Book Report: The Smart Growth Manual

The Smart Growth Manual, released in 2010, is the work of three experienced planners in Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, and Mike Lyndon. All three have worked stints at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ), a planning firm specializing in New Urbanist styles and techniques. Accordingly, The Smart Growth Manual outlines the core principles of the New Urbanist movement employed by DPZ and others.

The book begins with an important disclaimer outlining its intended use and scope. It prefixes the short, one-page sectioning of the book as the structure of a reference manual. The value statement from the authors is in their ability to distill years of experience implementing the values they preach. The core concept of the book is the revival of the neighborhood structure. The authors claim that this mixed-use, accessible, connected organization is the central antidote to the current crises of suburbia. A driving notion falls just short of a crusade on cars; cars have a place in society, the authors claim, but the majority of trips should be made on foot or by bike. This should be made possible by mixing land uses in such a way to provide a thriving neighborhood structure.

The Manual focuses in increasing levels of spatial resolution, from regional planning through neighborhoods and streetscapes and down to the individual building. The authors’ intention is for the Manual to be used as such – a manual. It catalogs practices and techniques useful in combating urban sprawl. Each point does not focus on design-specification or value arguments. Rather, the one-page sections each provide jumping-off points for further research, thought, and experimentation in planning techniques under the smart growth framework.

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My well-loved copy of The Smart Growth Manual

Under this premise, I think the book operates well as a quick reference. For professionals and advocates interested in developing ‘smart’ communities, the techniques provided in this book could be useful in providing quick pointers to potential solutions, honing in focus projects, or prioritizing agendas in planning. For working professionals deeper in the planning and design process though, this manual may fall short. No references to existing work or studies are provided with each section other than the caption of the accompanying picture. This omission undermines the credibility of the authors slightly. Pointing to past successes or works in progress could strengthen each point and offer advocates a stronger platform of argumentation. 

For those familiar with or curious about the Smart Growth framework, this book will likely be useful as a reminder or an introduction. For those involved in high-granularity work in the planning or design of developed places, this book may not offer more than a jumping-off point for further research. Little substance of use is provided in the way of statistical backing or design guidance. That being said, the book makes a great desk-top reference manual – quick sections and pretty pictures.

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