Problems With Cities [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Three]

February 10, 2020 Uncategorized 0 ★★★★★

Wow! I’ve done a ton of reading about urban planning so far this year. I’ve enjoyed it a lot, but the last two books I read were a little denser and more difficult. I learned so much reading them and had fun doing it. They were enough of a challenge though that I’m glad to move on to another project after this. Unlike my previous reads on this topic, these two books focused in on one narrow problem with the city – the increasing divide between wealthy and poorer areas of cities and how this correlates with race.

Problems With Cities [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Three]Title: The Divided City: Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America
Author: Alan Mallach
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads

Both of the books in this post were definitely more academic than the previous books I’ve read on this topic. This was the easier of the two to follow though. While not narrative nonfiction by any means, it still uses clear language and helpful pictures to tell the story of changing American cities. It includes fascinating anecdotes about cities, primarily in the Midwest and Northeastern parts of the country. I enjoyed recognizing some less well known small cities used in examples. Even the statistics in this book felt almost anecdotal to me. This might be because it’s hard to prove cause-and-effect in the real world with as much certainty as you can in science experiments. However, the author made logical arguments that I found persuasive. Although the whole book is clearly motivated by the generally liberal idea that we should intervene to alleviate poverty and create a level playing field, the author’s specific policy suggestions felt measured, evidence-based, and not ideologically driven. This was a challenging read and I loved how much I learned reading it.

Problems With Cities [Urban Planning Deep Dive Part Three]Title: The Road to Resegregation: Northern California and the Failure of Politics
Author: Alex Schafran
Links: Indiebound |Goodreads

This book was very similar to the previous book. It was also academic, rooted in statistics and anecdotes, but without a clear narrative arc. It used more academic language than the previous book though, which made it harder to follow. I think I’d have been lost if I hadn’t already been reading on this topic, so it’s not a book I’d recommend starting with. The author thoroughly supported his points with ideas and data from other scholars, as well as public databases. It was one of the best cited books I’ve read and I appreciated that transparency. I also liked that the author sometimes cited people that he then politely disagreed with. I don’t see enough of author’s engaging with people they disagree with! He also did a great job giving a nuanced analysis of the complicated history of the Bay Area. It was an even more challenging book than the previous one. I found it slow going. That said, I still think it’s a five star read for me. Judging it by the standards of its genre (an academic one!) and its goal (to inform more than entertain), it was a complete success.

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