Top 4 books on City Making I wish I read earlier

I once had a friend review my research paper, and before he even started, his special requirements were that if I had started my essay with something in the line of “By 2030, 60% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities,” he wouldn’t even bother to continue. (The basic introduction to most urban planning and design papers; there’s nothing wrong with that; it is just common and overused.) Guess who uses that to determine whether books or papers in that genre will be interesting. Since I find city-making fascinating, I thought I’d share books that were provoking and whose ideas have stuck with me.

The following are recommendations of urban design and planning niche books that did not feel more academic in nature, but rather the writers were attempting to tell urban planning stories that anyone who is not a city planner would understand. It took some time for me to fully comprehend the urban design coursework while in school. This is a list of books I wish I had when I started.

Happy Cities

I’m starting with this because it gives the right vibes if you’re just starting to understand what urban design is. It finally gave me an answer to what I’d tell a 5-year-old if they asked what I studied at university.

The core argument of the book is that human isolation, which is primarily a symptom of design, is to blame for a great deal of unhappiness. Why not design cities that promote human connection as a goal by planning for happiness instead? It’s full of instances from cities all over the world that are putting these principles into practice and consciously designing more fun public spaces. 

A favorite quote from the book is: “A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” It is clear what Nairobi chooses.

The Image of the City

To be honest, this book became a little bit more technical than a book like Happy Cities. It is considered the bible of Urban Design Text. I’ll classify this as an insightful and provoking read.

Interesting questions from it: How do people view their cities? What sticks in their minds? What are the essential components of a good city, and what are their distinguishing qualities?

Kevin Lynch is more interested in the perception that the city conveys than in the city’s real physical structure. Our perceptions of cities, he argues, are intertwined with memories and meanings. One of the landmarks in Nairobi City that I can think of is Archives. It is a public realm that’s always full of people. It is a meeting point for many young people. If you want to know if someone is new to the city, they’ll propose this place as your meeting point. It is a city landmark on its own and it has helped in becoming part of the image of the city.

This is a great read, especially for urban planning and design students. It helps build one’s theories based on city imagery, and it helped me articulate my design proposals better. I didn’t miss a poster on-site analysis with the city elements from the book.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities

I actually read this book quickly, although I will admit that there were a few passages that looked particularly out of date or no longer applicable. It’s a fantastic book that helped me understand what works and doesn’t in the city. It became clear to me why so many of the city’s features I adore function so flawlessly. It also taught me to use my eyes to explore and observe the city as a fun and educational place.

Anyone may understand why this book has reportedly become one of the most influential in all city planning. The major reason that I love this book, even more, is that, interestingly, Jane Jacobs was not trained as an urban designer, planner, or architect. Her observations come solely from her experiences living in and visiting cities. Major takeaways 

1) Mixed-use streets that are active throughout the day.

2) short blocks to allow for variation in routes and ultimately more foot traffic, 

3) Inclusive spaces for everyone.

4) Increased Density.

The City Makers of Nairobi: An African Urban History

This is my current read. I’ll update the review once I’m done, but it’s giving Nairobi Urban Planning History before the 1960s, a history that’s often not mentioned.

I’m interested in what book fascinated you recently, I’d appreciate it if you’d recommend some of the interesting urban planning books on African cities or Kenyan towns that I should read about in the comment section below. So far, I’ve found Kenyan design guidelines quite useful. Some of the Kenyan design manuals that I have interacted with include:

Street Design Manual for Urban Areas in Kenya

The guidebook is by itdp.org, which aims to mainstream best practices for street designs that prioritize environmentally friendly forms of transportation and enhance the safety of vulnerable road users, especially cyclists and pedestrians.

The Just City Concept

How many times do we think about justice when designing our cities? The study proposes how the idea of a just city might be implemented in Kenya, paying particular attention to urban institutions, citizens’ rights, housing regulations, and public transportation systems. It also introduces to you the 4 major just city concept pillars. Which includes 

  • Dignity
  • Diversity and equity
  • Rights and responsibilities
  • Democracy

The 3Ifs

The 3iF—integrated and Inclusive Infrastructure Framework—is a practical guide for Kenyan entities involved in infrastructure and informal settlement development. By bringing together government, built environment experts, students, and academics, it aims to maximize the integration and inclusion benefits of projects and learning. It is meant to be utilized in the development of policies as well as in the planning, design, and implementation of infrastructure improvement projects to minimize inequality and promote shared prosperity. The guidebook can be accessed through 3if.info.

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