A city we can live with

by Jodi Peterson

If you’re reading this in a café within walking distance of work and home, and there’s a park or greenbelt area nearby, you can count yourself lucky: You live in a well-designed city. In Toward the Livable City, Emilie Buchwald gathers together 16 contributors, whose essays and art entice us toward the antidote to suburban sprawl — sustainable, vital, high-density cities. Buchwald, co-founder of a small press that publishes books about city planning, says the book is her way to "get people to care about place without hitting them over the head."

Contributor Jane Holtz Kay describes what makes a city such as Boston "wear well": the casual, congenial mingling of a wildly diverse set of residents, the one-of-a-kind restaurants and shops, the ease of hopping a bus or subway. In a celebration of urban gardens, Kristin Brennan shows how growing vegetables transformed a Boston neighborhood, reclaimed polluted land, and taught kids that carrots can taste better than potato chips. And Ken Avidor’s pointed cartoons use characters like Anger Man, a wasteful consumer, and Roadkill Bill, a frequently run-over rodent, to provoke both laughter and embarrassment at our car-based society. Looking abroad, Jay Walljasper examines what makes European cities so vibrant and livable: Most people walk or bike rather than drive, and wealthy suburbs share the cost of inner-city social programs.

Instead of lecturing us, these writers gently nudge us from car-dependent sprawl toward compact neighborhoods where kids can play kickball and grown-ups can stroll to the store. And James Kunstler lends some urgency to this transformation: Predicting the end of cheap energy and the beginning of climate change, he notes that we’d all better "prepare to be good neighbors," no matter where we live. For more information, see http://www.worldashome.org/livablecity/index.html.

Toward the Livable City, Emilie Buchwald, editor
301 pages, softcover, $18.95. Milkweed Editions, 2003.

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