Seeing the Better City Press Kit

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Katharine Sucher, 202-232-7933x43


Seeing the Better City How to Explore, Observe, and Improve Urban Space

By Charles R. Wolfe Washington, DC (February 2, 2017)—Creating cities that work for everyone means seeing them from different perspectives—literally. In Seeing the Better City (Publication Date: February 2, 2017), urbanist writer, photographer, and land-use attorney Charles R. Wolfe takes urban observation beyond design review and zoning codes, charting a future where all city-dwellers can contribute to the improvement of their city. While big data, digital mapping, and simulated cityscapes are valuable tools for understanding urban space, Seeing the Better City emphasizes and celebrates the role of human observation in creating spaces that reflect authentic, local context. In the book, Wolfe presents a comprehensive toolkit for cataloging the influences of neighborhood dynamics, public transportation, urban form, and other elements that impact day-to-day life in a city. Wolfe calls this the “urban diary” approach and emphasizes how the perspective of the observer—including their cultural identity and past social experiences—are key to understanding the dynamics of urban space. Through clear prose and vibrant photographs, he gives examples of practical tools that can make city planning and design more inclusive, including the role that cameras and smartphones can play in making urban observation more accessible to communities whose voices are often excluded from these discussions. Throughout, Wolfe shows how to infuse the regulatory process with real, human observations.


"Not since the legendary Kevin Lynch has an author opened our eyes to the power of observing urban space,” said Mitchell Silver, NYC Parks Commissioner and former president of the American Planning Association. “This book masterfully illustrates how to understand and capture moments in time, see present-day patterns and layers of history, and gain visual insights into the urban space that shapes our daily lives. Chuck's images and words will truly inspire you.” Seeing the Better City prepares and encourages more people to explore and observe urban space, to record what is inspirational and evocative, what seems to work in fostering an equitable, livable city, and what does not—all from the perspective of their own daily experience. From city-dwellers to elected officials, this book is an invaluable tool for constructive, creative discourse about creating better neighborhoods. Charles R. Wolfe provides a unique perspective about cities as both a long time writer about urbanism worldwide and as an attorney in Seattle, where he focuses on land use and environmental law. He is also an Affiliate Associate Professor in the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington, where he teaches land-use law at the graduate level. Wolfe is an avid traveler, photographer, and writer, and contributes on urban development topics to several publications, including CityLab, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post,,, and He blogs at Seeing the Better City Island Press Paperback Original Publication Date: February 2, 2017 256 pages | 6x9 | Price: $30.00 (P)/$29.99 (E) ISBN: 9781610917742 (P)/ 9781610917766 (E) Book page: Book trailer: Founded in 1984, Island Press works to stimulate, shape, and communicate the information that is essential for solving environmental problems. Today, with more than 1,000 titles in print and some 30 new releases each year, it is the nation’s leading publisher of books on environmental issues. Island Press is driving change by moving ideas from the printed page to public discourse and practice. Island Press’s emphasis is, and will continue to be, on transforming objective information into understanding and action. For more information and further updates be sure to visit ###



Katharine Sucher, 202-232-7933 x43

Five Tips to Prepare an Urban Diary Urban diary topics are as varied as the inspiration that we find in cities. The urban diary interprets the intersection of the public and private realms, the boundaries of the built and natural environments, the relationships between land uses and transportation, and issues of adaptive reuse and public safety. Here are five tips gleaned from Seeing the Better City to help read and frame urban surroundings and the way people connect with the places around them: 1. Choose the diary tool and type. Will you photograph, write in a journal, sketch, record audio, tweet, or do a combination of each? Pick a medium that best fits your diary’s purpose, whether your aim is to explore, document, or advocate for change. 2. Plan your path. Decide whether to follow a prescribed path or wander. Where will you start and end? Will you walk, bike, use public transit, or drive? Use maps (paper or digital) to gain perspective and define initial goals. 3. Select what you will focus on. Examples include the role of transportation, nature, color, the overlap of public and private space, height and scale of buildings, street features, spontaneous expression (e.g. graffiti), and feelings of safety or discomfort. 4. Use the LENS (Look, Explore, Narrate, and Summarize) Method. Here are some easy examples: summarize the walk from your home to a chosen destination in one to two paragraphs, videotape a walk, bike trip, or other focused activity along a street, or use continuous shutter or “burst” mode to photograph street life that you observe from a passing car, bus, streetcar, or tram. 5. Finalize conclusions and use. Assemble and present photographs and other diary media in a way that will inspire and show what is possible and what might be adaptable to your city or neighborhood. Most importantly, address human character and opportunity, no matter how the diary will be used.


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