically based chapters are largely based on his previous work) or theoretical breakthroughs, he does develop a meticulous and extensive literature review which places Cities Under Siege in dialogue with a broad and disparate range of contemporary literature dealing with militarism and securitization in general, and particularly the militarization and securitization of urban space. In this respect, the book could form a solid companion to titles on similar issues, such as Wendy Brown’s 2010 analysis of border securitization in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Trevor Paglen’s 2009 investigation of the undercover sites of the U.S. military-industrial complex in Blank Spots on the Map, or geographer Derek Gregory’s corpus of work on urban militarism. Graham’s account also provides multiple empirical examples that complement theoretical attempts to connect the marginalization and policing of minority neighborhoods within Western Europe and North America to histories of colonial urbanism and current targeting of cities of the Global South (see, for instance, Balibar’s 2007 Uprising in the Banlieues or Kipfer and Goonewardena’s 2005 Colonization and the New Imperialism: On the Meaning of Urbicide Today).

Read in tandem with these books and articles, Cities Under Siege would be extremely useful for someone seeking to analyze global policy networks that allow for the militarization and securitization of cities, and particularly the development of repressive responses to the claiming of cities as a political arena. Read alone, the book provides an excellent introduction to key contemporary authors dealing with these themes.

Ilaria Giglioli is a PhD student in the Department of Geography at UC Berkeley, and a member of the BPJ Editorial Board.


Balibar, É., “Uprisings in the Banlieues,” Constellations, 14(1), 47-71, 2007.
Brown, W. Walled States, Waning Sovereignty. Zone, 2010.
Graham, S. and Marvin, S. Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition (London: Routledge, 2001).
Kipfer, S. and Goonewardena, K. “Colonization and the New Imperialism: On the Meaning of Urbicide Today,” Theory and Event, 10(2), 2005.
Paglen, T. Blank Spots on the Map: The Dark Geography of the Pentagon’s Secret World (New York: Dutton, 2009).
Ross, K. Fast Cars, Clean Bodies: Decolonization and the Reordering of French Culture (The MIT Press, 1996).


Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, by Andrew Ross, and Beyond Privatopia, by Evan McKenzie

Oxford University Press, 2011Urban Institute, 2011

Reviewed by Jake Wegmann

In the large and rapidly growing category of “books about cities,” much is written about such darlings of sustainability and enlightened urban citizenship as Portland, Malmo, Curitiba, and the like. Much less is written about the conurbations of the American Sunbelt and the radical transformations in governance that they have incubated and subsequently exported to the rest of the nation and world. Two recent books, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City by Andrew Ross and Beyond Privatopia by Evan McKenzie, while highly divergent in content, tone, and approach, should be of great interest to those interested in the urbanism of the Sunbelt.

While one could quibble with Andrew Ross’s characterization of Phoenix as the “world’s least sustainable city” in Bird on Fire, there is no question that the metropolis with the Western Hemisphere’s highest summer temperatures, lying in a region labeled the “bull’s eye” for climate change in the United States, is a strong contender for the title. Ross has made a career of extricating himself from his comfort zone of New York University and delving deeply into such unfamiliar environments as Celebration, the Disney corporation’s New Urbanist showpiece community in Florida, in order to ask contrarian questions about them. Why did he select Phoenix this time? His answer: “If Phoenix could become sustainable, then it could be done anywhere.”

Ross takes his Sunbelt surroundings seriously, examining the so-called Valley of the Sun in its full complexity, both present-day and historical. The lessons of the Hohokam people, who maintained a complex, irrigation-based civilization in the area, only to vanish from the archaeological record circa 1450 following a paroxysm of climate-triggered decline, are not lost on him. His method is to sequentially visit various subtopics of concern to the region, such as struggles for environmental justice in hardscrabble South Phoenix and Maryvale, the opportunities and contradictions raised by the fledgling solar industry, and the region’s recent convulsions over nativist and racist crackdowns on undocumented immigrants and American-born Latinos. Ross uses these episodes to raise broader questions that resonate far beyond Arizona, while constantly jumping between spatial scales in order to situate Phoenix’s local battles within nationwide and global debates about sustainability and social equity.

From Ross’s deep engagement with his subject emerges a cogent and powerful argument. To him, “the key to sustainability lies in innovating healthy pathways out of poverty for populations at risk, rather than marketing green gizmos to those who already have many options to choose from.” Ross is steadfast in his insistence that the region must address the needs of people in places like Maryvale and not just those in Scottsdale. In the process, he is unstinting in his skewering of Garrett Hardin and the notion of “lifeboat ethics,” as well as all of Hardin’s intellectual descendants who fuse an ostensible concern for ecology with unabashed nativism. Current luminaries that have tilled this ground, such as William Rees, the originator of the now-fashionable concept of the “ecological footprint,” are not spared Ross’s ire.

Seen from the standpoint of his central argument, Ross’s provocative recasting of the Phoenix region’s role in sparking a trans-Sunbelt anti-immigration conflagration as “the first skirmish in the climate wars of the future” is profoundly unsettling. But the pages of Bird on Fire also brim with richly detailed descriptions of local social movements that incorporate sustainability concerns into their very cores. Nowhere is this more true than in the vignette with which he closes the book, the triumph of the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) in a decades-long battle to reclaim flow from the Gila and Salt Rivers stolen by settlers in the 1880s. Ross observes that this belated righting of historical wrongs offers the hope of not simply passing on a better world to the children and grandchildren of the current generation, as the old environmentalist saw would have it, but to the economically and environmentally disadvantaged children who are alive right now.

Given Ross’s contention that the key to ecological sustainability is less about technocratic fixes and more about political power sharing, it is somewhat curious that he omits discussion of perhaps the most important development in the last four decades in local governance. This is the rise of Common Interest Developments (CIDs), about which Evan McKenzie wrote in his important 1994 book Privatopia and which he now revisits in Beyond Privatopia. CIDs, exemplified by the homeowner associations that manage many new subdivisions, are best viewed as privatized local governments that take on many of the functions traditionally performed by municipalities. They first arose in significant numbers in the 1960s in order to manage the shared amenities that developers, facing rapidly escalating suburban land costs, added to their projects in order to persuade buyers to accept higher densities. CIDs were invented to solve a specific problem. Their originators could scarcely have foreseen that they would come to radically reorganize the local state in the coming decades, particularly following the property tax revolts that began in the late 1970s.

While CIDs now exist from coast to coast and have rapidly spread internationally, they are nowhere more important, and thus vital to understand, than in such (until recently) high-growth Sunbelt locations as Phoenix. The explosive growth of the Sunbelt led the way in doubling the number of Americans residing in CIDs from 30 million at the time of writing of Privatopia to almost 60 million today.

McKenzie views the CID as a kaleidoscopic phenomenon, where one’s view of it changes substantially depending on the vantage point from which it is perceived. Critical urban theorists, led by Mike Davis, have long viewed CIDs as abettors of societal fragmentation. Visionary urbanists, on the other hand, such as proponents of New Urbanism and cohousing, have seen CIDs as ideal governance arrangements for managing new (sub)urban forms and structures of social organization. Institutionalists, amongst whose number McKenzie counts himself, view CIDs as a novel governance structure that has raised unexpected issues, such as the requirement that all new residential developments include CIDs in municipalities such as Las Vegas and the Phoenix suburbs of Gilbert and Mesa.

While McKenzie sees partial merit in these differing perspectives, he spends a whole chapter debunking the assumptions underlying a new cadre of CID champions that has arisen since Privatopia was written: libertarian intellectuals. Far from being “an expression of voluntary choices made by individuals to create a club economy for the provision of local services,” McKenzie sees owner associations as standardized governance arrangements over whose details homebuyers are powerless to negotiate. Under these conditions, homebuyers cannot be truthfully said to have voluntarily entered into private contracts that reflect their preferred combination of desired public services and willingness to pay dues, as the Tiebout-inspired neoclassical economic theory leaned on by the libertarians would maintain.

The consequences of this largely accidental revolution in local governance are profound, and could substantially constrain the policy choices available in places such as Phoenix, particularly as the social and environmental stresses that Ross describes in Bird On Fire begin to accumulate. Will the foreclosure crisis crush numerous CIDs, heaping yet more unwanted responsibilities on fiscally overtaxed local governments? What if CID policies conflict with sustainability objectives, as in subdivisions in the Southwest that have forbidden their residents from replacing the green grass in their front yards with low-water “xeriscapes”? Neither Ross nor McKenzie claims to predict the future, but anyone concerned about the near-term fate of the Sunbelt would be well-advised to pay attention to what two of the few scholars who have closely examined this region’s urbanism and its underlying governance arrangements have to say.

Jake Wegmann is a PhD student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.

Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in American’s Metropolitan Regions By Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor

Routledge, 2012

Reviewed by Chris Schildt

The dramatic rise in income inequality is now an undisputed reality for most Americans. Less talked about is what city planners and economic developers can do about it. UC Berkeley Department of City Regional Planning alumni Chris Benner and Manuel Pastor’s latest book, Just Growth: Inclusion and Prosperity in American’s Metropolitan Regions, begins to address how our cities can achieve not only economic growth, but also a more equitable distribution of economic gains. Using both a robust quantitative analysis and in-depth case studies, the authors tease out the complex relationship between economic growth and social equity.

Benner and Pastor’s findings are thought-provoking, and at times alarming. Strong regional governance, whether by the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) or another entity, seems to support more equitable regional resource distribution, or at least help prevent fractured and isolated jurisdictions from competing with each other. Similarly, the development of a shared learning community that brings together diverse stakeholders to work on common causes (what they call a diverse epistemic community) helps overcome isolation and promotes resource sharing among various social, ethnic, and economic groups. Both of these factors make intuitive sense at a certain level. It is not surprising that they are coming from these two authors, whose previous work has been about the rise of regional social equity movements.

What is alarming, however, is that many of the indicators the authors found to contribute to equitable growth are faring poorly in the latest economic recession. They found that the presence of a strong African American and Latino middle class is highly correlated with growth and equity. However, such households have also been hit the hardest by foreclosure and unemployment in this recession. Likewise, both the public sector and the construction industry– which are also highly correlated with equitable growth-- have faced a sharp decline in employment. As the economic recovery slowly takes hold, these findings suggest that it may be even harder to make gains in social equity without strong interventions.

The form these interventions might take is suggested by several of the book’s case studies, which showcase four equitable growth cities (Kansas City, Missouri; Nashville, Tennessee; Jacksonville, Florida; and Columbus, Ohio). In addition, the authors highlight three cities that have encountered mixed experiences with economic growth and equity (Sacramento, California; Denver, Colorado; and Cleveland, Ohio). Though smaller and lesser known than some of the well-studied metropolises of this country, these cities have developed some fairly innovative strategies to achieve equitable growth. For example, Jacksonville’s Chamber of Commerce worked with local government to require businesses that receive a public subsidy to relocate to pay their workers at least 115 percent of Florida’s average wage. Kansas City’s workforce development programs have received multiple awards over the years, and has served as one of the models for the creation of Workforce Investment Boards nationally. It seems planners can learn a lot from strategies being developed in these often-overlooked cities.

The big disappointment in this book is that it falls short of actually determining the causal links between equity and growth, as the authors themselves readily admit. Benner and Pastor offer a strong quantitative analysis of the correlation of several variables with both equity and growth as well as some compelling hypotheses. However, this book is in need of a sequel that opens up the black box of equitable growth and lays out a clear policy roadmap showing how to get there.

Chris Schildt is a Masters student in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.

Sustainable Transportation Planning: Tools for Creating Vibrant, Healthy, and Resilient Communities, by Jeffrey Tumlin

Wiley, 2012

Reviewed by Dan Piatkowski

Textbooks on the subject of sustainable transportation typically fall into one of two categories, the first focusing narrowly and with great detail on a specific aspect of the topic, the second attempting to provide an overview of the myriad issues that apply to both sustainability and transportation. In a classroom setting, the former are ideal for supplemental readings, while the latter—when properly executed—can provide a knowledge base and framework for a semester-long course. Jeffrey Tumlin’s Sustainable Transportation Planning is a well-executed example of the latter. He has written a compact, engaging, and approachable text that is ideally suited to bringing a diverse group of students up to speed on the topic and providing a launching point for supplementary readings and discussions. I say this from experience, having assigned Tumlin’s text to a graduate seminar I taught on the subject that drew students from planning, engineering, and public policy.

Sustainable Transportation Planning is designed for practitioners, policymakers, citizen-activists, and students rather than serious researchers, as Tumlin points out on the first page. To his credit, Tumlin successfully addresses the needs of this broadly defined audience. The greatest strength of the book, and particularly its early chapters, is the references we are directed to for further study. The book begins by making the case for transportation as a means of reaching sustainability goals, not as an end unto itself; sustainable transportation is “an investment tool that cities use to help achieve their larger goals” which he identifies as: economic development, quality of life, social equity, public health, and ecological sustainability. His discussion of the “Three E’s” of sustainability (Environment, Equity, and Economy) is simple and direct, introducing readers to such diverse concepts as life-cycle analysis, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and market failures in funding transportation.

Chapters 1 through 4 first provide an overview of sustainability and an introduction to transportation’s impacts on public health, and then brings our attention to what Tumlin posits as one of the greatest obstacles to creating sustainable cities: “the absence of a commonly held, compelling vision of the city of the future.” Tumlin draws from a number of scholarly sources and well-known books (such as Gehl’s Cities for People and Vanderbilt’s Traffic, to name a few) to present a comprehensive overview of transportation, the built environment, and health. Tumlin closes his first chapter by placing transportation planning goals in the context of mobility and accessibility. He is able to clearly define and articulate these sometimes challenging concepts in only a few hundred words. His economy and careful choice of topics and examples serve the book well.

The bulk of the text (Chapters 5-13) is topical in nature and chapter subjects range from bicycling, walking, transit, and motor vehicles, to parking, car sharing, transit station areas, and transportation demand management (TDM). In general, the chapters on each mode begin by discussing that mode’s role in transportation sustainability and then proceed to best practices in street design and level-of-service measures. The street design elements are a useful distillation of existing best practices, and a necessary component to any textbook on the subject, but my students and I tended to skim past them to the effectively made “significance” arguments: the whys and hows of a specific mode’s role in the larger context of transportation sustainability.

The chapters on parking, car sharing, transit stations, and TDM are prime examples of Tumlin’s success in creating what he describes as “a transitional document,” synthesizing applicable knowledge from a variety of fields (frequently, but not only, engineering and health) to offer “implementation-focused guidance” on reduced auto-dependence and increased sustainability. Rather than seeking depth in his treatment of topics, we are directed to empirical research (like that of Susan Shaheen, Adam Cohen, and others on car sharing) or seminal texts (such as Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking and Anthony Downs’ two works Stuck in Traffic and Still Stuck in Traffic).

I would have liked to see more about the connection between transportation and land use in the book. The chapters on walking, cycling, and transit make only brief mention of the role of land use in supporting or discouraging these modes. Neglecting an explicit focus on connecting mobility, accessibility, and land use to non-auto travel is a missed opportunity and an important aspect of sustainable transportation planning. It is difficult to imagine a reader who would choose to read a list of design guidelines over a concise distillation of the factors that influence mode choice decisions, and that may be the most important omission in the text. I did not use this book as a stand alone text, and Tumlin does not claim it as such.

Sustainable Transportation Planning closes with a concise chapter on “Measuring Success,” an enormously important topic in planning, but especially in transportation. Tumlin’s treatment of the subject is practical and direct, perhaps reflecting his own experience as a transportation planner. As with the rest of the book, this chapter’s strength is its breadth rather than depth, and rather than concluding the text with a sweeping chapter on future directions, Tumlin keeps things succinct and applied (the actual final chapter is a list of useful resources). For someone new to sustainable transportation, this book provides an ideal overview of key issues, a helpful quick reference on design guidelines, and, perhaps most importantly, a long reading list for those interested in digging further into the subject. As a teaching tool, I found the text ideal as an engaging and accessible launching point for the supplemental readings I selected, and a rich source of material for classroom discussions.

It also speaks volumes that after a semester with this textbook, my students thanked me for selecting it for the class.

Daniel Piatkowski is a PhD Candidate at the University of Colorado at Denver College of Architecture and Planning, and a NSF-IGERT Fellow with the Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Systems.


Gehl, Jan. 2010. Cities for People. Washington DC: Island Press.
Shoup, Donald. 2005. The High Cost of Free Parking. Washington DC: APA Planner’s Press.
Downs, Anthony. 1992. Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Downs, Anthony. 2004. Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion. Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Shaheen, Susan, Adam Cohen and Elliot Martin. 2010. “Carsharing Parking Policy: A Review of North American Practices and San Francisco Bay Area Case Study.” Transportation Research Record, 2187, p. 146-156.
Vanderbilt, Tom. 2008. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us). New York: Knopf.


Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-Being, and Sustainability, by Andrew L. Dannenberg, Howard Frumkin, and Richard J. Jackson

Island Press, 2011 Reviewed by William Riggs

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” This ancient proverb opens the book Making Healthy Places by Dannenberg, Frumkin, and Jackson, and the focus on resolving current issues of sustainability and health resonates throughout it. The book addresses the complicated and linked issues of health and environmental sustainability, outlining a “toolbox” of solutions to reshape the built environment for posterity. The topic provides a healthy-environment-design-and-policy manual of biblical proportions, and the theme of changing the shape of the built environment for future generations holds as a guiding ethos throughout this excellent compilation.

The roughly 400-page volume begins at much the same place that it ends, with a section devoted to key terms and themes. It includes a case for reintegration of health into the planning and design fields, which has been called for by the likes of Corburn (2004, 2007) and Krieger (2000). The book also outlines how many educational “training pathways” for architects, urban planners, and engineers have not included a balanced framework that integrates public health—something seminal in the formation of these fields—and argues for reengagement of these fields. One of the best features of these sections is a 17-page glossary of relevant terms and acronyms that defines everything from the D’s of design to urban heat islands and xeriscaping— an excellent reference tool for the aspiring urban aficionado.

After this introduction, the book is divided by topic, outlining and summarizing the literature on the relationship between community design and health. This includes summaries on: transportation and walkability; healthy housing, workplaces, health care establishments, and schools; healthy places policy, community engagement, and benchmarking techniques. It also includes topics such as how to influence healthy behaviors, universal design and accessibility, and disaster resiliency. The book provides an exhaustive assortment of literature that reinforces synergies between planning and health, citing not only from books by Jacob Riis, Upton Sinclair, and Jane Jacobs but from papers by Robert Cervero, Reid Ewing, Lawrence Frank, and James Sallis, that it can leave the reader feeling bewildered and somewhat overwhelmed. At times it might be likened to looking at a Jackson Pollock painting that leaves one thinking: What does this all mean? How does it fit together? What do I do with this?

This sense of bewilderment, created from extensive amounts of information that the reader is required to digest and then associate, provides one of two weaknesses of the book. First, in trying to cover everything for everyone, and providing virtually all of the information available that links environmental design to health, transportation, and sustainability, the book provides no singular take-away. This lack of clarity may leave some readers in a muddle. It may make them sense that the authors are trying to prove a point rather than provide an objective overview of the field. Intuition may make them wonder if they are getting the whole story.

For example, in a suggestive chapter dedicated to biophelic design, the authors make the case that “designing with nature” can improve physical health. This is not a new argument. It has been embedded in planning practice from the time of Ebenezer Howard to Ian McHarg. Making Healthy Places, however, cites more recent empirical data and examples, including studies by Ulrich (Ulrich 1984 Ulrich et al. 1991) and Takano (Takano, Nakamura, & Watanabe 2002); yet this case for a beneficial “dose of nature” walks a fine line between equating correlation with causality. Some might question if the authors are being overly deterministic given the “complex web” of causation where no one has been able to find the spider (Krieger 1994).

This leads to a second weakness. In some cases, the contrarian perspective does not appear to be presented. For example, in a discussion of the benefits of walking, data is presented using what has become the established metric for measuring walkability—indexed mixes of land use, street grid connectivity, and residential density (Frank, Schmid, Sallis, Chapman, and Saelens 2005). This includes data showing how walkability is connected to higher levels of physical activity and reduced risk of obesity. However, some readers might pose questions about elements not captured by these metrics, such as crime, topography, and street safety improvements such as pedestrian bulb-outs and high-visibility crosswalks. They also might draw the distinction between incidental and recreational behaviors and the merits of ‘less walkable’ suburban areas. These are places that have been proven to have more capacity to support leisure physical activity (Forsyth, Oakes, Schmitz, and Hearst 2007) —a provocative statement in the eyes of many smart growth advocates and noticeably absent from the book.

Despite these weaknesses, Dannenberg, Frumkin, Jackson, and their collaborators demonstrate an outstanding command of the literature. They make a strong case for policies that can better connect environmental design to health and sustainability. Making Healthy Places serves as both a primer for those new to the field and a reference manual for practicing planners looking for design answers to complex, wicked problems in their respective communities. And to paraphrase T.S. Eliot from his 1949 work Christianity and Culture, the fact that these problems may take time to solve, even generations, is no justification for postponing them—on the contrary, dealing with these “permanent difficulties” is dealing with the “difficulties of every moment.” With this book Dannenberg, Frumkin, and Jackson capture this solutions-oriented spirit, and outline how practitioners and researchers in the fields of architecture, planning, and public health can help shape a legacy of health for our children.

William Riggs recently completed his PhD in the Department of City and Regional Planning at UC Berkeley.


Corburn, J., “Confronting the Challenges in Reconnecting Urban Planning and Public Health,” American Journal of Public Health, 94(4), 541, 2004.
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