The Heart of the City
Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century
By Alexander Garvin
Washington, DC (May 7, 2019)—As long as downtowns thrive, we can be certain of a prosperous and thrilling future for the American city. Some downtowns, including Uptown Houston and Atlanta’s Buckhead, have never stopped thriving. Others, such as downtown Detroit, have been in decline for half a century. A third trajectory includes downtowns such as lower Manhattan and downtown Los Angeles that were once on the decline and are now resurgent. Why are some downtowns in trouble while others are thriving? And what does it take to ensure a healthy future for the heart of America’s cities?
Distinguished urban planner Alexander Garvin answers these questions and lays out concrete recommendations to help any downtown thrive in The Heart of the City: Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century (Publication Date: May 7, 2019). Drawing on nearly five decades of experience studying and working in America’s cities, Garvin identifies shared elements of great downtowns, offers lessons from successful and failed projects, and charts a path forward to support downtowns into the twenty-first century.
The Heart of the City opens with a diagnosis of downtowns across the United States, including how and why they are changing. Garvin then explores brief accounts of how people, business, institutions, and public agencies can shape downtowns. Examples range from preservationists restoring downtown Denver, to artists generating downtown revival in New York’s SoHo district, to the role of immigrants in downtown Miami. Next, Garvin draws lessons from New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Boston that embody exemplary efforts to improve twenty-first century downtowns.
Paul Goldberger, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and architecture critic said, “Alex Garvin looks at cities with a clearer eye than any other planner in America…This book is a paean to downtown, driven not by dogma but by a realistic, practical sensibility and an understanding of how cities really work, seasoned with passion and a lifetime of knowledge.” ISLAND PRESS | PRESS RELEASE | 2 As Garvin writes, “Downtowns are unable to change anything. People change downtowns.” This book is for public officials, civic organizations, business owners, and people who want to expand opportunities for their downtown and guarantee its prosperous and thrilling future.
What Makes a Great City
Island Press, 2016, 344 pp.
What makes a great city? Not a good city or a functional city but a great city. A city that people admire, learn from, and replicate. City planner and architect Alexander Garvin set out to answer this question by observing cities, largely in North America and Europe, with special attention to Paris, London, New York, and Vienna.
What Makes a Great City will help readers understand that any city can be changed for the better and inspire entrepreneurs, public officials, and city residents to do it themselves.
The Planning Game: Lessons from Great Cities
W.W. Norton & Co., 2013, 224 pp.
The Planning Game: Lessons from Great Cities provides a focused, thorough, and sophisticated overview of how planning works, generously illustrated with 200 colorful photographs, diagrams, and maps created expressly for the book. It presents the public realm approach to planning—an approach that emphasizes the importance of public investments in what we own: streets, squares, parks, infrastructure, and public buildings. They are the fundamental elements in any community and are the way to determine our future. The book covers planning at every level, explaining the activities that go into successfully transforming a community as exemplified by four cities and their colorful motive forces: Paris (Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann), New York (Robert Moses), Chicago (Daniel Burnham), and Philadelphia (Edmund Bacon). The Planning Game is an invaluable resource for planners, students, community leaders, and everybody involved with making better places to live.
Parks, Recreation, and Open Space: A Twenty-First Century Agenda
American Planning Association, 2000, 72 pp.
What, exactly, is a park? What role have parks played in cities, and what will they need to be in the new economics and society of 21st century America?
To answer these questions, noted planner and planning educator Alexander Garvin first describes the parks agenda of Frederick Law Olmsted, which dominated the design of American parks for over a century, until the last 50 years of suburbanization so radically changed the nation's landscape and society. Parks and open space, once thought of as essential to public life and an important government responsibility, are now often regarded as amenities that can be done without. In order to develop a new agenda that fits the economics, needs, and expectations of Americans in this century, Garvin studied the details of successful parks and open space projects throughout the country. He distilled a set of principles to guide the actions of public and private leaders in all aspects of park, recreation, and open space development. His ideas—many of which challenge existing practices and conventional wisdom—fit new times and circumstances in America. This beautiful report is extensively illustrated with plan drawings and the author's own color photographs of parks across America.
Urban Parks and Open Space
with Gayle Berens and Christopher Leinberger, Urban Land Institute, 1997, 220 pp.
Published by the Urban Land Institute, Urban Parks and Open Space describes how 15 derelict areas of the United States were developed into thriving new parks and offers advice to public agencies and private developers on how to go about revitalizing urban areas. The text includes information on financing techniques, design, management and programmming.
Articles and Interviews
- "Revive Harlem Lane," in Onward Mobility in the Next New York (edited by Daniel McPhee), New York, Urban Design Forum, 2018, pp. 44-45.
- "An Extraordinary Plan," in Shelby Farms Park: Elevating a City (edited by Tom Jones), Memphis, Susan Schadt Press, 2017, pp. 88-101.
- "Zoning for Sale: Midtown East plan is recipe for trouble" by Michael Gruen and Alexander Garvin in The New York Times, July 18, 2017
- “This Documentary Shows how a Single Activist Can Change an Entire City” by Alexander Garvin in NEXT CITY, May 4, 2017
- Featured in Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2017)
- “Studio Introduction” by Alexander Garvin in The Marine Establissement: New Terrain for Central Amsterdam, Yale School of Architecture, 2016
- "Atlanta's BeltLine: the Emerald Necklace Shaping the City's Future" by Alexander Garvin in Planning Atlanta, American Planning Association, Chicago, 2015
- "Emerald Necklace, Southern Style" by Alexander Garvin in Planning , January 2014
- “Light Rail for the Brooklyn Queens Waterfront” and additional commentary by Alexander Garvin in Next New York, Forum for Urban Design, New York, 2013
- "Foreword" by Alexander Garvin in Ed Bacon, by Gregory Heller, 2013
- "Creating Sustainable Cities" by Alexander Garvin in Toward a More Livable World: The Social Dimensions of Sustainability, Williams and Forbes, eds. 2012
- "What Makes a Great Public Park?" by Alexander Garvin in The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2011
- "Review: Landscape Modernism Renounced" by Alexander Garvin in Yale Constructs, Spring 2010
- "Central Park South" by Alexander Garvin in Planning, December 2008
- "Infrastructure: How Would You Spend $1.6 Trillion" interview by Amanda Kolson Hurley and Andrew Slocomb West in Architect, February 2008
- "Negotiating the Mega-Rebuilding Deal at the WTC" by Alexander Garvin in Transactions, January 2008
- "Greening Cities: A Public Realm Approach" by Alexander Garvin in Growing Greener Cities, 2008
- "The High Price of Parking" by Alexander Garvin and Nicholas Peterson in The New York Times, December 23, 2007
- "Foreword" by Alexander Garvin in Designing Public Consensus, 2006
- "Thoughts on How to House the Middle Class" by Alexander Garvin in Real Estate Weekly, August 8, 2006
- "Is There Life After LMDC?" interview in the Architectural Record, July 2006
- “How We Grow” by Alexander Garvin in Urban Design Review, Forum for Urban Design, New York, Spring 2006
- "Introduction: Urban Planning Today" by Alexander Garvin in Urban Planning Today, 2006
- "How Ground Zero Changed The Equation" by Alexander Garvin in the New York Sun, November 29, 2004
- "Effect: Delivering Change" by Alexander Garvin in the RSA Journal, January 2004
- “Philadelphia’s Planner: A Conversation with Edmund Bacon” by Alexander Garvin in Journal of Planning History, February 2002
- "How the Planning Game Works in the Big Apple" by Alexander Garvin in Planning, March 2000
- “A Realistic Approach to City and Suburban Planning” and “Ingredients of Success” from The American City: What Works, What Doesn’t by Alexander Garvin in The City Reader (2nd Edition), edited by Richard T. LeGates and Frederic Stout, 2000.
- "Make No Little Plans" by Alexander Garvin in Unbuilt Cincinnati, Scheer and Chewning eds., 1998