The Heart of the City: Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century


Alexander Garvin

Island Press, Washington, D.C.  2019

Reviewed in: Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA), Spring 2020, 86(2)

Review Excerpt:


Having read many narratives on the rise, fall, and rise again of American downtowns, it was a pleasure to read Alexander Garvin’s The Heart of the City, which adds a fresh new chapter to the story. Beginning with a concise history of American downtowns, Garvin illustrates how the sleepy, single-purpose business districts of the 19th and 20th centuries have, over the past three decades, grown, moved around, and evolved into dense, thriving, mixed-use, urban communities, all anchored by large and growing residential populations. He then draws on examples from around the country and five rich case studies to identify six common strategies that have led to successful change in American downtowns: Create an image of a desirable place; provide access and circulation into, within, and around downtown; invest in an enlarged and enhanced public realm; create a livable downtown environment; reduce the cost of doing business; and make it easy to reuse private property, alter land uses, remodel, and build new.     

     Garvin’s primary audience is the people who change downtowns and, indeed, this book should be required reading for city officials as well as for the leadership and staff of BIDs, CDCs, and other downtown organizations. The development community, in particular, will enthusiastically support his proposals for powerful BIDs, as-of-right development, and one-stop-shop, 30-day, time-limited approvals processes.  Finally, this book will serve as an equally valuable resource to educators and students of city planning, public policy, and business, who are interested in reading the latest chapter in the story of the life of cities.

— Peter Hendee Brown