Thursday, 31 March 2016

Five Books For Planners, That Aren't About Planning

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)
  • Repeat

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?

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