Now reading

15 Must-Read Urbanism Books Written by Women

15 Must-Read Urbanism Books Written by Women

When you search the Top 100 urban planning and development, architecture, or built environment books on Amazon you may notice the abundance of male voices, male authors. This book list is meant for men and women alike – to be inspired by those in our field and to gain greater perspectives in planning and developing built

Head article image

When you search the Top 100 urban planning and development, architecture, or built environment books on Amazon you may notice the abundance of male voices, male authors. This book list is meant for men and women alike - to be inspired by those in our field and to gain greater perspectives in planning and developing built environments that are inclusive for all. Our choices for this list are by no means comprehensive and we hope that you'll add your book suggestions to the comments below.


The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane JacobsThe Death and Life of Great American Cities
by Jane Jacobs
Vintage (1961)
458 pages

A classic since its publication in 1961, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" is the definitive statement on American cities: what makes them safe, how they function, and why all too many official attempts at saving them have failed. Jane Jacobs also published "The Economy of Cities" and "Cities and the Wealth of Nations;" two must-reads for urbanists.


Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places by Sharon ZukinNaked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places
by Sharon Zukin
Oxford University Press (2011)
312 pages

"Naked City" is a sobering update of Jacobs' legendary 1961 book, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." Like Jacobs, Zukin looks at what gives neighborhoods a sense of place but argues that over time, the emphasis on neighborhood distinctiveness has become a tool of economic elites to drive up real estate values and effectively force out the neighborhood "characters" that Jacobs so evocatively idealized.


The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo. by Saskia SassenThe Global City: New York, London, Tokyo.
by Saskia Sassen
Princeton University Press (2001)
480 pages

"The Global City" chronicles how New York, London, and Tokyo became command centers for the global economy and in the process underwent a series of massive and parallel changes. What distinguishes Sassen's theoretical framework is the emphasis on the formation of cross-border dynamics through which these cities and the growing number of other global cities begin to form strategic transnational networks.


Streetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution by Janette Sadik-KhanStreetfight: Handbook for an Urban Revolution
by Janette Sadik-Khan
Penguin Books (2017)
368 pages

"Streetfight" demonstrates, with step-by-step visuals, how to rewrite the underlying “source code” of a street, with pointers on how to add protected bike paths, improve crosswalk space, and provide visual cues to reduce speeding. "Streetfight" deconstructs, reassembles, and reinvents the street, inviting readers to see it in ways they never imagined.


Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs by Ellen Dunham-Jones & June WilliamsonRetrofitting Suburbia, Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs
by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson
Wiley (2011)
304 pages

"Retrofitting Suburbia" is a comprehensive guidebook for urban designers, planners, architects, developers, environmentalists, and community leaders that illustrates how existing suburban developments can be redesigned into more urban and more sustainable places.


Flaneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London by Lauren ElkinFlâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London
by Lauren Elkin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2017)
336 pages

The "Flâneuse" is a 'determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city and the liberating possibilities of a good walk.' Elkin creates a mosaic of what urban settings have meant to women, charting through literature, art, history, and film the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes fraught relationship that women have with the metropolis.


Where Are the Women Architects? by Despina StratigakosWhere Are the Women Architects?
by Despina Stratigakos
Princeton University Press (2016)
128 pages

"Where Are the Women Architects?" tells the story of women's stagnating numbers in a profession that remains a male citadel, and explores how a new generation of activists are fighting back, grabbing headlines, and building coalitions that promise to bring about change.


Redesigning the American Dream: Gender, Housing and Family Life by Dolores HaydenRedesigning the American Dream: The Future of Housing, Work and Family Life
by Dolores Hayden Ph.D.
W. W. Norton & Company (2002)
288 pages

Americans still build millions of dream houses in neighborhoods that sustain Victorian stereotypes of the home as 'woman's place' and the city as 'man's world.' Urban historian and architect Dolores Hayden tallies the personal and social costs of an American 'architecture of gender' for the two-earner family, the single-parent family, and single people in "Redesigning the American Dream."


Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities by Mindy Thompson FulliloveUrban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities
by Mindy Thompson Fullilove
New Village Press (2013)
352 pages

What if divided neighborhoods were causing public health problems? What if a new approach to planning and design could tackle both the built environment and collective well-being at the same time? In "Urban Alchemy" Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, uses her unique perspective as a public health psychiatrist to explore ways of healing social and spatial fractures simultaneously.


The South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation by Natalie Y. MooreThe South Side: A Portrait of Chicago and American Segregation
by Natalie Y. Moore
St. Martin's Press (2016)
272 pages

Chicago-native Natalie Moore shines a light on contemporary segregation in the city's South Side; with a memoirist's eye, she showcases the lives of these communities through the stories of people who reside there. "The South Side" shows the impact of Chicago's historic segregation - and the ongoing policies that keep the system intact.


Towards Cosmopolis: Planning for Multicultural Cities by Leonie Sandercock Towards Cosmopolis: Planning for Multicultural Cities
by Leonie Sandercock
Academy Press (1997)
268 pages

Globalization, civil society, feminism, and post-colonialism are the forces, ever-shifting and changing our cities. In "Towards Cosmopolis" Sandercock pulls down the pillars of modernist city planning and raises in their place a new post-modern planning, a planning sensitive to community, environment and cultural diversity.


The Just City by Susan S. FainsteinThe Just City
by Susan S. Fainstein
Cornell University Press (2011)
224 pages

Susan Fainstein's concept of "The Just City" encourages planners and policymakers to embrace a different approach to urban development. Her objective is to combine progressive city planners' earlier focus on equity and material well-being with considerations of diversity and participation so as to foster a better quality of urban life within the context of a global capitalist political economy.


Discrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment by Leslie Kanes WeismanDiscrimination by Design: A Feminist Critique of the Man-Made Environment
by Leslie Weisman
University of Illinois Press (1994)
200 pages

"Discrimination by Design" is a fascinating account of the complex social processes and power struggles involved in building and controlling space. Leslie Kanes Weisman offers a new framework for understanding the spatial dimensions of gender and race as well as class. She traces the social and architectural histories of the skyscraper, maternity hospital, department store, shopping mall, nuclear family dream house, and public housing high rise.


What Would Jane Say: City-Building Women and a Tale of Two Chicagos by Janice MetzgerWhat Would Jane Say? City-Building Women and a Tale of Two Chicagos
by Janice Metzger
Lake Claremont Press (2007)
373 pages

"What Would Jane Say?" tells the tale of two approaches to city-building in the early 1900s and the people and ideas behind them. It also tells the story of what was created in Chicago and what could have been created. What would Jane Addams and her peers say if they had been involved in the Plan of Chicago? Using painstaking research, historical detail, and a pinch of imagination, Metzger thinks she has a pretty good idea.


Places Women Make: Unearthing the Contribution of Women to Our Cities by Jane JosePlaces Women Make: Unearthing the Contribution of Women to Our Cities
by Jane Jose
Wakefield Press (2016)
224 pages

"Places Women Make" tells stories of women shaping the Australian city - its buildings, spaces, and social and political agendas. Jane Jose takes a fresh look at city life, great places and the unsung urban heroines who made them. She explores the design of cities, the places we need and suggests urban life would be richer if women play more of a role in city design.


Did any of these titles strike a chord? Stay tuned as we are planning to review and giveaway (yes, that’s a Giveaway Alert) copies of a few of these over the course of 2018.

Any urbanism or built environment books written by women that aren't on this list? Let us know in the comments below and join our Goodreads group where we'll be sharing and discussing our reading list titles, as well as our reviewed books.

Credits: Special thanks to Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman of Women Led Cities and Alissa Walker/Curbed.com for inspiring the addition of many titles on this list.

By purchasing, using the links on this page, you'll be supporting The Global Grid. A small portion of the sales come back to us to support our work and book lists like this.

Intern photo

Renée Sazci is the Founder & CEO of The Global Grid. In June 2014 Renée moved from Istanbul, Turkey, where she'd lived for four years, to return to the beautiful city of San Francisco.

Tuesdays, in your inbox.

Weekly local urbanist news and jobs. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!