Fixing Your City

Creating Thriving Neighborhoods and Adapting to a Changing World

by George Crandall, FAIA

In his groundbreaking book, Fixing Your City, urban architect George Crandall reveals how to produce city plans that mitigate climate change and create healthy places to live, work, and play.


Cities are going to have to transform themselves if we're to make the progress we need in the climate fight—transform themselves to deal with the trouble now coming, and transform themselves to cause less damage. George Crandall reminds us that along the way these kinds of repairs can also produce cities that are more fun to inhabit!

Bill McKibben, author The End of Nature, Schumann Distinguished Scholar, Middlebury College
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About the Book 

Fixing Your City isn’t another tome packed with theory and utopian dreams — it’s a hands-on book that provides a strategy for meeting the unique needs of any city. Fixing Your City is a must read for both city planners and concerned citizens who want real solutions to complex questions and ethical dilemmas. The book:

  • identifies a planning process that guarantees the implementation of solutions to critical urban issues

  • addresses climate change and congestion with an integrated land use/transportation strategy that eliminates and shortens auto trips

  • proposes a new class of professionals, urban architects, who would design cities that work, both for residents and for our endangered earth 

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

City planners and urban advocates take notice: This excellent debut book may be the solution to your most vexing problems. Crandall, who co-founded an urban design firm 20 years ago and has worked on high-profile projects for cities such as Portland, Oregon, puts forth a smart, comprehensive, no-nonsense method for renewing any city. In a sobering first chapter, the author highlights and summarizes urban deficiencies he says result from three basic problems: ‘(1) a depletion of the retail offering, (2) the creation of a hostile pedestrian environment, and (3) the preponderance of visual blight and chaos.’ He offers a litany of bulleted points for each and discusses such key issues as flawed planning, automobile emissions, and the effects of climate change. But more importantly, Crandall lucidly explains his ‘Transformation Strategy,’ a three-part process intended to change the way city plans are created. Each of these three parts (‘Public Support,’ ‘Framework Plan,’ and ‘Implementation Rules’) is discussed in appropriate, highly comprehensible detail in the remainder of the book. In covering Public Support, for example, the volume offers specific ways to obtain public involvement, concentrating on ‘information workshops,’ a technique the author’s firm has used with great success.

The chapter concerning the Framework Plan is the meatiest. In clear and uncomplicated fashion, Crandall talks about all the necessary elements: ‘healthy retail,’ public spaces, urban parks and neighborhoods, employment districts, civic and cultural aspects, transportation, and implementation fundamentals. Particularly captivating in this section are brief illustrations of three ‘business case scenarios’ that demonstrate different ways a strategy can be implemented. Also intriguing is the author’s lively discussion of ‘Game Changers’ (‘Public investments that stimulate private development momentum’) and ‘Silver Bullets’ (‘Public actions with long-term negative political and/or financial impacts’). Here, Crandall supplies specific examples from Portland and other cities, with ‘before’ and ‘after’ full-color photographs to enhance the text. In fact, the entire Framework Plan chapter includes superb explanatory charts and photos. The chapter regarding Implementation Rules is equally elucidating. The author deftly discusses the need for rules, the development of guidelines and standards, and the design review process, helpfully illustrating the last with a detailed chart. He also shares his ‘Design Guidelines Checklist,’ sure to be useful to city planners. The most absorbing and forward-thinking chapter of the book, ‘Radical Transformation Strategy,’ addresses a city’s more complex needs. Again, Crandall explains in uncomplicated terms how to implement such a tactic and uses the specific example of ‘what Portland must do to become proactive in regard to climate issues.’ This particular case is both enthralling and prescient in terms of its relevance to future development in any city. In closing the volume, the author boldly proposes the possibility of creating a new class of professionals he calls ‘Urban Architects’ to work on modern cities’ pressing challenges. Crandall’s eloquent treatise delivers an accomplished practitioner’s sensible perspective on what cities need to become livable.

Kirkus Reviews
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Failing Cities

Cities are always changing. Populations expand and contract. New businesses arrive and others leave. Large employers go out of business as the demand for their products wanes due to changing markets or domestic and foreign competition. Big-box stores on the edge of downtown suck the life out of the downtown retail core. New highways create opportunities for development on the edge of a city that compete with downtown businesses. Cities change for many reasons. In most cases, their downtowns suffer.

Though cities come in all sizes, their problems are universal. Growing towns and cities all have to deal with automobile congestion and the demand for affordable housing. Cities that are losing population have to contend with shrinking revenues and a diminishing ability to provide public services. If these and other problems are ignored, a city will continue to degrade.

Cities are like buildings. They need to be updated from time to time. At the most basic level, if infrastructure—roads, water, and sewer systems—is not maintained, the city becomes an undesirable place in which to live and do business. In addition to basic maintenance tasks, cities need programs to attract employment and keep retail healthy. They should provide public amenities such as parks and open space, promote a wide range of housing choices, support high-quality education, and encourage the development of cultural and entertainment facilities.

With all of these competing demands, the primary question for every city is where to spend scarce public funds. What are the projects or programs that will be the most beneficial? What public improvements will attract the best private investment and improve the quality of life? Answers to these and many other questions can be answered by creating a Transformation Strategy. This is the essential tool for fixing a city—whether large or small, whether losing or gaining population. An effective Transformation Strategy eliminates guesswork and guides decision-making about spending priorities and critical interventions.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If you’ve ever had these experiences and wondered why the heart of some cities are so welcoming while others are devoid of all cheer, then George Crandall’s Fixing Your City: Creative Thriving Neighborhoods and Adapting to a Changing World may be the book for you.

The book is broken down into multiple easy to consume chunks that lay out the problems facing the massive undertaking of planning a city in the first place, or trying to update an existing city into modern times. Not only does the book point out larger issues like climate changes and over- congestion, but it also takes the time to explain specific terminology that may be unfamiliar to the reader, while fitting these into related segments of the book. Rather than being thrown a ton of vocab in a list, Crandall works your learning into the text of the book itself, which really helps with the accessibility for this work. The book also uses a number of graphs, maps, and infographics to help visualize some of the ideas described within.

The book discusses Portland in particular throughout the book with regards to the issues it has faced over the years including flops and successes. These are interesting bits of history that locals as well as visitors to the city may find fascinating and help ground the larger ideas and concepts that are presented in the title to have a more tangible and concrete examples. Fixing Your City is informative, accessible to the layman, well structured, and a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the topic of urban planning.

Portland Book Review

About the Author

GEORGE CRANDALL, FAIA has been responsible for more than 50 key urban design projects across the United States and in Canada. He has helped make Portland a model for planning in America.

Crandall has been involved in the life of cities as an architect and urban designer, as well as a passionate and dedicated citizen activist for over 40 years. In 1998 he founded the consulting firm Crandall Arambula, which specializes in working with cities of all sizes that seek urban transformation. The firm’s work has received numerous awards for innovative and effective solutions to seemingly intractable problems.

Because of his extensive experience designing retail, commercial, housing, and transportation projects, he has acquired a unique set of insights and skills. His urban designs attract major private investment, address climate change, and improve quality of life for citizens.

Throughout his career he has been active in numerous professional and civic organizations. He served as President of the Architectural Foundation of Oregon, Board President for 1000 Friends of Oregon, President of the Portland Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Chair of the Portland AIA Urban Design Committee, and Chair of the Oregon Governor’s Energy Conservation Board.

He has a Bachelor of Architecture and a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Arizona.

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