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April 18, 2013
by Maxinne Rhea Leighton Assoc. AIA
The Planning Game: Lessons from Great Cities; Alexander Garvin W.W. Norton & Company (2013)
Alexander Garvin, Hon. AIANY, (second from right) with (r-l) Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA; Miguel Angel Baltierra, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP; Christopher Beardsley, Executive Director, Forum for Urban Design; and Daniel McPhee, Deputy Director, Forum for Urban Design, at the 04.08.13 Oculus Book Talk.

The Planning Game: Lessons from Great Cities
Alexander Garvin
W.W. Norton & Company (2013)

I first met Alex Garvin, Hon. AIANY, during the post-September 11th planning charrettes. He was clearly a person – a force – who understood the planning and visioning process and knew how to play the game, moving it along within a highly-charged environment. While this is not the focus of Garvin’s masterly work, it is indicative of the author’s depth of lived experience into how public planning works.

The Planning Game examines four case studies of successful urban revitalizations: New York in the age of Robert Moses; Paris in the late 19th century; Chicago in the early 20th century; and Philadelphia during its post-World War II transformation. Why these four cities? From Garvin’s perspective, they all “demonstrate the universality of the planning process.” They also “won” the planning game “by devoting their efforts to the one thing over which they had control: the space shared by all residents of the city, its public realm.” Through this lens, stories of these cities’ growth are turned on their heads: readers experience what they may have known before from a fresh and compelling perspective.

While most of the book focuses on these case studies, the first three chapters map the process of planning that supports Garvin’s perspective about the universality of the planning process, and describe in greater detail what he means by “planning game” and its applicability to the public realm approach to planning.

Perhaps it’s because of my involvement with recent post-Superstorm Sandy efforts at the Center for Architecture, or the fact that I am writing this review on a Boston-bound Amtrak train less than 24 hours after this Monday’s Boston Marathon tragedy, but the public realm –  streets, parks, and infrastructure – is in sharp focus and continually being challenged in extraordinary ways. The Planning Game, with clarity of voice and purpose, is a timely resource of insights and ideas much needed at this time.

Maxinne Rhea Leighton, Assoc. AIA, is a member of the AIANY Oculus Committee and in charge of NE Region Business Development/Marketing at Parsons Brinckerhoff.

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