There are a lot of great books about city and urban planning out there, and I highly recommend you read as many as you can. However, an old mentor of mine once suggested that to avoid overdosing on planning literature, I should read books using the following cycle:
Read a planning related book
Read a non-planning related non-fiction book (e.g. a biography)
Read a fiction book (e.g. a Ken Follett book)
Below is a list of my top five favourite non-planning related books that provide great insight to the planning profession.
1. The Social Animal by David Brooks
A major part of any planning profession is to better understand why humans do what they do. Through a great storytelling method, this book tries to make sense of the craziness of human behaviour. Witty and sharp, this book tells the story of two individuals over the course of their lifetime and exposes the power of our conscious and unconscious minds. The book provokes a lot of good discussion about how we make decisions, our hidden biases and the role of social interaction. Being a good planner is about understanding human behaviour, and this book is a great starting point.
2. Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
The author of this book won a Nobel Prize for economics. Therefore, you will feel instantly smarter the moment you hold this book in your hands. And then once you start actually reading the words, you'll discover a detailed, articulate and easily digestible book on behavioural economics. In a nutshell, the book summarizes the two systems that drive the way we think and make choices: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Examining how both systems function, the author exposes the dynamic processes involved with our thoughts and choices. As it relates to the planning field, this book offers a fantastic perspective on the nature of why people react the way they do to proposed changes (see: NIMBYism).
3. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman by Richard P. Feynman
A former planning colleague of mine recommended this book to me. I'm glad she did. The book is a collection of the famous physicist's best anecdotes which range from the development of the nuclear bomb to his days as a painter. The book is loaded with reflective-pause-inducing wisdom and his passion for life is contagious. Perhaps the most important takeaway though is his constant curiosity and passion for the truth. Never stop exploring and don't ever be afraid to ask "Why?".
4. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
One of the most important skills that any planner can have is the ability to write words good. The author of On Writing Well guides you through the process of writing better and finding simplicity, clarity and humanity using your own voice and writing style. You write better good fast.
5. The Indispensable Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
In the same way that a child sees an empty cardboard box as a spaceship or a house, a city planner must also be able to see a street as an empty canvas for creativity. If you're struggling to find those creative juices, then Calvin and Hobbes is the quintessential story to inspire anyone to think with imagination and creativity again. Try not to always sees things as they are, see things as your five-year old self would see them.
What about you, are there any books you recommend?
Ais for Action What a good plan always takes B is for Bicycle Turning sharrows to separated lanes C is for Car Share Using our stuff more sustainably D is for Density A great tool, when done gently E is for Equity Making partnerships, not cliques F is for Facilitate A fancy word for letting people speak G is for Greenspace Go outside and play H is for Happy How cities should feel everyday I is for Inquire When something doesn't seem right J is for Jane Jacobs Who knew when it was time to fight K is for Knowledge The more you listen, the more you know L is for Locals Talk to them for the real down-low M is for Maps Bring out your crayons and felt pens N is for Neighbourhoods Where strangers can become friends O is for Open For businesses made locally P is for Placemaking Making spaces people don't want to leave Q is for Questions Like, Why Does It Always Have To Be This Way? R is for Rezoning Get comfortable with constant change S is for Sidewalks The backbone of "A to B" T is for Transit The 40 foot limousine U is for User Always know who you're working for V is for Venn Diagrams tell people so much more W is for Work Good things never come with ease X is for X-Walk Connecting people with where they want to be Y is for Yesterday Always learning from the past Z is for Zero A Vision that will make our future last (Inspiration for this came seeing this and reading this)
It's that time of year again when people around the world become 'amateur city planners' and design their own miniature Christmas/Winter Villages (Welcome, to Mattland). We meticulously arrange the buildings, activity centres, transportation systems and people in just the right way to create a place where we think people would want to stick around. We're placemaking.
So why is it that when we build our own communities, we don't apply the same values?
Would you build a Village with lots of parking lots and busy streets?