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Marshall, Alex. How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Road Not Taken. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000 (243 pp.). This is, in many ways, both a frustrating and invigorating book, one which has insightful observations to make about the nature of place-making, but which is too disparaging of othersí attempts to create community in their own way. How Cities Work focuses on four communities and the ways they deal with growth: Silicon Valley, the New Urbanistsí Celebration in Florida, a New York City neighborhood, and Portland, Oregon. In between these chapters Marshall, a journalist who covers architecture, offers observations on the nature of community from different perspectives. His two basic points are worth noting (and he repeats them again and again). First is that our transportation systems determine the design of our cities; that is, he argues that it does little good to complain about homogenous sprawl, Wal-Marts, and the like when they are simply creatures of the highway systems we have chosen. One oversight here is that Marshall suggests that big-box retailers only exist near interstate exits. They donít, of course; they also move into small towns where there isnít a freeway for miles. That aside, his point is well-taken that our choice in transportation systems determines to a great extent the look and feel of our communities. Most regions, for example, have chosen the automobile over mass transit, and that choice is manifest in the sprawl that define these places (if they can be said to have definition). Marshall connects this choice, rightly so, to Americaís individualistic as opposed to collective approach to just about everything, mostly the economy. His argument that there really is no "free market," that it too is a function of government, is important; but most Americans, and politicians who represent them, continue to flaunt the Adam Smith invisible hand hypothesis, further entrenching us in an individualistic abyss that does not help create livable places, let alone community at any level. That is Marshallís second piece of advice: people must get involved if they want to bring back community, if they want to see their places be the kind of healthy, invigorating, alive, and tolerant communities most people yearn for. We canít have a selfish, low-price car culture and livable places. They just donít go together, and we certainly canít wait for private developers to create communities. Only government can do that and government is the people. Itís obvious from his review of the four communities in question Ė the sprawling Silicon Valley, the phony Celebration, the vibrant Jackson Heights in NYC, and the eminently livable Portland Ė that Marshall deplores the placeless sprawl that characterizes too many American cities, but his point is that we make choices and we need to either live with them or make different choices. Citizens of Silicon Valley, for example, have chosen a car-centered existence, and that decision shows up in a landscape covered with freeways and Home Depots. The people of Portland, on the other hand, voted for urban growth boundaries, which intensified mass transit and forced development inward, resulting in one of the nationís finest downtown, not to mention suburbs and farmland that are more connected to center city than in most other metropolises. Marshall offers several other suggestions for place-making, and theyíre generally good, but his loathing for other people and philosophies that donít share his macro political views is a bit hard to take. The New Urbanists, in particular, are his principal target, but he also disdains much of the development that has brought back some inner cities, since they appeal mostly to well-paid Yuppies. True, many downtowns that have been resuscitated have often done so by becoming quaint reproductions of what they once were, and perhaps the number of fern bars and Pottery Barns is excessive; but it doesnít have to be a choice between an abandoned, boarded up Main Street and an avenue full of bookstores and cappuccino bars. Even Marshall agrees that the poor who live there fair better when gentrification hits. His constant harangues about New Urbanism get old fast, and they appear in every chapter! Itís one thing to dislike Celebration, the fake "old" town created by Andres Duany, perhaps the leading New Urbanist; and there are plenty of reasons to question what theyíve done there in Florida. Itís one thing to criticize Duany because you donít like Celebration, but to impugn an entire architectural philosophy because of one manís vision is out of bounds. First, as even Marshall knows, New Urbanism is not a monolithic school of thought; there is a great deal of disagreement among designers who subscribe to its basic philosophy Ė that well-thought-out city planning can help reconceive a sense of community. Second, Marshall belittles them by suggesting they are trying to create livable places simply by adding front porches, eliminating garages, adding street lights, and other cosmetic approaches, when they are not addressing "real" issues: politics and regional planning. Well, some New Urbanists do take on political and regional issues head-on, and at its core, especially in the hands of thinkers like Peter Calthorpe, much of New Urbanism is a political movement. Marshall makes the mistake other critics do Ė only seeing New Urbanism as window dressing. Finally, so what if some people focus on front porches and awnings instead of the macro problems? Not everyone can me a political crusader. Some historic preservation activists, for example, are keen on saving the tiniest doodad details of their communities, and good for them. Marshallís study is worthwhile and he makes many wonderful observations (such as his point that for all that we champion small-town European life, they are going through the same suburban pains), but a little less contempt for others who are tying to save and recreate community in their own way would be welcomed. To more or less absolve Robert Moses, other highway lords, and Wal-Mart because thatís what people want, and then damn New Urbanists because of Celebrationís pseudo-town ambience seems disingenuous, especially because people are paying a handsome fee to live there Ė something they too want!


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