10 Books

::Cities and Public Space::

  1. The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City
    By Neil Smith
    The best book about the economic and cultural phenomenon known as gentrification. I still don't know that I can define the word "Revanchist" off the top of my head, but I have found his analysis particularly useful in trying to understand what the hell is going on out there with the low-income residents, the artists, the speculators, the banks and the cities and why it all seems so violent.

  2. The Image of the City
    By Kevin Lynch
    It is sort of like situationist psychgeography for people who want to work from within the system. Making mental maps of how we use, remember and recognize the areas we live in can make urban planners face one most important and complex detail that gets left out of so much urban design: users.

  3. Power Broker
    By Robert A. Caro
    This is a massive 1000+ page book about Robert Moses, the city planner/builder for much of NYC and a hugely influential figure on American cities. It shows clearly how much power resides in the ability to control, program and manipulate urban land use.

  4. The Death and Life of Great American Cities
    By Jane Jacobs
    The 1961 attack on urban planning. The attack that started all the other attacks.

  5. EndCommercial: Reading the City
    By Florian Bohm, Luca Pizzaroni, Wolfgang Scheppe
    Digital photos of NYC - this beautiful book is the closest thing to a coffee table book that I own.

  6. Evictions: Art and spatial politics
    By Rosalyn Deutsche
    It took this book to turn me onto two other things: the artwork of Krzysztof Wodiczko and Oscar Newman's book " Defensible Space". If someone would write a book this good based on a series of proposals for projects that I came up with, I would probably never actually follow through with finishing something again. Wodiczko got lucky when Deutsche decided to redeem his art work by filling in the content gaps of projects like his public projections and "homeless vehicle."

  7. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue
    By Samuel Delaney
    Best known as a science fiction writer, writing about the value of venues where anonymous-cross-class gay sex that occurred in times square in the 60's-80's. It is an amazing story about a particular geographic area that was transformed in use and appearance rather dramatically and the interests that enabled the dramatic changes. His distinctions between the kinds of social relations that we typically experience: Contact vs. Networking, really get at the social logic for a loss of public space. He is pretty thorough about the role of economic and cultural policy that assisted in the transformation of Times Sq. as well.

    From pp181-182: "the 3rd evening after the conference, at the back of the 104 Broadway bus, half a dozen riders (4 middle aged women, 2 middle aged men), each with his or her own copy of Playbill, spontaneously began to discuss the matinees they'd seen that afternoon. In the full bus, the conversations wound on, and I found myself talking to a woman next to me from Connecticut, also just from the theatre. It is spring and new York is full of CONTACT, though I note that the conversation in the back of the bus was not cross-class contact, but pretty well limited to folks who could afford the 60-70 dollars for a Broadway ticket, and so partook a bit in more of the economic context of networking - the Playbills acting as a sign of the shared interest (and shared economic level) characteristic of a networking group............the material rewards from street CONTACT (the quintessential method of the panhandler) are simply greater, even if spread out over a decade, than from the rewards from a session of networking - which rewards take place (I say again) largely in the realm of shared knowledge."

  8. Subway Art
    By Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant
    Spray Can Art
    By Henry Chalfant and James Prigoff

  9. Bomb The Suburbs (the section about Chicago)
    By William Upski Wimsatt
    Specifically the article entitled "the urban frontier" about exploring the abandoned space between Chinatown and downtown in 1991 inspired me to do more exploring of places you are not supposed to go.
    Also see: Infiltration, the zine from Canada.

  10. Stencil Pirates
    By Josh MacPhee
    Josh lives in Chicago. I know him well. In a genre of recent books about graffiti - this is really the first time I have read significant descriptions about the multiple and actual functions of illegal public markings in society. There must be 50+ well-distributed books about graffiti that manage to suck most of the politics of the act of doing graffiti completely out of the picture in exchange for ego boosting. Additionally Josh incorporates historical research that is inclusive of the political usage of stenciling in the global south that has never been dealt with in graffiti related books.

    From page 115 "There is one thing that all street stencils have in common: illegality. Whether you are painting an abstract shape, didactic political statement, or stylized version of your name, you are breaking the law. Property holds ultimate value in society...There are also benefits to illegality. By painting a street stencil, an artist transcends the rules of standard and acceptable behavior. This gives the artists message some extra weight."

    From page 36 " At their best and most cryptic, stencils are signs that are both hollow yet simultaneously pregnant with meaning. They are signs without signifiers, images or statements with no clear or fixed meaning..."

- Daniel Tucker