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  • The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21st Century City
  • Michael E. Lewis
The Humane Metropolis: People and Nature in the 21sstCentury City. Rutherford H. Platt. (editor). University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, MA, 2006. 326 pp., photographs, DVD. $80.00 cloth (ISBN 13-978-155849-553-1), $27.95 paper (ISBN 13-155849-554-8)

Contemporary ideas about urban design and planning are rooted in the prescient insights of a few key observers and commentators following World War II. With that in mind, Rutherford Platt has assembled a set of conference essays and case studies branching out from the writings of William H. (Holly) Whyte. The book’s premise is that Whyte’s vision of nature and public spaces in urban settings is now coming to the forefront in such buzzwords as smart growth, new urbanism, sustain-able design, and the increasing role of energy consumption and environmental attitudes towards living in urban places. Platt’s fundamental goals for revisiting Whyte’s work are positive and forward looking: to create more humane metropolitan environments that are literally more green, more healthy and safe, more [End Page 127] people friendly, and more equitable. He has succeeded in collecting a coherent set of papers that point out what can and is being done to reach these goals. The book could serve as a good source of readings in any graduate geography course related to environmental planning, and is an excellent supplement to Platt’s (2004) upper level text Land Use and Society: Geography, Law, and Public Policy.

The book is arranged chronologically into five parts, beginning with five short biographical papers reviewing Whyte’s most lasting contributions. The significant body of that work began in Chicago after World War II, with studies of the sociology of large organizations and emerging suburban landscapes, and then progressed to suburban land use and issues of sprawl more generally. In the 1960s, Whyte gained land conservationist credentials as a consultant to the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission, where he wrote professional reports recommending conservation easements and cluster development. In the latter part of his career he moved back into the city and focused on the function and design of public spaces in urban settings, particularly mid-town Manhattan.

Parts II and III of the book focus on the historical transition from setting up city parks to the creation of regional open space initiatives. A series of case studies review the development of urban green infrastructure from Portland, Oregon to New York City. Included is an interesting paper by Anne Lusk that points up design flaws of many urban walking, biking, and skating facilities that limit their benefits in terms of promoting human health and fitness. A common problem is that the provided facilities are difficult to integrate into daily travel and work patterns. Following those topics are a set of papers relating the emerging field of ecological restoration to urban watersheds and brownfields. Geographers William Solecki and Cynthia Rosenzweig present an interesting review of the integration of the biosphere reserve concept into urban landscapes, and frame a proposal for such a reserve in metropolitan New York City.

Part IV focuses on environmental justice and inequities of designs, such as gated communities and homogenous neighbor-hoods favoring private management of common areas over public spaces accessible to all citizens. The social isolation and exclusivity of private developments bound by gates and fences are seen as a major impediment to a diverse community of people with an interest in the common good. Also in this section, Deborah and Frank Popper provide a thorough review of Whyte’s “organization man” in the twenty-first century, pointing up the loss of individuality and personal initiative in neighborhoods governed by homeowners associations wielding foreclosure rights over private property owners.

The final and most forward looking section is devoted to contemporary issues and techniques for designing a more humane metropolis. Included are essays on zoning for public open spaces, case studies of green building, and examples of European cityscapes that are pedestrian friendly and promote non-fossil fuel energy sources. For example, photovoltaic energy cells are rising in efficiency and dropping in cost, leading to greater...


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pp. 127-129
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