Top 20 Urban Planning Books (Of All Time)

The Planetizen 20 features the all-time top 20 planning titles that every planner should read. Planetizen's annual lists features the top 10 popular titles published during each preceding year.


The “Planetizen 20” features the all-time top 20 urban planning books that every planner should read. Planetizen's annual top urban planning books list features the top 10 urban published during each year. In addition to clicking through to buy the books listed below, be sure to check out the Planetizen Store for authoritative and informative books in urban planning, design, and development.

Top 20 All-Time Urban Planning Books Every Planner Should Read

The “Death and Life of Great American Cities” by Planetizen is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs (1961). A classic since its publication in 1961, this book is the definitive statement on American cities: what makes them safe, how they function, and why all too many official attempts at saving them have failed. The New York Times writes that The Death and Life of Great American Cities is, "Perhaps the most influential single work in the history of town planning." Buy this book.

 

The “The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects” by Planetizen is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects, by Lewis Mumford (1972). One of planning and design’s most influential urbanists presents a history of the forms and functions of the city throughout the ages. The book also includes a prophecy for the future of cities and urban life. The City in History was awarded the National Book Award in 1962. Buy this book.

 

The “Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practice” by Planetizen is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Local Planning: Contemporary Principles and Practice, edited by Gary Hack, et al. (2009). The eight chapters in Local Planning, roughly spanning from context to applications, consists of articles written by a wide range of experts-academics, practitioners, clients, and observers of planning. Local Planning is sometimes referred to by planners as “The Green Bible” and is a key text while preparing for the AICP ExamBuy this book.

 

The “The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects” by Frederick Olmsted is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Civilizing American Cities: Writings on City Landscapes, by Frederick Law Olmsted (1997). Civilizing American Cities collects Olmsted's plans for New York, San Francisco, Buffalo, Montreal, Chicago, and Boston, in addition to suburban plans for Berkeley, California and Riverside, Illinois and a generous helping of his writings on urban landscape in general. These selections, expertly edited and introduced, are not only enjoyable but essential reading for anyone interested in the history—and the future—of America's cities. Buy this book.

 

The “The Image of the City” by Kevin Lynch is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Image of the City, by Kevin Lynch (1960). What does the city's form actually mean to the people who live there? What can the city planner do to make the city's image more vivid and memorable to the city dweller? To answer these questions, Mr. Lynch, supported by studies of Los Angeles, Boston, and Jersey City, formulates a new criterion—imageability—and shows its potential value as a guide for the building and rebuilding of cities. Buy this book.

 

The “The American City: What Works and What Doesn't” by Alexander Garvin is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The American City: What Works and What Doesn't, by Alexander Garvin (1995) This definitive sourcebook on urban planning points out what has and hasn't worked in the ongoing attempt to solve the continuing problems of American cities. Hundreds of examples and case studies clearly illustrate successes and failures in urban planning and regeneration, including examples of the often misunderstood and maligned "Comprehensive Plan." Buy this book.

 

The “Good City Form” by Kevin Lynch is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Good City Form, by Kevin Lynch (1995). Lynch looks at connections between human values and the physical forms of cities, sets requirements for a normative theory of city form, reviews earlier physical images of what utopian communities might be, sees what is to be learned from hellish images, and helps us place city forms into one or another of three theoretic constructs; cosmic or ceremonial centers, the machine city, and the city as an organism. Buy this book.

 

The “The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream” by Peter Calthorpe is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Next American Metropolis: Ecology, Community, and the American Dream, by Peter Calthorpe (1993). One of the strongest supporters of New Urbanism, architect and urban designer Peter Calthrope makes the case for compact, mixed-use development over the urban sprawl that has dominated much of the development in the past decades. Twenty-four regional plans are presented in the book, focusing on reducing dependance on the automobile and increasing the proximity between home, work, shopping, and recreation. Buy this book.

 

The “Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century” by Peter Hall is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century, by Peter Hall (1996 Updated Edition). Cities of Tomorrow provides an overview of the ideas, events, and personalities that have shaped world urbanization since 1900. The book is organized into ten chapters that treat late 19th-century slums; mass-transit suburbs; the garden city movement; the genesis of regional planning; the 'City Beautiful' movement; the skyscraper city; the city of 'sweat equity'; automobile suburbs; the city of theory; and contemporary urban redevelopment. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction” by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction, by Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, and Murray Silverstein (1976). "Here's how to design or redesign any space you're living or working in—from metropolis to room. Consider what you want to happen in the space, and then page through this book. Its radically conservative observations will spark, enhance, organize your best ideas, and a wondrous home, workplace, town will result,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle. This handbook is designed for the layperson and aims to present a language which people can use to express themselves in their own communities or homes. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert A. Caro (1975). In a tour de force of journalism, Caro documents the life and story of Robert Moses, whose use and abuse of power shaped the politics, the physical structure, and even the problems of urban decline through the decades of the mid-20th century in New York City. The Power Broker is an extremely long book, but a transformative read. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Edge City: Life on the New Frontier” by Joel Garreau is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, by Joel Garreau (1992). First there was downtown. Then there were suburbs. Then there were malls. Then Americans launched the most sweeping change in 100 years in how they live, work, and play. The Edge City gives shape to the trends of the American built environment in the 20th century. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape” by James Howard Kunstler is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape, by James Howard Kunstler (1995). The Geography of Nowhere traces America's evolution from a nation of Main Streets and coherent communities to a land where every place is like no place in particular, where the cities are dead zones and the countryside is a wasteland of cartoon architecture and parking lots. This is definitive criticism of the American built environment. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Urban Villagers” by Herbert J. Gans is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Urban Villagers, by Herbert J. Gans (1962, updated 1982). A detailed report of a participant-observation study of an inner-city Boston neighborhood called the West End and, in particular, of the native-born Americans of Italian parentage who lived there with other ethnic groups. A classic of sociology that redefined the practices of urban planning. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The Essential William Whyte” by William H. Whyte is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.The Essential William Whyte, edited by Albert LaFarge (2000). The result of William Whyte's research is an extremely human, often amusing look at what goes on in our cities' streets. The original title, City: Rediscovering the Center, is out of print. This edition is a collection of much of the original work by William Whyte. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Design With Nature” by Ian L. McHarg is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Design With Nature, by Ian L. McHarg (1995). The first book to describe an ecologically sound approach to the planning and design of communities, Design with Nature has done much over the past 25 years to shape public environmental policy. This paperback edition makes this classic accessible to a wider audience than ever before. Lavishly illustrated with more than 300 color photos and line drawings. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West” by William Cronon is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, by William Cronon (1992). In this groundbreaking work, a former Yale University professor of history gives an environmental perspective on the history of 19th century America. "No one has written about Chicago with more power, clarity, and intelligence than Cronon. Indeed, no one has ever written a better book about a city,” according to the Boston Globe. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson (1962). Rarely does a single book alter the course of history, but Rachel Carson's Silent Spring did exactly that. The outcry that followed its publication in 1962 forced the government to ban DDT and spurred revolutionary changes in the laws affecting our air, land, and water. Carson's book was instrumental in launching the environmental planning movement. Buy this book.

 

The “​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Planning in the USA: Policies, Issues, and Processes” by Barry Cullingworth is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Planning in the USA: Policies, Issues, and Processes, by Barry Cullingworth (1997). This comprehensive introduction to the policies, theory, and practice of planning outlines land use, urban planning, and environmental protection policies and explains the nature of the planning process. Buy this book.

 

“​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Great Streets” by Allan B. Jacobs is one of the Planetizen’s top urban planning books of all time.Great Streets, by Allan B. Jacobs (1995). Which are the world's best streets, and what are the physical, designable characteristics that make them great? To answer these questions, Allan Jacobs has surveyed street users and design professionals and has studied a wide array of street types and urban spaces around the world. With more than 200 illustrations, all prepared by the author, along with analysis and statistics, Great Streets offers a wealth of information on street dimensions, plans, sections, and patterns of use, all systematically compared. Buy this book.

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