Saturday, September 1, 2007

Three + Two (and a few more)

Lest Daytonology be seen as “that 'festival of the week' blog", here is something different.

Five favorite books. Three ones that I have read and re-read + two that are recent finds. None of these are about Dayton, but they influence how I interpret Dayton. A theoretical underpinning for "Daytonology", if you will.

Three Old Favorites:

Chicago, Growth of a Metropolis
This underrated and little-known book is probably the greatest influence on my thinking about urbanism and the basis for much of my interpretations of Dayton posted at Urban Ohio the past 2 years or so. The book looks at the historical development of the city and suburbs…the neighborhoods and industrial districts and transporation infrastructure…not just downtown architecture and mansions of the rich. The book uses the vernacular urban fabric as a way to read the city. The extensive use of photography to document and explain the city was innovative for its time. Companion books would be “The Urban Wilderness” and Streetcar Suburbs, both by Sam Bass Warner

City of Quartz
The author has moved on to apocalyptic writing, but this muckraking historical account of Los Angles made him famous. Mike Davis' quasi-Marxist, class-based analytical framework, describing on how money and power influence city politics and urban form was quite intriguing. The concluding essay on Davis’ home town of Fontana, California, is a gem. The companion book to City of Quartz (maybe should be read first), is Reyner Banham's excellent explication of Los Angeles urban form: Los Angeles, The Architecture of the Four Ecologies.

Seeing Like a State
This book is, in a way a validation of Jane Jacobs' writing, reinforcing her insights on the failure of planning via a critique of "High Modernism" and master planning as a way to solve problems. There was a critique of the author in not acknowledging his intellectual foundations (Austrian economics and English conservative philosophy), but that doesn't detract from what is said here, the vivid examples used, and the excellent writing style. Companion volume would be Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Two Recent Discoveries:

The Origins of the Urban Crisis.
An investigation of the downfall of Detroit, this book opens ones eyes on how racism, socioeconomic self-segreation, and economic change worked together to destroy a city. The relevance for Dayton is obvious. I am starting to investigate the color line in Dayton, so this book is becoming an underpinning to my research. Companion book would be “Redevelopment and Race”, which is more of a planning history, and the jouranlistic account "Devils Night". The Shrinking City exhibition catalogues are also good companions to this work.

City Center to Regional Mall
Another Los Angeles book, heavily illustrated, thus similar to that Chicago Growth of a Metropolis, but more analytic text. The City of Dayton is just part of a mostly suburban metropolitan area, so I’ve been looking closer at suburbia. This book has influenced my research into suburban Dayton as it is about the development and history of suburbia and suburban shopping areas, how retail development changed in response to urban growth and transportation technology. Though it is about suburbia, there is a good chapter on how LA downtown retail geographically sorted itself out into different market segments, which one can see in Dayton, too. Companion books are Holy Land, a Suburban Memoir (another LA book) and the pioneering Main Street to Miracle Mile.

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