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Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (Anchor Books) [Paperback]

Joel Garreau
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Sep 1992 Anchor Books
First there was downtown. Then there were suburbs. Then there were malls. Then Americans launched the most sweeping change in 100 years in how they live, work, and play. The Edge City.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 548 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books; Anchor Books ed edition (1 Sep 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385424345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385424349
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 658,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
AMERICANS are creating the biggest change in a hundred years in how we build cities. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
American cities have always had downtowns. Indeed, downtown has always been where the action is: shopping, work space, and even residences. But a new form of development is now taking place in American metropolitan areas: office development in the suburbs and even beyond. Garreau tells the story of several metropolitan areas, such as San Francisco, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, and explains how office development in country areas are spawning a new relationship with the suburbs. Indeed, many jobs are no longer located in the conventional downtown area, as broad expanses of parking lots and six-lane expressways supplant former two-lane country roads meandering through gentle forests. No more! After reading this book, one should grasp how the next wave of development is upon us--the downtown is no longer seen as desirable. The book is fairly well-written, and the list of developers' rules is very fascinating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continuation of the old and embarking on the new 26 Oct 1997
By A Customer
Garreau's Edge Cities is one of the few books that this reviewer has found to have both layperson and academic interest. He clearly lays out what he means by "Edge City" early in the work and spends the rest of the time elaborating on cities and their surrounding Edge Cities. For the academic, he cites pertinent socio-economic data; interviews a variety of people, ranging from citizens, merchants, and political leaders; and provides maps for the reader who probably does not know the locations of these communities. For the interested lay reader in urban change and sociology, his writing retains the journalist style that made his Nine Nations of North America a valuable asset for common knowledge. He does not cite references that result in information overkill, frustrating the reader that another 'academic' flooded the market with a boring topic. Rather, he presents the information that makes this reading a valuable asset to the serious traveler who visits these cities and wants to learn the underlying reasons for change in them.
While he has his biases, notably on deciding which Edge Cities would receive attention, this does not hamper the work at all. In fact, no one can accuse Garreau, truthfully, of generalizing the trends in American cities. His appendix of major cities with either emerging or current Edge Cities is a great way of ending his discussion. To sum up his work, this reviewer quotes from Jane Jacobs' The Death and Decline of Great American Cities: "The scenes that illustrate this book are all about us. For illustrations, please look closely at REAL [emphasis added] cities." Garreau does exactly that and succeeds at informing the reader that the emerging communities around our largest American cities are more than mere bedroom or satellite places. They are the result of complex political, economic, ethnic, and environmental forces that have developed and continue to evolve over time and space in American society.
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By A Customer
An antidote to the view that the automobile and
suburb are terrible influences on urban development, this book
examines the positive side of "Edge Cities", the
new centers of economic growth springing up
on the borders of the traditional city. The book
combines descriptions of important edge cities
with discussions with important academic and
commercial figures in the field of suburban development. While sometimes breezy and overly
optimistic, the book provides a new and surprising perspective on where America's cities are headed.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Mr. Garreau writes an insightful and balanced book on the new 'cities' that are growing up almost overnight around our old cities. He has done some ground-breaking research on how this all got started and where it might be going. I especially like the balanced presentation that allows the reader to decide whether these new Edge Cities are a boon, a disaster or somewhere in between.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptionally well done 13 Sep 2004
By Erika Mitchell - Published on Amazon.com
This book explores what has become of the suburbs. Garreau's argues that certain suburbs have developed into a new kind of city, a city without a traditional downtown. He believes that such "edge cities", are the cities of the future. Garreau's criteria for an "edge city" are:

--5 million square feet or more of office space

--600,000 square feet or more of retail space

--more jobs than bedrooms

--perceived as one place by the population

--developed within the last 30 years

With these criteria in mind, Garreau sets off across the US to study our major edge cities. He explores edge cities in New Jersey, Texas, Southern California, and the areas around Boston, Detroit, Atlanta, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. In each area that he visits, Garreau takes up an edge city theme. For instance, in Detroit he discusses cars and the role they play in edge cities, and in Atlanta he discusses questions of race and class in edge cities.

At the end of the book is a list of US cities that qualified for edge city status in 1992. This is followed by a glossary of words used by edge city developers and a set of "laws" about how edge cities work. These "laws" are statistical observations about human behavior relevant for city planning, such as "the furthest distance an American will willing walk before getting into a car is 600 feet." Finally, there is an annotated list of suggested readings, endnotes, and an index.

Garreau is neither for nor against edge cities. He tries instead to understand how they work, and why they have popped up so rapidly across the country. He strives to be descriptive rather than prescriptive, coming across more like Jane Jacobs than Lewis Mumford, who argued so stridently for regional planning. Garreau points out that edge cities are being built by developers who are in the business to make money. In other words, they build what they believe will sell, and given the fact that the developments sell so well, a lot of Americans are making the conscious decision that they want to live in edge city developments. Through interviews with developers, employers, and residents, Garreau explores the factors that make edge cities so popular.

He writes "Maybe it worked like this. The force that drove the creation of Edge City was our search deep inside ourselves for a new balance of individualism and freedom. We wanted to build a world in which we could live in one place, work in another, and play in a third, in unlimited combination, as a way to nurture our human potential. This demanded transportation that would allow us to go where we wanted, when we wanted. That enshrined the individual transportation system, the automobile, in our lives. And that led us to build our market meeting places in the fashion of today's malls." Cars are key elements in this phenomenon. They make it possible for people to separate their workplaces from the residences, and they define the distances which are considered commutable. They make it possible for people to live spread out enough from each other that everyone can have a front yard, yet at the same time, for the development to be dense enough to support large employers and sophisticated shopping options.

Garreau doesn't devote much space to the problems created by such heavy dependence on personal autos. Would Americans ever be willing to trade in their cars for more sustainable transit options, such as bicycles? Unless the price of gas rises drastically, we probably won't find out. But it seems that it wouldn't be that hard to develop edge cities where people could get around by bicycle or foot. In Scandinavia, for instance, new developments are connected by bicycle/pedestrian walkways that are completely separate from motorways and have their own underpass system so that interactions with motorized traffic are kept to a minimum. Everyone from the youngest tot to the oldest senior citizen uses these paths. If bike travel were made easy and safe here, perhaps it might become more popular, easing the congestion on the roads. It might also help with our obesity epidemic.

One topic that Garreau seems to overlook is the question of the support workers for edge cities. In Garreau's edge city descriptions, the edge city residential properties are attractive and upscale, suitable for well-paid white color employees. The money these people have supports the edge city malls, shopping centers, and restaurants. But such highly skilled people aren't likely to actually work at the malls, where the jobs are minimum wage. All those shops and restaurants require ranks of minimum wage workers, and people earning the minimum wage can't afford to live in Edge City where the housing costs are so high. Instead, they live in run-down inner cities or outlying towns and commute long distances to their jobs at the malls. They may not reside in edge cities, but they still comprise a major component of the overall operations and their needs and habits should also be considered.

I lived in an edge city west of Boston for four years. I lived in a box, I worked in a box, and when I got home at night I was dead tired from the commute. The distances between shops and homes were so large that a car was absolutely required to get around. It was virtually impossible to meet others, and cultural activities were extremely limited. For the most part, the only public space in town was at the malls. The town spirit seemed to be missing along with the town center. The first chance we had to leave town, we bolted and have never looked back. If Garreau is right, and edge cities are the wave of the future because that's where Americans are choosing to live, I'm afraid for the future of America. Hopefully, as edge cities begin to mature, they will become more livable places.
60 of 70 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I actually shook my fist at this book while reading it. More than once. 20 Oct 2005
By noneal - Published on Amazon.com
Edge City is obnoxious partially because it is full of lies, distortions, and contradictions, and partially because it espouses an irresponsible model of growth and settlement. I say "irresponsble" because while Garreau claims to be merely descriptive, he's actually prescriptive: he not only argues that ECs are inevitable, but insists that they're vital and wonderful and soup for the human soul. I admit, however, that what what initially raised and finally sustained my rancor is that it's another case of someone simply ignoring the research that has come before them, research of which they are clearly aware, and not bothering to show how their new theory sits with respect to that previous knowledge, or why their new explanations are superior to previous ones.

Garreau makes at least 4 references to Jane Jacobs and her seminal Life and Death of Great American Cities early on in his book - mostly throwaway references, one slightly critical. There's absolutely no engagement, though her work is highly relevant. In LDGAM, Jacobs argues that the basic tenents of urban zoning and planning, which she labels "City Beautiful", are flawed, and destined to create dead grey areas in cities. She advocates mixed zoning, so that the same neighborhood contains at least retail, offices, and residential units, and so that there's significant cross-use and foot traffic throughout the day and night. She also advocates measures in general that are calculated to make movement easier and more appealing for pedestrians, such as shorter blocks, and irregular streets mixed in with the main arterial thoroughfares. Her book is much richer than all of this; this is just a summary of the most relevant parts.

Garreau's Edge City opens up by lamenting the deadness of downtowns and their lack of cross-use, their tendency for single-zoning, etc. He goes on to suggest that his "Edge Cities" (suburbs that have rapidly sprung up over the past 30 years, and which contain a mix of commercial, retail, and residential areas) are not only a good solution to the "problems of cities", but in fact, the inevitable one as well. This would be fine if he talked explicity about why mixed-use zoning in cities doesn't work; why being able to walk across the street to buy milk, take a 20 minute bus to work, walk 10 minutes to a park, and be in the midst of thousands of easily accessible city amenities is so much worse than living in a suburb where you need a car to get anywhere, where you have a 20-minute drive to shopping of any kind, and a 45-minute drive to work. But he doesn't. He makes hand-wavey remarks that humans seek out open spaces and freedom, that a man over 30 who takes the bus every day is a failure, that man seeks to be close to nature, and that urban planners are effete intellectuals who have no idea how real people live. Etc. Again, any one of those propositions would be fine, but there's no data to back it up. The book as a whole is little more than a complicated mess of contradictory claims.

For example, in one chapter, Garreau describes Edge Cities as affordable, but in another he admits that as Edge Cities age, they become increasingly expensive, and "middle-income" people are reduced to paying through the nose to live in what Garreau himself describes as the suburban equivalent of tenement houses. When praising the loveliness and freedom of Edge Cities, Garreau more or less only concentrates on the richest citizens - his interviewees were business owners, vice-presidents, and lawyers, all pulling down upper-middle class salaries at the very least. One upscale couple remarks, "It's really our money that makes us free." (How droll!) Indeed, Edge Cities are great if you're a CEO or can afford a giant house on a 3-acre lot, and at least one car per driver to meet basic transit needs. (And social services are a lot better when you're in a neighborhood where everyone makes several hundred thousand a year: at last, you don't have to subsidize local poor people!) At least, Edge Cities are great while they're new. Garreau describes in several places old suburbs that crumbled and died after they got a little less shiny and new, and their corporate sponsors decided to pick up and build a different plot of virgin land.

In sum, the Edge City phenomenon Garreau describes and joyfully embraces as inevitable is no more and no less than a greedy, unsustainable land grab that will force us to build a lot of unecessary infrastructure (roads, sewers) to places that will just be abandoned in another 50 years.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Automotively Optimistic 31 Mar 2005
By Vince Kenyon - Published on Amazon.com
Explores the new environments arising at the junctions of interstate highways on the edges of major American metropolises. These developments supplemented suburbia first with retail and then with office buildings to become during the 1980s new centers of intensity rivaling or surpassing the old downtowns.

Through a succession of chapters, each nominally dedicated to a single metropolitan area, Mr. Garreau examines the edge city in its relation to some key issues in American society (transportation, race, quasi-governmental institutions, etc.) and then proceeds to investigate the edge city's compatibility with the traditional concepts of civilization, community, soul, and finally "hallowed ground."

An engaging and informative discussion of the forces shaping the new communities under construction throughout America. I recommend Edge City strongly to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of why we build the way we do.

My recent re-reading of Edge City was prompted by my first reading of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. First published in 1961, Ms. Jacobs' work is now a classic that I wish I had read years earlier.

In a chapter entitled "Erosion of cities or attrition of automobiles," Ms. Jacobs expresses extreme pessimism regarding the place of the automobile in a livable urban environment. She counsels deliberate "attrition" of automobiles as the only protection against "erosion" of the city by continual further accommodations to them. Her well reasoned analysis of the conflict between car and city left me convinced of the wisdom of her recommendations.

But I remembered vaguely that Mr. Garreau had by contrast seemed entirely optimistic about the quality of life in edge cities built from the ground up to accommodate automotive traffic. So I read Edge City again.

My memory was not mistaken. Mr. Garreau seems optimistic about nearly every aspect of the edge city, cars included, about which he declares: "The system of individual transportation we Americans have devised, of course, is the finest method of moving the most people and freight in the most directions at the most times ever devised by the mind of man. At its center is the automobile and the hard-surfaced, all-weather road (p. 108)."

Ms. Jacobs, on the other hand, emphasizes the inefficiencies of automobiles. They are generally under-occupied when in use. They require vast areas of land for roads and parking lots that go unused for much of the time. Negative feedback is a chief characteristic of systems built to accommodate them: they always use up all of the roads and parking, requiring enlargement of both, spreading the buildings even farther apart, with the result of inducing even more travel by car.

Oddly enough, Mr. Garreau admits all of these drawbacks in his book (Death and Life of Great American Cities is in his bibliography.). Nevertheless, he remains optimistic.

One explanation for this difference in attitude before the same facts rests on a difference between the two authors regarding the definition of the term "density." Both praise what Mr. Garreau calls "urbanity"-the variety and uniqueness of life in our most attractive urban environments. Both also agree that "density" is necessary to urbanity.

The problem is that Ms. Jacobs is a walker while Mr. Garreau is a driver. She wants to experience continuous urbanity (hence also density) over the paths she walks, starting from her own front door. Mr. Garreau is content to experience urbanity at a locus of density to which he drives over asphalt parking lots. Ms. Jacobs wants her urbanity along a city sidewalk, whereas Mr. Garreau will take his in a suburban mall. The automobile is destroyer of the former and enabler of the latter.

For Mr. Garreau, density may be discontinuous, presenting loci of dense human activity separated by lots full of the cars that bring the humans together. For Ms. Jacobs, density is continuous, uninterrupted by the freeways and parking lots that are indeed forbidding to pedestrians.

Another explanation for the difference in attitude is that Ms. Jacobs sees the car as one of many influences destroying the urbanity of the established older "center" city. Inversely, Mr. Garreau sees the automobile as the prerequisite for the construction of a new "edge" city that will in his view gradually develop the same urbanity-with the HELP of the automobile: "But the best bet is probably the one we are engaged in right now: building Edge City. It is a world that does not deny the automobile, but at the same time increases density, putting everything a person desires as close as possible to his house while reducing the number of different places he has to park in order to go about his affairs (p. 129)."

Personally, I am a walker, but I see his point, and I liked the book.

I should mention before closing that there are some interesting appendixes: (1) list of edge cities to be found in each major metropolitan area in the United States; (2) dictionary of important jargon used by developers of edge cities; and (3) list of the "laws" (primarily quantitative) determining the layout of edge city development ("Americans won't walk more than 600 feet," for example). There is also an extensive bibliography, partially annotated.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On the Edge 19 April 2004
By Maddi Hausmann Sojourner - Published on Amazon.com
This was the first book on cities and planning I ever read, and I was captivated through most of it. Filled with fascinating views on how real estate and commerce work together, this book ties together views of different metropoles as they develop their "Edge Cities," grown-up suburbs that are more than bedroom communities. These Edge Cities have overwhelmed the central city that gave birth to them, as suburbanites find them easier to commute to (at first), and certainly cleaner than the "real city." Gridlock and sprawl are the result as the Edge Cities go up everywhere.
And I still remember my eagerness in reading this terrific book, city after city, looking forward to the San Francisco chapter... and my crushing disappointment when Garreau discussed not Silicon Valley, the quintessential Edge City, but... Concord. Concord? How did he miss Silicon Valley, at the intersection of 85 and 280, or 101 and 880, or... (Garreau feels freeway junctions lead to Edge Cities)
Okay, other than my personal disappointment that he missed the real story, that the suburban metroplex is none other than San Jose/Santa Clara/Cupertino/Sunnyvale/Mountain View/Palo Alto/Redwood City this is still a great book. The endpapers show the contrast between Tyson's Corners postwar and in the nineties, and what a contrast it is.
This book goes well with "Suburban Nation," which shows how to avoid the downside of Edge Cities.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimistic about an uncertain future? 12 April 2002
By Dick Bjornseth - Published on Amazon.com
Joel Garreau is a good story teller about life on the new suburban frontier. His writing style reminds me of Jane Jacobs and her classic "Death and Life of Great American Cities." While Jacobs' book helped to modify the discourse on central city urban development with her praise of mixed uses, the value of sidewalks, and face to face encounters with your neighbors, Garreau likewise stakes out some ground counter to conventional planning wisdom about the suburbs.
As a former city planner, I found Garreau's discussion of the new "downtowns" that are forming up on the suburban fringe and along certain freeways to provide a refreshingly candid look. He is essentially optimistic about a phenomena that is almost universally condemed by the professional planning and architecture community.
The book's final two chapters are worth the price alone. In "The Words" chapter the author defines in lighthearted terms some of the slang that is associated with edge city development: "Ooh-ah: An unusual Amenity inserted in a development specifically to elicit an animated reaction from a client. Commmercial Ooh-ahs include built in hair dryers in the mens room" In the chapter titled "the Laws" and includes such tidbits as: "The number of blocks an American will walk in most downtowns: Three, maybe four."
Overall a very readable and important book. In fact I use it as a text for a college class titled "The Built Environment" By reveiwing and discussing the "terms", "laws" and the players in nine "edge cities" around the country, the author does an amazing job clarifying what drives this sort of development and where it leading the future of American cities into the 21rst century. Jareau is basically optimistic, despite the boring warnings planners who warn of the impending collapse of civilization unless we abide by their dictates.
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