Three new books by thoughtful architect-urbanists, usefully read together, explore the current state of urban design. Each author investigates historic and current trends in the evolution of specific American locations, and posits approaches for responding to local character and shaping future growth.
Lars Lerup left his native Sweden to come to America in 1966, and has lived in Houston for over 20 years, serving as dean at the Rice School of Architecture from 1993 to 2009. In One Million Acres and No Zoning, he notes the implications of Houston's unique lack of land-use regulation—how its development has responded to "an immense, flat playing field." He diagnoses the resulting "middle ground" of suburbia, a social norm of subdivisions whose supply and demand are dominated not by space (which is ubiquitous in its uniformity) but by time (commuting patterns and transportation costs). And in this charmingly illustrated book, he creatively suggests how, in the absence of zoning controls, a dual emphasis on public-sector infrastructure and ecological preservation can act as a framework for private-sector development and individual locational choice—a new paradigm for regional growth that can serve as a welcome model for other U.S. localities as well.