The Busiest Street In Town

Mike Lydon's picture

Few children's books skillfully cover the subject of urban planning. Chicago's Wacker Manual for the Plan of Chicago (1911), David Macaulay's lavishly illustrated City:A Story of Roman Planning and Construction (1974), and most recently, Planetizen's Where Things Are, From Near to Far (2008) are standouts.


However, as the majority of the world's population shifts to urban areas the basics of sustainable city building must be taught more effectively to children of all ages. With this in mind, I was delighted to receive Mara Rockliff's The Busiest Street In Town from Kim Wiley-Schwartz, Director of New YorkCity-based Streets Education. 




Charmingly illustrated by Sarah McMenemy, the story picks up along Rushmore Boulevard, a major thoroughfare bisecting the homes of lifelong friends, and neighbors, Agatha May Walker and Eulalie Scruggs. Like many formerly pleasant urban streets, Rushmore Boulevard is dominated by motor vehicles to the point where Agatha May and Eulalie can no longer cross the street safely.


The tale follows Agatha May, who is armed with an unflappable DIY spirit, as she attempts to reclaim the street from the hegemony of the automobile. What emerges is the complete transformation of Rushmore Boulevard. 


Drawing most obviously from the techniques employed by Aussie urbanist Dave Engwicht, as well as numerous other livable street champions (Hans Monderman, Jan Gehl, Janette Sadik-Khan, etc.), this whimsical tale will not only delight a five-year old child, it will also inspire the 55-year old traffic engineer, and remind us all to work towards leaving a better world behind. 


Pick up your copy today!  



Mike Lydon is Principal of the Street Plans Collaborative and co-author of Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Actions for Long-term Change (Island Press, 2015).



Older books for young city lovers: The Pushcart Wars; Houses

"The Pushcart Wars", a book I read as a kid, captivated my imagination about NYC. It told of a physical street turf battle between big delivery trucks and little pushcart street vendors. Of course, there were people characters, but the main character, to me, was the exotic & busy New York City.
Another book that struck me, and which I still have on my bookshelf, is The Little Golden Book of Houses (c. 1955). This book surveyed, for 5 year olds, different houses in different cultures & countries. Best of all, the last page, mostly blank, challenged the young reader to dream and then draw their housing choice: "Yes, everybody needs a house and home. Which kind will you choose?" My own scribblings are on this page, which no doubt was the beginning.

Mike Lydon's picture

Great Recommendations!

Thanks for passing these along, Keith. What other children's stories related directly, or indirectly to planning are out there?

Children's stories related to planning

From personal memory, the only other kids' books I recall, besides "Pushcart Wars" and "Houses", was "Peter Pat & the Policeman" and "It's Like This, Cat".
The Peter Pat book followed a young boy who started walking down his city neighborhood street, then to a local business district, and drawn further along by each block's unique attractions vividly described from the eyes of a young boy. Soon he was lost. That's when he had to think and decided to trust talking to a policeman directing traffic (who remembers that?), and the policeman, after a series of questions about his neighborhood, eventually helped him find his way home, via the thrill of a patrol car ride. (Only a few years ago, I got to ride in a fire truck and felt like a kid.)
"It's Like This, Cat" was another of those fascinating stories, for me, that took place in NYC, starting on Columbus Day as I recall. The story traced a reflective young boy's everyday city experiences, and who thought aloud these experiences to his ever-present cat. Again, for me, this story's main character was the attractively exotic NYC.

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