Planetizen is pleased to release its ninth annual list of the ten best books in urban planning, design and development published in 2009. This year's assortment ranges from an impassioned argument for making transit fun to a low-key and practical guide to smart growth. And of course, Jane Jacobs makes an appearance.
The Planetizen editorial staff based its 2010 edition list on a number of criteria, including editorial reviews, popularity, Planetizen reader nominations, number of references, sales figures, recommendations from experts and the book's potential impact on the urban planning, development and design professions.
This year, historical analysis dominates the list, with five or more books reaching back into the past for insight. Erik Sanderson reaches back all the way to 1609 in Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City, and Mark Ovenden digs into the history of the Paris Underground with a lushly illustrated coffee table book. But the future and present are not forgotten, with several books tackling today's realities and strategies for improvement.
We present our list in alphabetical order, and are not assigning rank. And now, on to the list!
This book does not have the heft of importance that other books on this list have (Krier's book is remarkably heavy), but in many ways Byrne turns that to his advantage. Byrne is famous as the lead singer of the Talking Heads, but he has had a worthy career since then as an artist and musician. Here, he plays the part of a bicycle advocate, and indeed he has appeared on his book tour in some cities along with bicycle planners and politicians. The strength of his reflections are in the commonplace, in just taking the time to bike slowly along and really see the built environment. "The scale of both the street and these buildings is not quite human," Byrne writes about a ride through Berlin. "and the images that come to mind and the accompanying sensations imply to me an idealistic utopian infinite heaven. Ideals and ideologies do not have boundaries, after all." Part flâneur, part Zen master, Byrne's writings feel like haiku for urbanists.