Book Review Preview: Sustainable London

By Samantha McLean

Rob Imrie and Loretta Lees (eds), Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City (Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2014)

‘Sustainable development’ has become a buzzword in the vernacular of urban policy, yet the term’s ambiguity has made it conveniently adoptable by policy makers wishing to further their own development goals.

Sustainable London? The Future of a Global City examines the effects of sustainable development policies in an era of austerity in London as functions of the government are reduced or delegated to the private sector. The book aims to challenge this mode of development and present alternative models that address social justice.

The book is divided into four sections and a postscript. Part One of the book establishes the foundation of London’s sustainable development policy and presents its challenges. Part Two examines ways in which austerity led to changes in governance and privatization of public services and infrastructure, while Part Three discusses the results of sustainable development policy. Part Four has an environmental health focus, looking at transportation, public health, and urban greening.

The book accomplishes the authors’ goal of challenging current sustainable development policies and their outcomes, or at the very least, presenting their shortcomings. Yet, the true shortcoming is the book’s inability to proffer a feasible approach for working toward a more just city within the confines of a capitalist system.

Imrie and Lees issue a clarion call: we must stop regarding sustainable development as “post-political” and realize that it is linked to politically-motivated causes. However, this call is the only solid outcome of this book. While the editors ultimately want to challenge the economic structure in which unjust sustainable development exists and work towards community controlled development, this is beyond the scope of attainable.

As a recent masters in city planning graduate, I benefited from this book as it provided historic, social, local, and economic context to the global city of London. However, as a future urban planner, I was left without an applicable action plan. In fact, I would think that the authors would want planners and developers operating in the public, nonprofit, and private sectors should be this book’s audience in addition to like-minded academics or grassroots professionals. That would allow for a more integrated approach to promoting the just city.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Samantha McLean
University of Cincinnati

Book Review Preview: The Brooklyn Nobody Knows

By John Shapiro

William B. Helmreich, The Brooklyn Nobody Knows: An Urban Walking Guide (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2016).

Did you know that…

  • Barak Obama once lived in Park Slope. So did Al Capone.
  • Bushwick’s unconstrained graffiti art is really a changing exhibit managed by a collective.
  • In Gerritsen Beach, a favorite pastime is giving wrong directions to outsiders.

Such facts are dispersed throughout William B. Helmreich’s first contribution to his intended Nobody Knows series for New York City’s boroughs, expanding on his successful The New York That Nobody Knows. For each of 44 neighborhoods, Helmreich reports on his observations from and conversations while walking 816 miles through Brooklyn. Read it one neighborhood at a time before making a visit, and it is a guide book. Read it cover-to-cover as I did, and you realize the thoroughness with which Helmreich describes the people and condition of Brooklyn in the 2010s, at the height of the Brooklyn hype.  As is the case for the WPA Guide to New York City of the 1930s: while the reportage will become dated, it will enjoy a second life as an historical record.

As a local city planner, I can vouch for his accuracy—though there are places where the common wisdom he retells is incomplete, the urbanism story goes unreported, and he might have delved deeper into the community development movement, which originated here. But as a fourth-generation Brooklynite, I say fuhgeddaboudit: If you love walking cities, buy the book.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

John Shapiro, Professor, Pratt Institute


Book Review Preview: The New York Nobody Knows

By Tony Filipovitch

William B. Helmreich, The New York Nobody Knows:  Walking 6,000 Miles in the City (Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press, 2013).

In The New York Nobody Knows Helmreich proposes to evaluate the city sociologically as a whole, and make it come alive. To write this book, he walked all 6,000 miles of streets in New York City over a period of four years. Along the way, he recorded what he observed and the conversations he had with people on the streets.

Besides the introduction and conclusion, the book is divided into six sections: newcomers, communities,  leisure, spaces,  and  ethnicity. Each chapter is supported by the author’s direct observations and by references to scholarly writing and newspaper accounts—the footnotes are frequently an important part of Helmreich’s argument.

Unfortunately, the title choice suggests a personal appreciation of a place. This work also positions itself with other great urban ethnographies. But lacking the tighter focus of these earlier works, Nobody Knows fails to combine the individual mosaic tiles into a coherent picture.

And yet, Helmreich has provided a valuable initial reconnaissance of a difficult terrain. He avoids the pitfall of so many city portraits that present the story as a monolithic, inescapable march to the present; he insists on the messy, often incoherent diversity that distinguishes the city from the village. There are two particularly interesting conclusions that deserve further scrutiny. While the trend is to assimilation, large numbers of city residents prefer to live among religious or ethnic groups with whom they identify. A corollary to this is that gentrifiers may live among the poor, but they do so as neighbors not friends. Second, there is an emerging trend, especially among the young, of hybrid identities that combine cultural elements in new ways.

Helmreich has left us a debt yet to be paid, one that could keep a generation of researchers happily engaged for years to come.

The full book review will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Affairs.

Tony Filipovitch, Minnesota State University Mankato,

Does Social Mixing Work? A JUA Blog Review of Integrating the Inner City

By David Varady

Robert J. Chaskin and Mark L. Joseph. Integrating the Inner City: The Promise and Perils of Mixed-Income Public Housing Transformation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Most previous American public housing research has concentrated either on the history of public housing or on the consequences of demolishing projects and relocating residents. Instead, Robert Chaskin and Mark Joseph focus Integrating the Inner City on how mixed-income public housing reform (HOPE VI) is actually playing out in three communities in Chicago.

Implementing HOPE VI has proven far more difficult to implement than expected. First, development teams at the three sites experienced substantial logistic, legal, and economic obstacles in recruiting low-income renters and middle-income homeowners. Although the CHA issued bold statements about its general screening policy including a work requirement, drug testing, criminal background checks, and credit checks, working groups at the three sites modified these requirements leading to the admission of “borderline” families with social problems. Second, “each of the efforts [to foster self-sufficiency] encountered substantial impediments in application and resident response, and most have fallen short of (often) modest expectations.” (p.123)  Finally there was little social interaction across incomes and tenures. In fact because of the imposition of strict behavioral rules (e.g. with regard to playing loud music on the street and in cars), mixing actually increased racial and class tensions.

I agree with the authors that it is unrealistic to assume that middle income owners can serve as role models for poor renters. I disagree, however, with their assertion that the CHA’s Public Housing Transformation Plan failed because managers imposed overly stringent rules on former public housing residents. If we want the poor to successfully participate in the market economy and to achieve self-sufficiency, I believe that it is reasonable to expect former public housing residents to learn to follow the same types of rules in subsidized mixed-income developments that apply in market-rate low-income rental housing.

The preceding raises the question: can public housing transformation occur without social mixing? Larry Vale says (2015) “Yes,” based on his research on the Commonwealth Development in Boston.  Commonwealth’s success, however, was due to a private management firm’s tight screening and their strict enforcement of behavioral rules, but it is questionable whether the Commonwealth model can be adopted and successfully replicated elsewhere.

Despite my differences with Chaskin and Josephs over their conclusions, I strongly endorse Integrating the Inner City. Six years of fieldwork have produced a stellar product.

A longer version of this book review appears in the Summer 2016 issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association.


Vale, Lawrence. 2015. “Myth #6 Mixed-income redevelopment is the only way to fix failed public housing.” Pp. 139-53 in Public Housing Myths: Perception, Reality and Social Policy, edited by Nicholas Dagen Bloom, Fritz Umbach, and Lawrence Vale. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

David Varady is Professor of Planning in the School of Planning at the University of Cincinnati. He is also Book Review Editor of the Journal of Urban Affairs.





Book Review Preview: Socioeconomic Segregation in European Capital Cities

By David Varady

Tiit Tammaru, Szymon Marcińczak, Maarten van Ham, and Sako Musterd (Editors). Socio-Economic Segregation in European Capital Cities: East Meets West. (London and New York: Routledge, 2016).

Socio-Economic Segregation in European Cities: East Meets West constitutes the first major comparative analysis of socio-economic segregation in European cities and is based on quantitative and qualitative data from 13 major European cities: Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna, Stockholm, Oslo, London, Vilnius, Tallinn, Prague, Madrid, Milan, Athens, and Riga.

Not surprisingly, the 13 case studies show that “the spatial gap between the more extreme socio-economic categories, those that ‘have’ and those that ‘have not’ is pretty much widening in Europe.” (p.365) I was surprised however, to learn that the type of welfare state and the characteristics of housing provision—were not clearly linked to the level of segregation. “In some countries with strong public involvement in the housing sector we find both low levels of segregation (Prague) and high levels of segregation (Stockholm and Vienna).” (p.375)

The book does a great job in comparing levels of segregation across European capitals and in portraying the results geographically. However, as the editors acknowledge, it falls short in explaining  how and why families make particular segregative residential choices. Why, for example, 25 years after the fall of communism in Tallinn do Estonian managers live in separate neighborhoods from Russian speaking managers?

Unfortunately, the book largely overlooks the role of religion―in particular fundamentalist Islam—along with economic marginalization, and spatial separation―in threatening the future viability of European cities. The terms “Islam” and “Muslims” do not appear in the index and I do not think that they appear in the text either. Did you wonder, as I did in the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks and the attack on the Brussels airport, why the Molenbeek municipality in Brussels became a no-go area for police, where gang violence remains rampant, where Islamic radicalism feeds on the neighborhood’s marginalization, and where some of the terrorists responsible for the Paris and Brussels attacks were able to hide (Freytas-Tamura & Schreuer, 2015)? Unfortunately, you won’t find answers to these questions in this book. Sophisticated qualitative research is needed to answer these questions.

Despite these limitations, I learned a lot about segregation in European cities. However, the book’s high price of $170 prevents me from recommending it to JUA readers.  I do encourage you to order a PDF version of the Introduction and Conclusion, available from Open-Access at

An expanded version of this review will be published in Geography Research Forum.


Freytas-Tamura, D., & Schreuer, M. (2015). Belgian minister says government lacks control over neighborhood linked to terror plots. New York Times.  November 15, Retrieved from


David P. Varady is Professor of Planning at the University of Cincinnati and is Book Review Editor for the Journal of Urban Affairs. He is the author of numerous books and articles about low-income housing policy, segregation, and neighborhood development.







Final Reflections on Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis

This is the fifth and final blog post in our series on the book Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis. The series was inspired by a panel discussion at UAA. Previous posts were written by Anne Shlay, Zachary Neal, Deirdre Oakley, and Rachel Garshick Kleit.

By Elena Vesselinov

It was a great privilege to participate in the Author Meets Critics panel about “Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis,” by Anne B. Shlay and Gillad Rosen, at the Urban Affairs Association meeting in San Diego. I enjoyed very much our discussion and am happy we have a chance to continue the conversation online, through this blog.

I would like to make three points here: one, as someone who has conducted comparative urban research, I would like to remind all of us that it takes real gumption to embark on a new territory – physically and intellectually. It is not easy being an outsider looking in, asking questions, always on the verge of offending someone just by being yourself.

Secondly, the book resonated with me on a very personal level, because one of the very strong messages is about the making of a place through the process of claiming it as your own. As an immigrant, I continue to struggle to find ways to fit in, often uncertain of my own rights to cities and places. After reading the book I now have a better understanding about why different groups make such vocal claims to Jerusalem as a place. The cognition of these claims is helped on theoretical level by Shlay and Rosen’s interrogation of the production of space through Lefebvre’s notion of the Rights to the City.

One prominent example of competing territorial claims in Jerusalem is The Kotel, also known as the “Wailing Wall.” This is the Western Wall (the HaKotel), a retaining wall of the temple built by Herod, located within the Old City. Between 1947-1967 it was a part of Jordan, and then Israel annexed it after the 1967 war. As one of the most significant religious and national symbols, access to The Kotel was secured by demolishing over a hundred Arab homes. “Each spatial expansion has been viewed as an incursion upon Palestinian territory, a form of Israeli imperialism akin to the occupation of the West Bank” argue Rosen and Shlay (2014).

In order to further legitimize the rights to this site, the Israeli government established a Heritage Foundation, registered as a non-profit organization in 1988. It is tasked to excavate tunnels underneath the Kotel, which tunnels are considered by some to be the holiest aspect of the Kotel. At the same time, the Israeli government left control of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (where Islamic holy places are located, e.g. the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock) in the hands of the Wakf, the Islamic trust responsible for administering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. This led to a divided sovereignty arrangement, although formally Israel controls the entire area. In practice, the Wakf controls the Temple Mount while the Western Wall and access to the Temple Mount is under rabbinical control. Therefore, this area appears to be a major contested ethno-national political space, claimed by Palestinians, Orthodox Jews, non-Orthodox Jews, as well as by newer organizations like Women of the Wall, seeking equality of access for men and women.

Even in this brief example, we can have a glimpse into the many competing claims – is the Kotel a historical site, operated by the Israeli government, where the national history is continuously remade with the help of archeological discoveries? Is it a religious holy site, with a determination to remain under rabbinical control? Is it a site, where perhaps new progressive claims are going to be made, of equal access to it by various social groups? Is it all of the above and more?

The growth machine framework, as also employed by Shlay and Rosen, gives us some further insight into the intense and powerful production of space in Jerusalem. And this is my third point, because in the final count most claims to places, sacred or not, are driven by a combination of political and economic interests. In the specific case of Jerusalem, the political and economic interests in urban development are interwoven with the building of the Israeli nation-state. Thus, unlike the more local presence of the urban growth coalitions in the U.S., in Israel the national government is actively involved in the redevelopment of urban and supra-urban areas. The interplay of private interests in urban growth is further transformed into ethno-national coalitions. The specificity of spatial politics notwithstanding, Shlay and Rosen also show that many common urban processes envelop everyday residential lives: urban sprawl, housing shortages, infrastructure investments, gentrification, securitization of place, which has taken place along two major pathways: through the building of security wall/barrier, as well as the proliferation of fortified, gated communities (Rosen and Grant, 2011). The book accomplishes a very important goal in revealing the constant interaction between the uniqueness of the historical ethno-national conflicts on the one hand, and the universal urban processes, on the other.

In conclusion, let me briefly recount another example from the book, the Safdie Plan, tying it back to the Rights to the City. As Shlay and Rosen point out, the Safdie plan set an urban agenda of expanding Jerusalem westward, towards lands already part of Israel, by way of new housing construction, commercial and industrial development. Undoubtedly, this decade-long urban strategizing had gone through various stages, with many political actors and groups being involved. But what stood out for me was the fact that over 16,000 objections were filed against the plan. While several environmental groups worked against the project, it also seems that in 2007 the project was cancelled because of the sustained public opposition to it. It is hard to write about Jerusalem without recognizing the increasing violence in the Middle East, related to ISIS, the threats against the Israeli state, and the continuous state of warfare. While the book does not deal with the larger quite grim geo-political context, it does provide, I think, a glimmer of hope, that in such mundane, everyday actions, as in the Safdie plan, successful peaceful coalitions could be formed – coalitions that can, perhaps only on a small scale, cut across ethnic, national and religious boundaries.

Elena Vesselinov is Associate Professor of Sociology at Queens College, City University of New York


Rosen, G. and J. Grant. 2011. “Reproducing difference: Gated communities in Canada and Israel.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(4):778-793.

Rosen, G. and A. Shlay. 2014. “Whose Right to Jerusalem?” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 38(3):935-950.

Shlay, A. and G. Rosen. 2015. Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis. Polity Press.

More Thoughts on Jerusalem

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on the book Jerusalem: The Spatial Politics of a Divided Metropolis. Previous posts were written by Anne Shlay, Zachary Neal, and Deirdre Oakley.

By Rachel Garshick Kleit

Anne asked us to think about how the book helps us to think about the problem of Jerusalem’s future–does it help? I think so. I know it has provoked an emotional response that has moved me to think differently about Jerusalem.  This book has caused me to laugh, to cringe, to feel shame. It has made me take a step back to look at Jerusalem from an academic perspective, from a simultaneously inside and outside view. By inside I mean the dual perspective of Israelis and Palestinian Jerusalemites on the inside and the outside perspective of American and international policy towards Israel. It surfaces issues of social exclusion, of nationlessness, of economic and social segregation that I find difficult to confront.

While well written and evocative, I found this book hard to read. It was hard because it caused me to remember my own path to understanding Israel and Jerusalem, and my own identity as a Jew. For me, being Jewish is being a Zionist.  I was brought up to be a Zionist. I went to Hebrew school where we learned about Israel. I remember when the Western Wall was called the Wailing Wall, pre-1967. I remember my surprise when people I knew started to call it the Western Wall. I did not hear the term Kotel until I was an adult.

The first time I went to Israel and Jerusalem was in 1992. I was 27. I went on a mission where we went to Ma’ale Adumim–one of the strategic settlements that Anne and Gil talk about as part of a triangle of defensive neighborhoods around Jerusalem–to ulpanim where immigrants get a crash course in Hebrew, to refugee absorption centers, and I was elated.  It was the first time I had been to a country where I immediately felt like I was on the inside.  Rather than my Jewishness having me masquerade as a white person, I was welcomed.  I completely embraced the idea that Jews had a 3000-year claim on the land, that the Arabs had done little to the land, and that “we” were better stewards–this is one of the narratives that Anne and Gil relate and contrast to that of the Palenstinian Nakba–the tragedy.

Over the years, I have become a lot more nuanced about this story, and have come to understand this story as a classic colonization myth (eg:  Australia: the land was empty and the British colonized it; U.S.: manifest destiny means that North America was available by right).  So, as I read this book I re-experienced the progression of my own learning about Jerusalem and Israel.

I’ve also never thought about Jerusalem in the way that Anne and Gilad do.  For me, what is fascinating about this book is that it focuses on Jerusalem as one might try to focus on any other metropolitan area’s social and political identity and place.  The exposition of the Jerusalem from three theoretical perspectives:  from the perspective of political hegemony and cultural domination, from the perspective of Le Fevre’s right to the city, and from the perspective of Molotch’s growth machine brings home the more troubling aspects of Israel’s nationalist attempts to create a unified Jerusalem where Jews dominate.

At the same time, I felt as I read this that in order to focus on the production of space, the book sometimes feels like Jerusalem had been plucked out of history. To talk about cultural hegemony of Israel, of planners’ power overwhelming Palestinian rights to the city, without the historical context of consistent threats to Jews over the centuries felt incomplete.

The book walks a careful line as it tries to contain the story of Jerusalem within the bounds of metropolitan Jerusalem.  Anne and Gil made choices about separating the geosocial story of Jerusalem from the general Arab-Israeli conflict.  They try not to blame, but rather to present perspectives and actions.

My emotional response is to want to continue a larger tit-for-tat about the logic of why Israel acts to create “facts on the ground” and new neighborhoods in East Jerusalem that much of the rest of the world and international Law see as illegal. This means that when they recount the 6 day war (1967) or the Yom Kippur War (1973) or the first or second intifada, I want to add the 1972 Munich Olympics to the record (where Black September kidnapped 9 Israeli Athletes, all of whom with the kidnappers died by the end), 1976’s hijacking of the Air France airplane at Entebbe, I want to add the tragedy of wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer who was murdered and thrown overboard the cruise ship of the Achille Lauro in 1985.

I have a historical filter that shapes my reactions.  And, my reaction reflects the continuing tit-for-tat record keeping that goes on for both Jews/Israelis and Palestinians.

As I was writing this, I learned that the leader of the raid that freed the Entebbe hostages was killed during the operation–he was Bibi’s (Benjamin Netanyahu’s) older brother.

I say this to remind us all how deeply personal this all is. That while the city is being shaped and we have to interact with it (as Anne and Gilad demonstrate in their conclusion where they guide us on a 24-hour tour of the city) there are intensely personal histories that shape the all the actors on both sides.

The most difficult part of the book for me was Chapter 3–What is Jerusalem? In it, Anne and Gilad recount the British Mandate and the plan for a unified Jerusalem under UN control, the division of Jerusalem and the construction of the Green Line after 1948, the subsequent settlements (I have cousins who live in a new neighborhood in East Jerusalem). I kept wanting to say, but wait a minute–yes Israel has settlements, and yes these create facts on the ground, but also remember that Jews had to leave Gaza and the Sinai for peace.

Chapter 4 is what one might call a guide to Jerusalem for the perplexed (yes a play on Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed). That is, in the U.S. being Jewish is a religion, but in Israel one can be Jewish without being religious, or religious without being a Zionist.  Identity and religiousity can be independent of each other. The statelessness of Palestinian Jersalemites casts a shadow over the marvelous complexities of what Gilad and Anne inventively call Jewish tribal groups–Ashkenazim, Mizrahim, Russians, Ethiopians, Haredi. In discussing this point, the book, I think, really speaks to American perspectives on religion.

I do think that the meaning of Jerusalem is understated. Anne and Gilad emphasize the importance of Jerusalem to Jews with the mention that we say on Passover “next year in Jerusalem” and that Jews pray facing east—Jerusalem.  The tie is stronger–indeed, Jewish daily prayer evokes visions of the return to what the prayer calls the holy city of Jerusalem.

I am a scholar dedicated to poverty alleviation and social justice.  I am also a Jew with 4000 years of history of peoplehood and who has looked at the surprising continuation of my people, my tribe in the context of what my mother repeatedly tells me is the expectation that in every generation there rises up a leader who attempts to anniliate the Jews.  Thus, the focus is on survival.  The Palestinians have the Nakba–their tragedy of the founding of the state of Israel.  These two catastrophic truths shape the motivations for what has proven to behaviors that do not promote peace.  For now, both types of Jersulamites live among each other in their separate worlds.

Does the book help us to think about the problem of Jerusalem?  Yes.  My fear, however, is the both sides will see the focus on the metropolitan area as omitting important events that comprise a history that feeds the perspectives presented.

Rachel Kleit is Professor and head of the City and Regional Planning section at the Knowlton School of Architecture at The Ohio State University.