subscribe
free e-newsletter free e-newsletter
product info
advertise
FAQ
SUBSCRIBE TODAY
for premium web access
comment

A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America

By Vishaan Chakrabarti. Metropolis Books, 2013, 252 pages, $30.
August 2013

Bright Lights, Big Cities

Reviewed by Clifford A. Pearson

Architect, planner, and one-time developer Vishaan Chakrabarti asks us to imagine a United States in which government invests in high-speed trains linking high-density cities and does not subsidize suburban sprawl. He admits this sounds a bit naive in an era of political paralysis and at a time when the middle class and wealthy—no matter their political affiliation—enjoy perks like the mortgage-interest deduction that help perpetuate the status quo. But he builds his argument with straightforward prose and lots of easy-to-read charts and graphs.

Building Seagram, AR Book Reivew
Rate this project:
Based on what you have seen and read about this project, how would you grade it? Use the stars below to indicate your assessment, five stars being the highest rating.
----- Advertising -----

Hyper-dense cities are more efficient in their use of limited resources such as energy, money, and time, he says. They also offer a better quality of living by reducing commuting times, putting people closer to cultural attractions, and freeing up land for parks and outdoor recreation. “A host of scholars from different points along the political spectrum, including economists, environmentalists, and public-health experts, have made a variety of findings supporting the central premise that American cities offer a cure for many of our most urgent problems,” he writes.

What's holding us back from solving these problems, argues Chakrabarti, is a set of attitudes, including an anti-urban bias rooted in Jeffersonian ideals and a fear of big development taught at even the best architecture schools. The author's experience as a director at the New York City Planning Commission, a partner in the architecture firm SHoP, and a former executive with the big developer Related Companies gives him insight on the situation we face. But it also comes with some baggage, raising questions about his impartiality, especially when he uses projects by SHoP and Related to illustrate his points.

He tackles the issue of affordability by proposing that we phase out the mortgage interest deduction and use part of that money to help subsidize low-income housing units in mixed-income projects. And he argues that employing prefabrication in high-rise construction will reduce the cost of urban housing. He admits that the book's scope does not include all parts of the country. “Instead of attempting to retool failing suburbs, and while remaining respectful of small towns across this great nation, I focus ... almost entirely on ... our big cities,” he says. Such an approach helps him map out a forceful agenda for urban development—and perhaps lays the groundwork for another career switch, into New York City politics. But it left me wondering what he thinks we should do with our suburbs, many of which are experiencing high rates of foreclosure and increasing levels of poverty. I guess that's another book. In the meanwhile, this one delivers a clarion call to build our cities bigger, taller, and better.

 Reader Comments:

Sign in to Comment

To write a comment about this story, please sign in. If this is your first time commenting on this site, you will be required to fill out a brief registration form. Your public username will be the beginning of the email address that you enter into the form (everything before the @ symbol). Other than that, none of the information that you enter will be publically displayed.

We welcome comments from all points of view. Off-topic or abusive comments, however, will be removed at the editors’ discretion.

----- Advertising -----
View all
Sweets, Search Building Products
Search
Reader Feedback
Most Commented Most Recommended
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days
Rankings reflect comments made in the past 14 days