Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Book Review

Street Design Cover Photo

I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend this timely and thoughtful book by Victor Dover and John Massengale. The authors begin by helping to reframe what we should really be focussing on when it comes to our streets and the roles they play.

Given the challenging state we find ourselves in, it is clearly a text whose time has come. It wonderfully illustrates how integral streets are and have historically been to the success and yes, even failure of human habitats. It highlights the imperative of how offtrack we find ourselves after nearly 80 years of shaping our streets and then by extension our cities and towns by using a highway standards approach to primarily serve the throughput of motor vehicle traffic. By providing detailed design illustrations and beautiful photography of some of the most comfortable, highly functioning streets in the world the authors create a pleasing vision of what is possible and a palpable sense of urgency.

I found their level of detail to be truly extraordinary and their thoughtful use of both guest contributors and empathic reflection of others’ points of view to be quite refreshing. The problems our societies face are extremely complex and emotionally charged and as the authors point out, all too often the solutions put forth in the current system are done in the vacuum of various specialties versus from the perspective of what’s really best for the city or town from a holistic perspective. They do so, in a respectful and understanding way, which I personally found to be convincing and unoffensive, and I say this as a self proclaimed specialist in many ways myself.

As a health promotion professional, I admittedly see the built environment through the lens of how well it promotes physical activity, a sense of wellbeing and enables people to thrive, which naturally points to a perceived and actual quality of life. I had the good fortune and pleasure of visiting many of the desirable streets profiled in this book as I was reading it and I can honestly say that these places are indeed quite special; they create inviting and invigorating environments, from which it is clear these communities flourish. As a final personal note, the streets and by extension neighborhoods, I enjoyed the most were simple, not overly complex feats of engineering and in a encouraging word: doable.

Making our cities and towns great places where people want to be and from which economic productivity and human vitality might grow and prosper should be our primary goals for our streets; not simply attempting to move as many motor vehicles through space as possible. So, I encourage anyone who is interested in creating stronger, healthier and more vibrant places to get your own copy of Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns and perhaps even purchase one for a friend or your favorite politician, traffic engineer and/or developer as well.


John D. Simmerman, MS
President & CEO
Advocates for Healthy Communities, Inc.