Laws of the Landscape: How Policies Shape Cities in Europe and America

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For decades, concerns have been raised about the consequences of relentless suburban expansion in the United States. But so far, government programs to control urban sprawl have had little effect in slowing it down, much less stopping it. In this book, Pietro S. Nivola raises important questions about the continued suburbanization of America: Is suburban growth just the result of market forces, or have government policies helped induce greater sprawl? How much of the government intervention has been undesirable, and what has been beneficial? And, if suburban growth is to be controlled, what changes in public policies would be not only effective, but practical?

Nivola addresses these questions by comparing sprawling U.S. metropolitan areas to compact development patterns in Europe. He contrasts the effects of traditional urban programs, as well as "accidental urban policies" that have a profound if commonly unrecognized impact on cities, including national tax systems, energy conservation efforts, agricultural supports, and protection from international commerce.

Nivola also takes a hard look at the traditional solutions of U.S. urban policy agenda involving core-area reconstruction projects, mass transit investments, "smart" growth controls, and metropolitan organizational rearrangements, and details the reasons why they often don't work. He concludes by recommending reforms for key U.S. policies--from taxes to transportation to federal regulations--based on the successes and failures of the European experience.

Brookings Metropolitan Series

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A fascinating study of how public policies have shaped cities, with emphasis on the difference between the U.S. and Europe.
" —Witold Rybczynski, New York Review of Books, 6/21/2001

"Nivola has performed a useful service in checking those of us who are so enamored of the urbanity and cultural sophistication of the European city that we tend to believe, naively, that all America needs is to copy the European policy model.
" —Martin Zimmerman, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 8/1/1999

"Anyone interested in the vexing question of how to improve urban life in America should read this book.

" —Keith Monroe, Winston-Salem Journal, 3/19/2000

"Intelligent, thoughtful-provoking, and well-written. If you love cities, this book deserves your attention.
" —Dennis McCarthy, Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, 5/1/2000

"Nivola's willingness to acknowledge the tradeoffs in land-use policy represents a refreshing change from the current rhetoric.... His readable prose distills urban trends in a slim volume that is understandable to both policy analyst and novice reader.
" —Samuel R. Staley, Family Policy, 5/1/2000

"Packed with useful comparative information, analysis, and policy suggestions that could prove helpful to an American, European, and Japanese audience interested in the fate of metropolitan areas in developed countries.

" —Thomas Kontuly, Urban Studies, 7/1/2001

"Instead of trying to answer the question of who loses and who gains in the 'dumb growth' debate, Nivola provokes a more interesting discussion by unpackaging the unrelated but potent mix of 'accidental' urban policies that have led to over half the American population currently living beyond metropolitan boundaries.

" — Urban Age, 9/1/1999

"Laws of the Landscape should be the basis for every first-year planning course. It teaches that to understand suburbia, planners need to examine tax laws and their economic impacts more than colored land use maps and statistics.
" —Peter L. Abeles, BookNews, Citizens Housing and Planning Council of New York, 10/1/1999

"... well written, concise, and inexpensive. It is packed with useful comparative information, analysis and policy suggestions that could prove helpful to an American, European and Japanese audience interested in the fate of metropolitan areas in developed countries. This book should interest a broad cross-section of geographers, sociologists, economists and urban and regional planners." —Thomas Kontuly, University of Utah, Urban Studies

Pointing out that suburban sprawl has been a concern for a long time and affects many countries besides the US, Nivola (governmental studies, Brookings Institution) considers whether it has been induced by the interventions of governments rather than merely long-standing and irreversible market forces, how much of the government intervention has been undesirable, and what changes in public policies make sense at this late date. Like the series in general his analysis is designed to help city officials make policy. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815760818
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 3/1/1999
  • Series: Brookings Metropolitan Series
  • Pages: 144
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.34 (d)

Meet the Author

Pietro S. Nivola is a vice president of the Brookings Institution, where he is the director of Governance Studies. Among his previous books are Tense Commandments: Federal Prescriptions and City Problems (Brookings, 2002) and Agenda for the Nation, coedited with Henry J. Aaron and James M. Lindsay (Brookings, 2003).

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction 1
Ch. 2 Big and Turbulent 4
Ch. 3 The Not-So-Invisible Hand 12
Ch. 4 So What? 35
Ch. 5 Shopworn Solutions 52
Ch. 6 Eight Suggestions 65
Ch. 7 Summing Up 88
Notes 93
Index 121
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