A City Reading

I recently came across this piece from Next City talking about a reading list for the city of Boston, and it got me thinking. Of course, a city-wide book club isn’t anything new; for more than a decade my fair town has put on One Book, One Chicago, in which our public libraries organize a series of events surrounding a book that has some bearing on our city or shared history.

Credit: lauramusikanski, Morguefile.com

Credit: lauramusikanski, Morguefile.com

But Boston is doing something more novel (mind the pun), in that the books they’ve chosen are meant to inform a citywide planning process known as Imagine Boston 2030. The goal is to “guide positive physical change while promoting shared prosperity, coordinated public investments, and a healthy environment and population.” The idea is that reading books about a certain topic can help residents think more deeply and creatively about the specific problems facing a city. (Incidentally, that’s the same way I feel about this blog and the usefulness of reading long-form writing about housing, property ownership, and the real estate industry at large!)

Anyway, here’s the list with all the Boston-specific books removed. Which books do you think your town could benefit from reading together? Anything you’d add?

  • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs.
    This seminal 1961 book is a critique of 1950s urban planning policy, which it holds responsible for the decline of many city neighborhoods in the United States.
  • Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step at a Time, by Jeff Speck
    An urban planner makes the case for transforming downtowns into walkable communities as a way to fix the typical American city, complete with practical tips for achieving his vision.
  • The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, by Robert Caro.
    This Pulitzer Prize-winning biography focuses on the creation and use of power in local and state politics, as witnessed through Moses’ use of unelected positions to design and implement dozens of highways and bridges, sometimes at great cost to surrounding communities.
  • The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong, by Judith Rodin
    This book examines dozens of cities across the globe that have been hit by large-scale catastrophes—natural disaster, geopolitical conflict, food shortages, disease and contagion, terrorist attacks—combining their stories with practical insights and research to help build a more dynamic, resilient future.
  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by Matthew Desmond
    A Harvard sociologist takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge.
  • The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future, by Joseph Stiglitz
    A Nobel Prize-winning economist explains how income inequality affects and is affected by every aspect of national policy, and offers a vision for a way to achieve a more just and prosperous future.

Meg White

Meg White is the managing editor for REALTOR® Magazine and administrator of the magazine's Weekly Book Scan blog. Contact her at mwhite[at]realtors.org.

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  1. Over in Portland, Oregon we have a ton of Little Free Libraries — “book boxes” where people are free to take a book or return a book. They’re a great way to encourage literacy and catch the interest of pedestrians and neighborhood visitors.

  2. Brian, I love the looks of your Free Little Library! There’s one in my neighborhood and I’ve been thinking about building one on our lawn. They are so cool.