Evolution of a Sustainable City

This September, I set up a display on the Central Library’s 7th floor called “Sustainable Cities” to complement a traveling exhibition we were showing at the time elsewhere in the building. The display featured books and documentaries about how to design and build an urban environment that would offer more economic and energy security, better transportation options, cleaner air, and higher quality of life than current cities generally do.

Just for fun, I designed the display about sustainable cities in the form of a miniature sustainable city. Between the books and DVDs on their traditional wire stands there were paper apartment buildings, a cloth representing green space, a lake made from a blue placemat, tiny paper bicyclists, and a person or two in a wheel chair to remind us of the need for accessibility. We then challenged patrons with this question:

What would we see in YOUR sustainable city? Continue reading “Evolution of a Sustainable City”

Futurama Redux: Urban Mobility After Cars, a Traveling International Exhibition


One of the highlights of the 1939 World’s Fair was a massive exhibit called “Futurama,” created by General Motors. It promised that within twenty years the working man would live in a glorious future filled with friendly suburbs, gleaming skyscrapers, and extensive highways—all of this made possible by the comfort and convenience of the personal car.

More than 75 years later, most of us are living in the car-centric future prophesied at the World’s Fair, but it is not quite the utopia GM envisioned. Pollution, traffic congestion, and the looming end to fossil fuels leave us wondering: What comes next?

The international exhibition Futurama Redux: Urban Mobility After Cars offers fascinating answers to this question. Continue reading “Futurama Redux: Urban Mobility After Cars, a Traveling International Exhibition”

Toronto, Mon Amour

I grew up in Seattle, and am used to hearing out-of-towners who visit the downtown library raving about our breathtaking city (and libraries). Well now I know how they feel. I just returned from my third visit to Toronto, where I was speaking at a library conference, and have been boring everyone silly with effusions of praise for this great city, the fifth most populous in North America and one of the most culturally diverse cities in the image-of-toronto-reference-libraryworld. The city has great arts and theatre, and a hot clubbing scene, a terrific public market with amazing variety of foods (and the most cheese I’ve seen in one place outside of Paris), a gorgeous main library that anchors a tremendous library system with 99 branches, and even their own space needle, a mere three times the height of ours.

image-of-icy-toronto-courtesy-of-grant-macdonaldBut what I like best is what a wonderful walking city Toronto is, with great long streets that stretch for miles through a terrific succession of ethnic neighborhoods, from Greektown to Little Italy, Portugal Village to Cabbagetown, Koreatown to Yorkville. That such a vast city maintains its human scale is partly thanks to the influence of urban thinker Jane Jacobs, best known for her The Death and Life of Great American Cities, who helped keep Toronto from making the common missteps of modernizing cities, such as bisecting themselves with huge freeways. I’ve been there during a heat wave, a chilly autumn, and a cold snap, and I just couldn’t keep from walking for miles and miles.

Readers interested in getting a taste of Toronto’s rich history have plenty of great fiction to choose from, from Michael Ondaatje’s story of a seeker in Continue reading “Toronto, Mon Amour”

Buildings and Cities

The Seattle Public Library has a large and varied collection of books about architecture and city planning. Here are a few that I find interesting and useful. I hope you enjoy them too.

Death & Life of Great American CitiesThe Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Jane Jacobs’ classic ground-breaking attack on the planning of American cities, published in 1961, is still widely read, and has great relevance for us today. What, she asked, makes cities and city neighborhoods work, and what makes them die? What can planners do to save our great cities? She presented what were at that time completely new principles of city planning, including dense population and diversity of uses, principles which are coming into favor today. She writes with passion as a city dweller; this is an exciting book.

 The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: a Complete Catalog by William Allin Storrer
Among the many books available on Frank Lloyd Wright, this is the only Continue reading “Buildings and Cities”