Vishaan Chakrabarti
Metropolis Books, New York, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Urban Design
9.8 x 6.9 inches, hardcover, 252 pages
ISBN: 9781935202172
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95

From the Publisher. In A Country of Cities, author Vishaan Chakrabarti argues that well-designed cities are the key to solving America's great national challenges: environmental degradation, unsustainable consumption, economic stagnation, rising public health costs and decreased social mobility. If we develop them wisely in the future, our cities can be the force leading us into a new era of progressive and prosperous stewardship of our nation. In compelling chapters, Chakrabarti brings us a wealth of information about cities, suburbs and exurbs, looking at how they developed across the 50 states and their roles in prosperity and globalization, sustainability and resilience, and heath and joy. Counter to what you might think, American cities today are growing faster than their suburban counterparts for the first time since the 1920s. If we can intelligently increase the density of our cities as they grow and build the transit systems, schools, parks and other infrastructure to support them, Chakrabarti shows us how both job opportunities and an improved, sustainable environment are truly within our means. In this call for an urban America, he illustrates his argument with numerous infographics illustrating provocative statistics on issues as disparate as rising childhood obesity rates, ever-lengthening automobile commutes and government subsidies that favor highways over mass transit. The book closes with an eloquent manifesto that rallies us to build "a Country of Cities," to turn a country of highways, houses and hedges into a country of trains, towers and trees.

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Mark Lamster

Urban planning is the topic de jour in the design field, the subject of a raft of new titles from authors with diverse agendas. Chakrabarti's is among the most readable and cogent of the recent offerings. Pitched as a manifesto, A Country of Cities is at its best when arguing for the dense city (as against the suburbs and rural areas), as the most sustainable, ecologically responsiblle form of habitation for the coming century. Material that can be dry (the mechanics of tax-increment financing, or the relative ecological impact of various housing densities) are enlivened by excellent infographics and enough aphoristic slogans to please a latenight pitchman on cable TV.

Chakrabarti is both an academic planner and a practitioner (he is a partner at SHoP Architects, in New York), and he makes no secret of his belief in real-estate development as the key to the city's future. New Urbanists may not agree with his prescription of tall buildings as an elixir to urban problems, and there are occasional moments when the book seems a bit self-promotional, but it nevertheless stands as a critically important argument, fully worthy of attention.

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