The Transition Companion: making your community more resilient in uncertain times by Rob Hopkins (Chelsea Green, 2011).
This book by Rob Hopkins is the follow-up to the Transition Handbook that started the Transition Town movement. Transition Towns try to re-localize economies and make communities more resilient in the face of climate change and peak oil. Although it was published in the United States, and Hopkins is fully aware that this is now an international movement, very little effort was made to edit it for American audiences. He really should have found a collaborator to write an American version, because in its current format the book is nearly useless. It’s great that the Transition Town movement has been so warmly embraced by people in the United Kingdom, but their situation is so completely different from ours in the United States that most of his examples are irrelevant to us. Even if large numbers of Americans were on board with the idea of recreating a local economy (which they’re not), the descriptions of how people in various English towns and cities worked with their local “council” (whatever that is) to implement all sorts of fabulous programs and projects would be of limited usefulness to Americans who have completely different forms of local government. There are a few examples from Transition groups on the west coast of the United States, but no real analysis of how these groups overcame the high levels of resistance and lack of interest from both ordinary citizens and elected officials that we face in the United States.
The Very Hungry City : urban energy efficiency and the economic fate of cities by Austin Troy (Yale University Press, 2012).
The premise of this book is that as the cost of energy goes up permanently (due to climate change and exhaustion of fossil fuel supplies), cities that use significantly more energy will lose economic competitiveness to better-designed, more energy efficient cities. Troy doesn’t explore the more radical possibility that the cost of energy could go up so much that cities would become economically isolated. However, he does make a pretty good case that energy efficiency (defined quite broadly to include water supply and public transit) is going to be a major factor in economic success of cities in the rest of this century. He provides some interesting historical background on how transit systems developed (or were not developed) in major metropolitan areas of the U.S., and the issues around suburban sprawl. Troy also offers some comparisons to urban planning approaches in Europe, particularly Sweden and Denmark, where he interviewed bicycle commuters and residents of impressive planned urban housing developments. Throughout the book Troy highlights ideas that reduce urban energy costs (tree planting, congestion pricing, LEED architecture) as examples of what the more successful cities are doing right.