This book, published over twenty years ago, is as important, or even more important, than it was at the time. The authors' careful study of people's use and evaluation of their living environments hold very valuable lessons both for designers of and users (i.e. parents) in multifamily housing.
For designers: the current emphasis on form, in both the avant-garde and neotraditionalist schools, is fatally flawed in that human usage, particularly the way in which families with children live in housing and its surrounding spaces, is completely ignored. Most "high-design" housing, whether designed by Koolhaas or Duany, is designed for upper-income people who either presumably have no children or have others care for them. The lack of human concern manifest in today's architectural literature is disturbing and regrettable. Much design talent that could be applied to solving the kinds of problems that Cooper-Marcus and her coauthor identify is instead being misapplied to the endless competition to design beautiful housing for the rich.
For planners: Unfortunately, almost all of the kind of housing shown in this book is scarce or nonexistent in the United States. This is for two reasons. First, the urban areas in which this kind of family housing could be built- such as much of the area around downtown Chicago- are often so high-cost that the only new housing constructed are luxury condominiums for households without children. Second, the suburban areas where most middle-class Americans with children live treat multifamily housing as an undesirable land use, something that only "renters" or those too poor to purchase a stand-alone single family home will want to live in. But this book shows how much our planning laws err in permitting only low-density suburban subdivisions of endless homes, lacking open space, safety from car traffic, and places for children to walk and explore.
For parents: Most Americans will be both startled and disturbed to read this book's statistic that, in 1973, less than one-third of British children under five playing outdoors were being directly supervised by their parent. But the reason for our distress should not be in the 'carelessness' of those parents; rather, it should be with the fact that our own housing developments are so poorly designed that we lack the ability to provide our children with room to roam, explore, make mistakes, construct, and destroy things. No wonder our children are increasingly sedentary, or locked into a cycle of endless structured 'activities'- we lack a built environment that allows them both to have freedom, safety, and a high level of exposure to other children- except for the suburban cul de sac.
If only the lessons of this book could be reinfused into design culture (so that architects designed for human life as well as for visual beauty) and into planning culture (so that the kind of humane, multifamily housing that permitted family life could actually be built in this country), we might begin to reclaim family life, and community life, from the computer, TV room, and SUV. We can only hope.