Required reading from Pennsylvania’s top urban thinkers and doers

    We asked city leaders and urban planners what books have touched a nerve with them on how cities can thrive or fail.

    We asked city leaders, urban planners and thinkers what books have touched a nerve with them on how cities can thrive or fail as part of our “Five Questions with …” series.

    The recommended reading ranges from a gritty crime memoir on cleaning up the streets of New York to a manifesto that calls for cities to become the solutions to the country’s troubles.

    So what do these books have in common? All of them are about a period of transition in a city’s past or about how cities have the potential to change.

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    Rather than put together a subjective “top reads” list, our “inner librarian” decided to order the books by author’s last name.  Here is the list: 

    “Prayer for a City” by Buzz Bissinger

    Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Buzz Bissinger follows then Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell through his first term in office and tells the story of how cities thrive, and how they are compromised.

    Recommended by Rina Cutler, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor of transportation and utilities

    “A Country of Cities: A Manifesto for an Urban America” by Vishaan Chakrabarti

    Vishaan Chakrabarti’s manifesto focuses on the idea that cities are the key to solving the problems that plague America — economic stagnation, rising health costs, unsustainable consumption and more. The author’s optimism, analysis and infographics show elements of a thriving and prosperous metropolis, but is it attainable?

    Recommended by Joe Nickol, associate principal with Urban Design Associates

    “Alphaville:  1988 Crime, Punishment and the Battle for New York City’s Lower East Side” by Michael Codella and Bruce Bennett

    “Alphaville” is the memoir of Detective Sergeant Mike Codella, a plain-clothed narcotics officer for the NYPD, trying to clean up the streets around Alphabet City and nap the head of the neighborhood’s drug trade.

    Recommended by Don Cunningham, president & CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation

    “Home Town” by Tracy Kidder

    Pultizer Prize winning author Tracy Kidder tells the transformation and story of Northampton, Massachusetts through the residents of the people who live there.

    Recommended by David Myers, founding director of the O’Pake Institute for Ethics, Leadership and Public Service at Alvernia University

    “Saving America’s Cities: A Tried and Proven Plan to Revive Stagnant and Decaying Cities” by David McDonald

    Author and retail-chain owner David McDonald looks at lessons learned from past cities’ failures and provides a roadmap for getting cities back on track.

    Recommended by Matt Pacifico, Mayor of Altoona

    “The Economics of Amenity: Community Future and Quality of Life : A Policy Guide to Urban Economic Development” by Robert H McNulty, Dorothy R. Jacobsen, and R. Leo Penne

    Only about 150 pages, “The Economics of Amenity” shows how cities are drawing upon culture, history, and civic pride to stimulate economic growth. The authors ask, “Can you take quality of life to the bank?”

    Recommended by Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development at Wilkes University

    “Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer

    Senor and Singer explore Tel Aviv’s tech and entrepreneurial community and how Israel — a country only 65-years old and in a constant state of war — has produced more start-up companies than larger, more stable nations.

    Recommended by Alan Greenberger, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for economic development and director of commerce

    “Going Local: Creating Self-Reliant Communities in a Global Age” by Michael Shuman

    “Going local” is a nuts and bolts account of how cities are reinvesting in their own communities, regaining control of their own economies and becoming more self-reliant.

    Recommended by Brian Kelly, executive Director of ReDesign Reading

    “Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time” by Jeff Speck

    Author and city planner Jeff Speck says the key factor in making American cities great again is simple: walkability.

    Recommended by Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh and Randy Patterson, director of Economic Development & Neighborhood Revitalization for the City of Lancaster 

    What recommended reading about cities and urban issues have we missed? Join the conversation about what books about cities are on your required reading list in the comments below or through social media on Facebook and on Twitter @PaCrossroads.



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