Best Civil Engineering & Urban Planning Books

Rip

New member
Joined
Feb 16, 2017
Messages
6
Reaction score
8
I've been in the civil engineering industry on the non-technical corporate side for almost a decade. Over this time, I've been reading books about civil engineering projects and urban planning history/theory, mostly out of genuine interest, but partly to get a better understanding of what the firms I've worked for actually do... as a layman, the more I know about this, the better it is for me from a career standpoint.

I'm always on the lookout for more to read, so I thought I'd start a thread, my hope is that this could be a resource for like-minded folks here. Would love to get some suggestions to put on my reading list.

Some of favorites of mine:
  • David McCullough's Path Between the Seas, about the digging of the Panama Canal
  • Stephen Ambrose's Nothing Like it in the World, about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad
  • Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a critique of '50s urban renewal projects
  • Earl Swift's The Big Roads, about the design and construction of the US's National Highway System
  • Thomas O'Connor's Building a New Boston, about the city's urban renewal in the 60s, including the much-maligned razing of Scollay Square and the West End to build Government Center
I'm currently reading Ethan Elkind's Railtown: The fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City, which has been pretty good so far. Next up is Lizabeth's Cohen's Saving America's Cities, about Ed Logue.

Given my interests and where I live, I'd love to read a comprehensive book about The Big Dig, but none exist, apparently.
 
Last edited by a moderator:

ra84970

Active Member
Joined
Jun 23, 2020
Messages
312
Reaction score
258
Some things that I like - they tend away from pure civil engineering, to politics and policy supportive of transit and opposing urban freeways
  • Crockett has a great history of Bos-Camb anti-freeway activism in People before Highways.
  • Elkind's Railtown is good for a Califa-phile and a history of coalition building; so that's a +1 for me
  • Higashide's Better Buses, Better Cities give you the language to talk about the why of bus improvements
  • Walker's Human Transit is great for the language around the basics of bus service planning (though, you can also take the same principles to rail-based transit too)
  • Spieler's Trains, Buses, People is actually really good for its atlas pages -- they really speak to the job and housing densities needed to support high-ridership bus networks
I want someone to do the Big Dig history, too!
 
Last edited by a moderator:

ra84970

Active Member
Joined
Jun 23, 2020
Messages
312
Reaction score
258
Another book that I just remembered was really a wonderful read with thoughts about how people think about cities:

Kevin Lynch's Image of the City. I really enjoyed reading it. It *is* theoretical and planning and design focused. But, I think it provides a useful framework if you're trying to talk to others about what changes you would like to see in a city and you just don't have a common language around your experiences. It gives you a place to start to build some understanding between people who have very different images of the same city.
 

donkeybutlers

Active Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2021
Messages
134
Reaction score
156

xec

Active Member
Joined
May 26, 2006
Messages
468
Reaction score
223

donkeybutlers

Active Member
Joined
Aug 30, 2021
Messages
134
Reaction score
156
Intriguing list. Not one I would have ever thought of, but I suppose that in a culture where home care for the elderly is regarded as infrastructure it makes sense that King Philip's War: Colonial Expansion, Native Resistance, and the End of Indian Sovereignty could be considered a book on civil engineering.

As Dylan might put it now, The dictionary definitions, they are a-changing...
This colonial expansion both necessarily included and facilitated specific infrastructure projects as well as the founding/expansion of many of the towns in the region. The society, city, and region we live in did not simply spring from the earth. It has a specific history that is worth understanding in the context of urban planning. I grant you this is generally ignored. I do not grant you that this is not relevant. The fact that it is taken for granted, responded to with dismissal, an preferably ignored only emphasizes how much it is necessary to explicitly include in the conversation.

The title of this thread is "Best Civil Engineering & Urban Planning Books." While civil engineering might try to avoid political questions as a discipline (which are in fact relevant to its practice always) urban planning as a discipline does not in the same way.
 
Last edited:

Top