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Book review: Unplanning – Livable Cities and Political Choices

In this book Charles Siegel explains the history of city planning, where we are now, and most importantly, where we need to go.

Many environmentalists believe the huge problems of today’s cities are a result of lack of planning. The opposite is true — urban sprawl, traffic congestion and shopping malls are a result of exaggerated top-down planning. To solve these problems we should replace planning with political choices and the engagement of ordinary citizens, to move away from top-down planning made by ‘experts’.

What we need are generated cities, not fabricated! The fact is that more planning might increase unsustainable growth, the spread of suburbia and car dependency.

When we stop thinking about cities as bundles of technical problems and start thinking about cities qualitatively, about the different ways we live in different types of cities, then we will be able to act as citizens who use the law to govern ourselves – not as clients who expect the planners to provide us with more housing, more transportation, and a better environment. – Charles Siegel

And the fundamental answer is, that there is a fundamental law about the creation of complexity, which is visible and obvious to everyone – yet this law is, to all intents and purposes, ignored in 99% of the daily fabrication process of society. The law states simply this: ALL the well-ordered complex systems we know in the world, all those anyway that we review as highly successful, are GENERATED structures, NOT fabricated structures. – The Process of Creating Life, by Christopher Alexander, page 180.

A few readers respond:

Unplanning is a wonderful read! It is beautifully written, it takes up extremely important and timely topics, and it offers a new and concrete approach to democracy and sustainability. I enjoy going back almost at random to read and re-read pages and passages from it. It’s very engaging and stimulating – and it should be read by every environmentalist. — Prof. Charles Derber, author of Greed to Green.

A wonderful little book…. I recommend this book to every planner and every person interested in the future of American cities. — Prof. Nikos Salingaros, author of A Theory of Architecture

There is just one element I find missing in this splendid book, the importance for city dwellers of growing their own vegetables. This is why I find it necessary to add pattern 177 here, a vegetable garden.

Read the book!


This article is published at The Permaculture Research Institute of Australia on January 6, 2011.

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