The communitarian case for zoning that planners do not talk about

If you are not reading Better Institutions by Shane Phillips, you should be. Shane is one of my former students, now graduated, and he’s very smart and passionate about cities. He’s one of LA’s leaders in planning, and Better Institutions is always worth a read.

Shane has been, like many of us in LA, concerned with the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, and he’s been one of its leading critics, and he also writes land use is important in urbanism and urban reform. One of his pieces has gone viral, here, and I have some things in it I want to poke around with a bit, in which Shane castigates self-interested home-owners who oppose growth to leverage speculative gains in land value by contributing to a shortage. For those interested in reading about where this thinking comes in, you can learn more about it if you read about Homevoter Hypothesis by Bill Fischel.

This supply-side argument to favoring growth embodied in these assumptions is a favorite among market liberals and libertarians, and I’m generally ok with this part of the argument, mostly, save for a few quibbles. Back in the heyday of growth boundaries and anti-sprawl, I was one of those people who kept saying “Um, if we don’t build on the fringe, which I know is bad, terrible, and wrong, but if we don’t do that, we are going to be constraining supply and potentially putting upward pressures on housing prices.”

The answer was: “Oh, that won’t happen because we’ll do infill. Lots and Lots of infill. There’s plenty of excess capacity.”

Yes, yes, right of course, but where is that excess capacity and who is going to be dealing with it?

I responded: “But infill is really, really hard, and the places most likely to be subjected to redevelopment first are going to be lower income neighborhoods, Black neighborhoods, Latino neighborhoods with renters. What do we do about that?”

The answer was: “Oh, that won’t happen! That could never happen because people will understand the need to save the environment and include people who otherwise can’t afford to live close in to urban opportunities! And gentrification is *just a myth.*”

So I went away, worried. I’m not a land economist, after all, though I was trained by some damn good ones, and I have great faith in policy to alter the way markets function and in social marketing’s ability to alter tastes. And if there has been one thing that New Urbanists and their high-density growth peers have been good at, it’s social marketing.

But now in some respects in LA (and the rest of the coastal California), here we are.

There are multiple reasons why I think planners and market liberals like Phillips need to back off a little bit on assuming anti-growth sentiment stems from mere homeowner self-interest. I don’t buy that it’s an “evil Baby Boomers versus Wonderful, Urbanity-Loving Millenials” conflict either, as gratifying as it is for this here Gen-Xer to watch those groups blame each other. American suburbanization started long before the Boomers showed up. Nor am I convinced that homeowners necessarily just have one interest, financial, in zoning. Given that I am likely to get raked over the coals for this post, I want to repeat: the Homevoter Hypothesis is important to understanding urban politics and development. But it’s partial. That’s my argument.

At some point we should stop being shocked that people have interests, and then, gasp, seek to optimize on them in politics. Why it’s ok to both a) have market interests and b) act on those, but not okay to have political interests, let alone act on them, is a bit beyond me. I don’t see anybody else turning down dividends or profits, and I’m not sure California homeowners fall into problematic luck egalitarianism the way that their critics assume they do, but that’s a long, drawn-out land valuation argument that takes me too far afield to sort today. And I’m not sure of the reasoning. But still.

Anyway, while home voters might indeed be voting their financial interests, there is a lot wrapped up in zoning that isn’t necessarily about speculative gains to real estate. Renters, too, tend to oppose new development, and while we can try to act like they don’t know what’s good for them, I think they share concerns about neighborhood changes, residential stability, and place identity with homeowners, and that coalition is much, much tougher to beat than simply assuming that zoning conflicts are strictly class-based conflicts about assets between owners and newcomers.

If you look at ‘exclusion’ as a big, social and political phenomenon instead of just in terms of local zoning and development spats, the arguments for exclusion combine both communitarian concerns about identity and stability and self-determination with economic concerns. Just as with zoning conflicts, conflicts over immigration can be reduced to spats over economic self-interest–the “you took my job” and “your kid requires I pay more for the local public school.”

But those are not the only objection made to immigration. They may not even be the most commonly held objection. Other objections, important ones, are the desire that individuals have to maintain a specific culture and make-up of the political community. Now, in the US, there are strong racist underpinnings to resistance to immigration from Mexico and other parts of Latin America, but America’s history of immigration has always been contested. The Irish and Italians were opposed because they were perceived, among other things, as labor agitators and Catholics, etc. etc. Immigrants change things, and change is, for the average progressive, a natural part of the world. For the average conservative, change is not necessarily desirable nor good.

Thus communitarians’ arguments for exclusion occur at just about every level of political community, and those communitarian arguments probably deserve more attention than they get in discussions over zoning.

Spelled out more explicitly, the communitarian arguments, which in planning have paralleled the cheerleading for infill and leading to rather major conflicts internal to the development process, have assumed that neighborhoods should have some level of self-determination in democratic conflicts over development. As it turns out, unleashing democratic preferences means you may not like that preference, and one of the strong preferences people have seems to be that their neighborhoods stay much as they are right at the moment, or with changes that they, themselves, guide. If neighborhoods have self-determination, why can’t they they use that self-determination to use zoning to enable the exercise of freedom of association? The ability to exclude is a pretty big deal in communitarian frameworks because it enables the formation of specific associations that are essential to individuals’ ability to a) exercise liberty, conscience, and self-expression and b) form intimate attachments of their own choosing. (This is thinking of Stuart White, btw). Exclusion may be more than justified from public good perspective to the degree that it enables those things. Christopher Heath Wellman notes that group membership determines a major part of self-conception and identity, and thus changing the members of any given group changes an essential part of identity. Exclusion for communitarians is necessary to preserve distinct group character, group trust, and mutual identification. To the degree that place is part of group identity, the ability to exclude others from that place supports group stability in crucial ways.

Apologists for exclusion have the burden of trying to show that these things they see as essential to human life and community hinge on being able to keep people out. Opponents of exclusion have a similar evidence burden to show that the things that communitarians prize about exclusion do not, in fact, require the ability to pick and choose what group membership changes occur and which do not.

Urbanists and those who argue against exclusion usually do so based on justice or efficiency arguments. Other than the inherent difficulties of separate-but-equal arguments, why can’t people who wish to control their own associations discharge their duties to distributive justice by doing everything required to help outsiders where they currently live? Justice might obtain in many ways. (I personally am not convinced by separate-but-equal arguments, but those are still out there being made, and there is a good core of commonsense value in stemming the movement into particular places by resourcing other places and making them great, too, along with the demands of global justice.)

Libertarians fall back onto the idea that zoning is an illiberal intervention into personal property rights and freedom of movement. But I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about libertarianism and freedom of association and I can’t reconcile the conflict from within that paradigm. My ability to limit who has access to me may be a strong preference, and the dictates of liberty and self-ownership mean that I should be able to exercise exclusion if I so choose via voluntary associations and contracts. Liberty of movement simultaneously requires that I should be able to move wherever. (I mean, not in your house, but in your general area). There are, in other words, dueling liberties and I see no credible argument for siding with one over the other that doesn’t fall into simple assertions of market power.

These debates can quickly become circular and irresolvable, but I’m worried that planning and urbanism are not really taking on communitarian claims and neighborhood self-determination arguments *at all* in contemporary zoning debates. Instead, it’s urbanists with personal preferences for urbanism saying “But cities are great and we have to save the environment by not sprawling!” and the market liberal followers of Ed Glaesar making supply-side arguments for affordability.

Trust me, as somebody who reads Glenn Beck’s Agenda 21 novels so that you don’t have to, not everybody sees the environment or justice as sufficient public policy rationales for trying to force people into accepting changes they don’t want or living in neighborhoods they don’t like. Dismissiveness vis-a-vis the communitarian arguments risks making planners seem like clueless progressives who don’t value families or communities at the same time they purport to value neighborhoods–but only certain neighborhoods, the ones that meet their approval. This is a chronic problem in planning, and it’s one we should probably be thinking about.

Kit Rachlis on why Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer is a wonderful LA novel

Ok, I have to admit, I have not read Bats of the Republic, which Rachlis eventually chooses over The Sympathizer in Powell’s heart-wrenching, teeth-gnashing, fist-shaking, I-can’t-turn-away-even-though-it-ruins-my-March-every-year Tournament of Books. BatsOfRepub sounds great from the descriptions, I admit. But I was rooting for The Sympathizer, which is a brilliant book, written by a fellow USC professor who, unlike me, can actually finish a book and have it be amazingly good. I can forgive Rachlis the decision, however, because it is clear that his/her judgment is sound and based on good reading. More importantly, here’s a comment on southern California that I wish I could tattoo on foreheads for both a) insight and b) awesome writing:

Further, it takes place in Southern California, where I have spent most of the past 27 years and which remains, to my prejudiced mind, one of the most misunderstood places in the United States: an object of endless cliché, stereotype, envy, and superciliousness in the hands of too many writers who should know better but don’t. But like the best writing in which Southern California plays a central role, The Sympathizer looks past the region’s surfaces—its malls and freeways and palm trees—and burrows deeply into its mysteries and contradictions.

Gaaaaaaaahhhhhhh such good writing.

The car and the city in the Magnificent Ambersons

Over Festivius break, I read The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington over the course of the break–a stunning, stunning book. That book was published in 1918! I can’t rave enough about it. Everything from the language to the meditation on youth and folly are lovely. Tarkington had incredible prescience about the changes that the car would have on the city and urban life:

Eugene Morgan, an inventor and improver of the automobile says at one point:

“I’m not sure he’s wrong about automobiles,” he said. “With all their speed forward they may be a step backward in civilization–that is, in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men’s souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all of outward things are going to be different because of what they bring. They are going to alter war, and they are going to alter peace. I think men’s minds are going to be changed in subtle ways because of automobiles; just how, though, I could hardly guess. But you can’t have the immense outward changes they will cause with some inward ones, and it may be that George is right, and the spiritual alteration will be bad for us. Perhaps ten or twenty years from now, if we can see the inward change in men by that time, I shouldn’t be able to defend the gasoline engine, but would have to agree with him that automobiles ‘had no business to be invented.'”

and then, on industrialization and the city:

A new spirit of the citizenship had already sharply defined itself. It was idealistic, and its ideals were expressed in the new kind of young men in business downtown. They were optimists–optimists to the point of belligerence–their motto being “Boost! Don’t Knock!” And they were hustlers, believing in hustling and in honesty because both paid. They loved their city and worked for it with a plutonic energy which was always ardently vocal. They were viciously governed, but they sometimes went so far as to the struggle for better government on account of the helpful effect of good government on the price of real estate and “betterment” generally; the politicians could not go too far with them, and knew it. The idealists planned and strove and shouted that their city should become a better, better, and better city–and what they meant, when they used the word “better” was “more prosperous,” and the core of their idealism was this: “The more prosperous my beloved city, the more prosperous and beloved I!” They had one supreme theory: that the perfect beautiful and happiness of human life was to be brought about by more factories: they had a mania for factories; they was nothing they would not do to cajole a factory from another city; and they were never more piteously embittered when another city cajoled one away from them.

What they meant by Prosperity was credit at the bank; but in exchange for this credit they got nothing that was not dirty, and , therefore, to a sane mind, valueless; since whatever was cleaned was dirty again before the cleaning was half done. For as the town grew, it grew dirty with an incredible completeness.”

The passage goes on for a few more pages.

The Politics is the last piece of Aristotle I am planning to revisit before turning to other study, but I haven’t been racing through it by any means. It’s slow going, which is ok. Where else am I going? A nightclub?

Howlers in Vishaan Chakrabarti’s NYT op-ed on cities

In general, I’m all for planners and architects and their “Cities are awesome with awesomesauce” messaging. Cities are wonderful. Cities are sexy! Cities are infinitely many more times better than suburbs! Suburbs are just full of fat jobless losers bringing all the cool people down and ruining the environment. Suburbs, in fact, are ruining America.

Ok? Now that I’ve joined the zeitgeist and proven that I’m not one of those Joel Kotkin types that all the cool urban kids revile, can we talk about numbers?

Vishaan Chakrabarti is an associate professor of architecture at Columbia, so I don’t feel bad picking on him, but several of my students have circulated his NYT Op-Ed and it makes me rather sad. His recent Op-Ed notes that cities are growing (most are) and now full of those fab millenials, families, and retirees alike. There are many howlers in the article, but this one is a serious problem:

A staggering 90 percent of our gross domestic product and 86 percent of our jobs are generated in 3 percent of the continental United States, namely our cities.

Where did these numbers come from? The Bureau of Economic Analysis releases GDP numbers by metro region, not by incorporated areas (cities) as far as I know. Where did he get this number? I have no idea because he doesn’t tell us.

I’m pretty sure that’s not his research, and it’s not ok to throw around those numbers without telling us who actually produced the information, even in an Op-Ed. I think it’s a misquote of a Brookings report that came out of a few years ago or from Ed Glaeser’s book, but I could be wrong. You say “According to a recent report from researchers at….” and move to your point. Even if that is Chakrabarti’s own research, his book, or his team’s research, he should tell us where the info comes from.

It IS true that MSAs are the engines. You can download the data from BEA and show that: Total US GDP is 15,566,077 (millions of chained $$$$2005); the amount of that which comes from MSAs is $12,206,566 (millions of chained $$$2005). So that’s some nice trillions there. But that percentage is about 80 percent, rounding up. Cities are part of metro regions, so how cities can be producing 90 percent of GDP while regions are producing only 80 percent is confusing. I don’t get it. Am I missing something? I am using real GDP adjusted for inflation. Anybody seen the 90 percent number?

I’m too lazy to look up the jobs numbers, but I suspect there is a similar problem there (e.g. conflating metro regional numbers with “cities”.) But at least you could get employment numbers by zip code rather than by MSA.

But I have an intellectual problem of traducing suburbs and then incorporating their portion of GDP into the argument for why cities are so much better than suburbs.

Chakrabarti throws around a lot of assertions about what millennials want, how cities are centers of support for marriage equality, etc etc….and I’m pretty sure that information comes from Pew and other sources. Given how poorly Chakrabarti presents the economic growth numbers, I’m not buying these assertions either.

Howlers and failing to discuss his sources notwithstanding, Chakrabarti wants to know why are we subsidizing those terrible suburbs?

Because most voters live in suburbs. That’s why:

Total population 2010 by incorporated area to MSA

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 09 AM

And while cities are growing, suburbs are growing, too, and in many instances, at a much faster rate than central cities, even still:

Share of metropolitan growth 2000 to 2010

Screenshot 4 21 14 3 07 AM

I’m not sure I handled the Chicago pop loss properly in these calculations (It’s 3:10 am, by my excuse, and I’d welcome somebody to check the numbers), but you get the idea here. This is all metro area growth, and while most cities did grow–and Chakrabarti is right, that’s good news–their suburbs did as well or better than they did.

Now, we can argue causation. Subsidies might prompt people to move to suburbs, which might explain these numbers. Or it might explain why it’s so difficult to shift those subsidies. Or it might suggest a political economy of people who get the subsidies they want. But if we are just counting voters, there’s your answer. It also doesn’t help that downtown voters’ participation rates are lower than those in suburbs, generally. (See Jeff Seller’s new book).

I dunno. In general, urban op-eds make me happy. And in a world where people seem to believe whatever the hell they want to believe (climate change is university conspiracy designed to control us; Obama is a Muslim after our guns; General Motors ruined our jolly streetcars),the sloppy thinking in this Op-Ed maybe just advances the cause we all have in helping people understand that cities are important, because cities actually are important, and not unrelatedly, those of us who study cities want people to realize how important cities are and, by extension, how important we ourselves are, for being big-a-time experty-experts on them.

The other part me of just thinks this type of stuff makes urbanists look innumerate or like con artists. Check the numbers. Then double-check them. Then explain why, in polycentric post-city metro regions, we need cities to stand out. There’s an argument to be made for strong, amenity-rich centers even in major metro regions, and it has been made. Just not here.

#ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #2: Daphne Spain

Daphne Spain is the James M. Page Professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia, so it’s fair to say that, as this week’s entry into #ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014, Dr. Spain has a big audience already. She is, in general, an urban historian of considerable renown. How Women Saved the City, from 2001, is a major work that highlights how women have contributed to urban development and politics from just after the onset of industrialization to the Progressive Era. It’s been awhile since I read that book (egads, it’s been close to 12 years), but I remember when I finished it, I said: I want to write a book this good someday.

I haven’t but, well, I’m trying.

She has contributed research on segregation, gentrification, and many other urban topics, and she’s a fine writer. But just about every major scholar has a piece of work that really didn’t get the attention it deserves, and for Dr. Spain, she’s got a sleeper of an article named:

Spain, D. “What Happened to Gender Relations on the Way from Chicago to Los Angeles?” City and Community 1 (June 2002):155-167.

It isn’t cited nearly as much as it should be, and the reason is perhaps that all these attempts to name different urban theory into place-based schools has gone out of fashion a bit, which is unfortunate, because it was all jolly fun with the Chicago School social ecology folks and some of the best minds in Los Angeles squaring off. City & Community published Michael Dear’s original essay , which contrasted the concentric, center-oriented model of the city, where, as Dear put it, the center arranges the hinterlands, with the postmodernists in LA who noted that in the polycentric modes of urban development in regions like Los Angeles, the periphery organized the center.

This is a delightful essay which generated a number of wonderful responses from the thinkers like Harvey Molotch (whose response is a like, boom!). The fact that Spain stepped straight into the “my-school-rules-ur-school-drools” academic boys town of urban theory here makes me smile, and her contribution to the discussion deserves to be read. The Chicago School helped us understand the walking city of early industrial American cities; the Los Angeles School epitomized the post-WWII metropolis of cars and urbanizing jobs. Spain notes that the idealized version of white womanhood within the domestic sphere isolated many women; while the constrained status of immigrant and African American women isolated them within the larger workforces. The stand-outs among higher status women in the settlement house movement, Spain notes, get pretty short shrift from Park and Burgess, an influence that they were wrong to overlook. Immigrant women working from Hull House demanded (successfully) better urban services for impoverished communities, organized ethnic festivals, and helped immigrants find housing and educational opportunities. That’s the real work of city making, and it’s not less real just because it falls beneath notice.

As urban models changed, Steven Flusty, Michael Dear, Ed Soja, Manuel Castells, and David Harvey developed their own models and metaphors for urbanism while still overlooking the influence on the city that women had during those decades. In particular, the Los Angeles school ignored the work undertaken by women in Los Angeles, such as Dolores Hayden’s work with HOMES–Homemakers Organization for a More Egalitarian Society–reorganizing single-family spaces in to much more flexible, shared housing and mixed uses. And she also highlights the work of Jacqueline Leavitt at UCLA in examining how women in public housing in LA–some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the US–altered their home places to protect their families.

Daphne’s major contribution notes that Chicago and Los Angeles have more in common than just urban theorists who fail to notice that women affect the city and that women also produce urban scholarship. The cities, though at different time periods, were major destinations for immigrants and for African American migration. They were the locales of violent social protests from African Americans furious at poor treatment of urban institutions, and that those popular protests have become ingrained in the popular imaginary about race and violence. One key difference, however, concerns the status of women at the different times, and that difference is important.

Two key differences led to changing the domestic sphere and dispersing its responsibilities across wider parts of metro regions: widely available birth control and entering the workforce. Here is missed opportunity in the manuscript. Spain notes the effect that domestic labor changes had on households, but as higher status, white and middle-class women left home to find work–changing the geographic logic of where residential households should locate–they also changed the geography for household service work that supported white women’s entry into the workforce, pulling and dispersing their jobs in ways that were likely farther from their own homes and families. Spain doesn’t bring this up, and I wish she would because I think she’d have some insights. As it is, sociologists like Pierrette Hongagnue-Soleto have filled in where Spain didn’t.

In any case, Spain reconstructs some possibilities for urban theory in the last part of her manuscript. First, safety and security–from Mike Davis’s “fortress” metaphor onward–are not gender-neutral ideas in the city. And second, caregiving and family life, though changing, still calls on women’s time and work more heavily than for their male counterparts. Understanding that gender factors in strongly in both the shaping and navigation of urban form leads to better theory.

Is Paris a global city?

I’m back to teaching, and yesterday in my undergraduate class on the city, I ask my young urbanists the question: What are the five most important cities in the world? We had five groups of nine students; all five groups listed New York; only one listed Bejing or New Delhi. We’re a US school, so we are going to have some bias towards western cities, but given the importance of New York in global financial capital, that choice is likely fair. Other important cities, according to intuition, are Hong Kong, London, and Tokyo.

I was surprised by Paris on one list, and I didn’t get time to follow up on their reasoning in class. What do you think? I’m not sure Paris is really important anymore. I certainly think it was culturally important, and it’s still a lovely city even today, but it doesn’t strike me as globally influential in the way that London is.

50 books to add to Brent Toderian & Planetizen’s standard, white city-making books

The risk of critiquing book lists is that a) it’s easy to kvetch about others’ lists, and b) you risk insulting the many wonderful writers who do appear on the original list, including the person who took the time to put together the list in the first place. But at the risk of doing both a and b, I have to say I am disappointed in Brent Toderian’s list of 100 best books on city-making for Planetizen. We can go around and around about this: I guess it depends on what he means by city-making. And a lot depends on what a person reads. But if you are going to go around labeling something “the best”, you’d better be well-read, and this list just doesn’t strike me as being that broad or that open to different perspectives on cities. Then, in his addendum, he adds some fiction, including the rapey The Fountainhead, which he does include as a ‘negative’ example, I guess. But does that tiresome book really need more press? At least he included Calvino and China Meiville in the addenda. But this list and his addenda are standard white urbanist fare, with a lot of echoing of the same ideas from one white urbanist to another. It make me sad that our “best of” lists are still doing this. That said, Jan Gehl’s book is very fine, and you could spend a long time reading the wonderful books on this list.

And he does have some women on the list, but the ones chosen are not exactly writing from non-dominant perspectives, and there are some terrific books by Asian authors on the list, including work from my wonderful colleague, Tridib Banerjee. It’s not that I want to erase the people from the list. It’s that I really wish urban planners would read more widely and take seriously their job to understand and promote more than one perspective on cities, not just focussing on a perspective that simply creates an echo chamber of the wonderfulness of white urbanism and planning with its bike lanes and its downtown retail. The latter is like an endless diet of FoxNews or MSNBC.

You are not educated until you get off your butt and start learning to see the world from a perspective other than your own.

City-making is not the exclusive purview of planners or self-declared urbanists.

So here are some to add to the list, in no order because I’m bad at order. I don’t claim these are ‘the best’–just books I have read that reflect cities and how they are made, that were worth reading, and that represent an effort to read what people from different perspectives have to say:

1. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. Much of what you need to know about how ineffectual city government is in governing black neighborhoods appears here in the first few pages as Morrison riffs on “Not Doctor Street.”

2. There Goes the ‘Hood by Lance Freeman. Contemporary gentrification debates.

3. The Truly Disadvantaged by William Julius Wilson. This book should be required reading.

4. The First Suburban Chinatown by Timothy Fong

5. Homeless: Poverty and Place in Urban America by Ella Howard. The first book from a very promising scholar.

6. Off the Books by Sudhir Venkatesh I don’t like his other, much higher profile books as much: this one tells the stories about how people make a living despite city regulation.

7. Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin. Read anything by Kathryn Edin. Just do it. This book focuses mostly on impoverished women in Philadelphia.

8. Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City by Antero Pietila There are some great books on Baltimore, but this one is a good recent one.

9. Gay New York by George Chauncey I wish I could assign this book more often; it’s long, and it’s not easy to chop up. But it is worth your time.

10. Barrio Urbanism by David R. Diaz I like David Diaz’s work a great deal anyway, but this is my favorite.

11. Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak by Bettina L. Love Young black women talking about the role of art and expression in their coming of age in Atlanta.

12. Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism by Rebecca Solnit

Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta

13. Jesuit Garden in Beijing and Early Modern Chinese Culture by Hui Zou So interesting.

14. Snow Drops by A.D. Miller A novel set in post-Socialist real estate in Moscow. Harrowing.

15. Kinesthetic City: Dance and Movement in Chinese Urban Spaces by SanSan Kwan

16. Harlem Nocturne by Farah Jasmine Griffin

17. Sento at Sixth and Main by Gail Dubrow and Donna Graves This book made me cry.

18. 18. The Hiawatha by David Treuer Urban Indians in Minneapolis. A haunting, haunting novel.

19. Cities of God and Nationalism: Rome, Mecca, and Jerusalem as Contested Sacred World Cities by Khaldoun Samman

20. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora by Martin F. Manalansan IV

21. Tunnel People by Tuen Voeten

22. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, who did dystopian Los Angeles like nobody else.

23. Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, by Samuel Delany. Oh, and read some of his novels, too.

24. Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys by Victor M. Rios

25. Graceland by Chris Abani a wonderful novel about post-colonial Lagos

26. Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague 1941-1968 By Heda Kovaly

27. Factory Girls by Leslie Chang Follows the story of young women who move from village to metropolitan China.

28. Black, Brown, Yellow, & Left by Laura Pulido

29. Young and Defiant in Tehran by Shahram Khosravi (Author)

30. Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde by Doryun Chong, editor. (Yes, I’m including edited volumes)

31. Spectacular Wickedness: Sex, Race, and Memory in Storyville, New Orleans By Emily Landau

32. Daily Life in Victorian London (an anthology) London of Dickens and Sherlock Holmes was a terrible place if you weren’t rich.

33. The Messiah of Stockholm by Cynthia Ozick Good fiction, with a strong sense of place.

34 In The Land of Isreal by Amos Oz A wonderful book about people, politics, and territory.

35. Aztec of the City–these Comic books are cool, about an urban superhero in San Jose

36. Season of Migration to the North By Tayleb Salih a terrific novel about the influences of east and west and city and village in a globalizing context.

37. The Havanna Quartet by Leonardo Padura. A police procedural set in Havanna.

38. Smeltertown by Monica Perales–the story of the Mexican residents who live in El Paso’s company town.

39. The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York by Suleiman Osman

40. Anything written by Walter Mosley . Anything.

41. L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi

42. Paul R. Williams, Classic Hollywood Style by Karen Hudson

43. City of Oranges: An Intimate History of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa by Adam LeBor (wonderful prose style and an intimate look at individuals and the contestation over urban space.

44. All Souls: A Family Story from A Southie
by Michael Patrick MacDonald

45. Allah Made Us: Sexual Outlaws in an Islamic City by Rudolf Gaudio

46. Black Manhattan by James Weldon Johnson

47. The Rise of Abraham Cahan by Seth Lipsky If you have an interest in migrants and the global reach of NYC media, here you go.

48. Chavez Ravine: 1949 by Don Nomark

49. Urban Planning and the African American Community: In the Shadows edited by June Manning Thomas and Marsha Ritzdorf
Another terrific edited volume.

50. The North Will Rise Again: Manchester Music City 1976-1996 by John Robb