Gordon Douglas's Critical Reads

March 21st, 2018

Gordon Douglas is Assistant Professor of Urban Planning at San José State University, where he is also Director of the Institute for Metropolitan Studies. A multidisciplinary urbanist, Gordon's research concerns local identity, neighborhood change, peoples' relationships to their physical surroundings, and social and spatial inequality in urban development. His writing and photography have appeared in City & Community, the Journal of Urban Design, Urban Studies, and other journals, as well as a number of magazines, newspapers, and blogs. Prior to joining San José State, Gordon held a postdoc at New York University’s Institute for Public Knowledge, of which he also served for a year as director. He received his PhD in Sociology at the University of Chicago in 2014. Gordon will discuss Help-Yourself City on Wednesday, 3/28 6pm at the Co-op.


The Practice of Everyday Life, by Michel de Certeau - An important and wonderful treatise on the personal, cultural, and even political significance of the little things that we do as we navigate our daily lives. From the workplace subversion of "la perruque" (using paid time for oneself) to the simple act of walking as playful and trangressive, de Certeau proposes these "arts of doing" and "making do" as tactics of something like everyday resistance.

State, Space, World, by Henri Lefebvre - Hard to pick just one book by the prolific Lefebvre, be it his three-volume, four-decade-spanning "Critique of Everyday Life" or the influential "Urban Revolution" and "Production of Space." But the edited "State, Space, World" collection has a great array of Lefebvre's writings on politics, planning, and grassroots "autogestion."

Insurgent Public Space, by Jeffrey Hou - This edited volume, by a leading scholar of community engagement and activism in planning and design, was among the first to collect diverse examples of "guerrilla urbanism." Contributors include James Rojas on Latino Urbanism and Rebar's Blaine Merker on Park(ing) Day.

Urban Fortunes, by John Logan and Harvey Molotch - The classic and still fundamental sociological contribution to urban political economy. The growth machine, environmental politics, resistance to value-free development, and an accessible, relevant application of Marxism to the city, it's all in here.

City of Quartz, by Mike Davis - In one of the greatest - and darkest - works of urban criticism ever penned, Davis excoriates the city of Los Angeles, from its civic founders to contemporary architecture. Biting, depressing, funny all at once, and still widely relevant.

Cities by Design, by Fran Tonkiss - Cities are social products. "Informality," such as it is, shapes urban form from the bottom up AND from the top down, as Tonkiss shows in a sweeping review of urban studies discourse and the issues defining cities around the world.

Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis - Many comics and graphic novels belong on any reading list. "Here," "Mile End," "Over Easy," and "Ruins" are just a few recent ones that are powerfully about places and place. But I also love big cities, Hunter S. Thompson, mystery, and science fiction, so here's a way to represent all of that with one epic, sardonic adventure comic.

Great Streets, by Alan Jacobs - A lovely book of incredibly thoughtful (and informed) musings on what makes for great streets around the world, accompanied by beautiful black and white drawings.

Wanderlust, by Rebecca Solnit - My very favorite book, and the best book on walking ever. By an author everyone would do to read as much of as possible.


About Help-Yourself City: When cash-strapped local governments fail to provide adequate services, and planning policies prioritize economic development over community needs, how do concerned citizens respond? In The Help-Yourself City, Gordon Douglas looks closely at the people who take urban planning into their own hands, dubbed "do-it-yourself urban design." Through in-depth interviews with do-it-yourselfers, professional planners, and community members, as well as participant observation, photography, media, and policy analysis, Douglas demonstrates that many do-it-yourselfers employ professional techniques and expertise to enable and inspire their actions. He argues that many unauthorized interventions are created from a position of privilege, where legal repercussions are unlikely, while people from disadvantaged communities where improvements may be most needed face disincentives to taking such actions themselves. Presenting a needed social analysis of this growing trend, while connecting it to debates on inequality, citizenship, and contemporary urban political economy, The Help-Yourself City tells a street-level story of people's relationships to their surroundings and the individualization of democratic responsibility.