The Urban Design Reader (Routledge Urban Reader Series)
Review by Sebastian Loew
The Urban Design Reader
MICHAEL LARICE AND ELIZABETH MACDONALD (EDS.), ROUTLEDGE, £24.99
More than 500 pages of text for £25 is not bad going and this latest collection of urban design selected texts is certainly good value. It covers the subject widely and as the editors mention in their general introduction it includes both historical and contemporary texts. The title of the collection is also apposite as it doesn’t deal with the city as previous readers have, but specifically with the now established discipline of urban design. This particular point is made in the last section. The editors also acknowledge that this collection is only an appetizer which they hope will encourage readers to explore the subject further.
The texts all come from previous published books or journals. They are organised in eight parts: Historical Precedents, Normative Theories of Good City Form, Place Theories in Urban Design, Dimensions of Place Making, Typology and Morphology in Urban Design, Contemporary Challenges and Responses, Elements of the Public Realm, and Practice and Process. Thus they are more or less grouped into theory, techniques, practice and current concerns. Each section starts with an introduction that explains the context of the subject and of the selected texts. These in turn are preceded by a short specific introduction of the author and how the text fits within the rest of his/her oeuvre.
Two aspects seem worth pointing to our readers: the first is that the early sections show how long urban design has been around and therefore indicate what a long struggle it has been to establish it as an accepted discipline. The second relates to this discipline and to what it entails, a subject discussed in Anne Verdez Moudon second selected text A Catholic Approach to Organizing What Urban Designers Should Know, which could well inform current debates in the Urban Design Group.
So, are there drawbacks? Not many: the selection seems to cover the urban design canon as we understand it; nobody seems to be missing and in fact some are welcome newcomers for this reader at least. However, as the editors acknowledge ‘the great bulk of the material is for the United States, Canada and Great Britain’. The reason for this limitation is understandable but regrettable; European countries may not call it urban design, but they practice it and reflect upon it. The language barriers seem to prevent us finding out about continental urbanism. And yet, at least some of the bibliographies do refer to French or Italian authors. Another problem which the editors acknowledge is that there aren’t enough illustrations which for such a subject is a great pity. And finally a gripe: almost not mention seem to be made of the Urban Design Group.