11 Books About Fighting for and Building People-First Cities

These inspiring leaders have authored 11 great and recent books on how to design and build walk, bike, transit and people-friendly cities showing us the strategies to make the places we call home more prosperous, green, healthy and happy as a result. Read them and join the revolution.

People and businesses want to be in vibrant, mixed-use, walkable, bike-friendly, transit-accessible, people oriented places. It is well documented that across North America millennials and boomers are moving to these kinds of places in droves. Business journals document companies abandoning car-centric office parks, which just 25 years ago were the wave of the future, to move back to these centers as well. But not everyone can get in. Real estate experts and economists tell us the prices in these walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods are sky-high and pricing people out because there aren’t enough of them.

That’s because the traffic engineers and DOTs that control our streets (from 25 to 50 percent of a city’s land area) still use out-dated manuals to design streets for car convenience and speed. Planners are using land-use and zoning codes from an era that forces segregation of uses, abhors density and requires too much car parking. The result? Car-dependent, dispersed and disconnected places. These places, the ones we’ve been building for the last 75 years, make us less healthy, both physically and mentally. They degrade our environment. They cost more to maintain and put a strain on our resources. And they make us less happy too.


But there’s hope on the horizon. From Vancouver to Chicago to New York City to Houston – yes Houston – and so many places in-between, people are fighting for their cities to get better by pushing back against old-thinking and the status quo. Where once there were wide and speedy car lanes with ample parking day and night, there are now protected bike lanes, bikeshare stations, parklets where people can sit, interesting places for people to walk and prioritized transit allowing more people access to the good life. Where once one was forced to get in a car just to get a quart of milk, now one can find all of life’s needs within walking or biking distance. But these places are few and far between. Lucky for us, the leaders building these better places have written books showing what the future should look like and how to make it happen despite the forces aligned against them.

I’ve devoured all of these books and love each and every one of them. They’ve all been written in the last few years. Some are books about how to make neighborhoods more walkable. Some about how bikes improve places. Others about how transit does the same. Many discuss alternatives to driving. A couple address how technology is transforming our ability to move around. Some counsel how to change old zoning and land-use codes. A few cover the tactics of getting stuff done. And every one of them are written by the smartest, most forward-thinking and passionate thought leaders about cities today.

Each of these 11 books can be read, enjoyed and used by just about anyone. Whether a community activist, city planner, traffic engineer or someone who just likes cities, history, or change. I know you too will enjoy reading them and putting the knowledge gained to use in making your little part of the world a better place.

Happy reading!

  1. Start-up City – Inspiring Public and Private Entrepreneurship , Getting Projects Done and Having Fun by Gabe Klein
    Get the book on AmazonGabeKlein.com | Twitter | Wikipedia | My Review
  2. Streetfight – Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-Khan
    Get the book on Amazon | Janette’s work at Bloomberg Twitter | Wikipedia
  3. Happy City – Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery
    Get the book on Amazon | TheHappyCity.com | Twitter | Wikipedia
  4. Walkable City – How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time by Jeff Speck
    Get the book on Amazon |  JeffSpeck.com | Twitter
  5. Bikenomics – How Bicycling Can Save the Economy by Elly Blue
    Get the book on Amazon | From the publisher |  Twitter
  6. Street Smart – The Rise of Cities and the Fall of Cars by Samuel Schwartz
    Get the book on Amazon | SamSchwartz.com | Twitter | Wikipedia
  7. Tactical Urbanism – Short-term Action for Long-term Change by Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia
    Get the book on Amazon | Mike and Tony’s firm: Street-Plans.com | Twitter
  8. Human Transit – How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives by Jarrett Walker
    Get the book on Amazon | JarrettWalker.com | HumanTransit.org | Twitter
  9. The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup
    Get the book on Amazon | Mr. Shoup’s web site | Twitter | Wikipedia
  10. Straphanger – Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile by Taras Grescoe
    Get the book on Amazon | TarasGrescoe.com | Twitter | Wikipedia
  11. Dead End – Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism by Ben Ross
    Get the book on Amazon | Ben on GGW blog | Twitter

Bonus Section: I love and have read the first two of these books. NACTO (National Association of City Transportation Officials) says “NACTO’s publications provide a vital resource for practitioners, policy-makers, academics, and advocates alike.” I agree.


On my Kindle now:


2 Comments on “11 Books About Fighting for and Building People-First Cities”

  1. So maybe Houston, yes maybe, maybe, maybe Houston. Many working class routes are an hour apart in off peak hours and walkable neighborhoods are few and far between. Trains stop for red lights and do not connect to each other. Not sure if you are still required to have reliable transportation, not Metro, to work for Metro but I suspect that is true since any conversation with Metro seems to assume that I really want to walk a long way or take something not Metro to get between Metro routes.

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