Trading Places

The City and the Suburb

[Excerpt From Chapter Four]

“The sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new invisible environment.”
— Marshall McLuhan in a conversation with William Irwin Thompson; quoted in Thompson, Coming into Being

“The bloodthirsty national merchants and the Chamber of Commerce have pretty well gutted the place I remember and taken and hucked the town’s original character into the overall commercial park. The center of town, which when I was a kid hadn’t changed much in the century, and was pleasingly timeworn and functional, has now either been torn down or renovated for artificial preservation as an example of itself.”
— description of Lexington, Kentucky, from Richard Hell’s autobiographical novel, Go Now2

The Austin Chronicle Reviews Alex Marshall

May 4, 2001:
by Penny Van Horn 

BOOK REVIEW: How Cities Work Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken
by Alex Marshall
University of Texas Press, 216 pp., $50; $24.95 (paper)

Does this ring a bell? “The standard choice today of lacing a metropolitan area with big freeways for purely internal travel means we will have a sprawling, formless environment.” Uh-huh.

Now more than ever, Austin could use accessible writing that addresses the challenges of urban sprawl. Journalist Alex Marshall (, The Washington Post, among others) offers a clear-headed approach to the urban issues that so deeply affect Austin and other overgrown cities in his jargon-free new book How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken. He cuts right to the chase by spelling out the basic interaction of the three great controlling forces of urban growth — transportation, economics, and politics. The topics are overwhelming, but Marshall makes them understandable in the context of four case studies that form the backbone of the book.

Keeping The Urban, Losing The Sprawl

( a review of the work of Alex Marshall)


Published: SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2001
Section: COMMENTARY , page J1

For a book that isn’t about Norfolk, there’s a lot of Norfolk in ”How Cities Work” by Alex Marshall.

And for a book that isn’t per se a criticism of New Urbanism, a design movement that attempts to incorporate urban ideals into suburban development, it misses no opportunity to knock the movement.

Marshall’s opinions of New Urbanism have been stingingly vocal, and among Hampton Roads planning and city officials his notoriety lives on.

A Virginian-Pilot reporter from 1988 to 1997, Marshall comes from a long line of Norfolkians. His great-grandfather, Albert Grandy, was the first publisher of The Virginian-Pilot.

Journalist’s Answer On Suburban Sprawl May Not Be Palatable

(a review of the work of Alex Marshall)

From Charleston Neighborhood Post & Courier
By Robert Behre
BOOK REVIEW: How Cities Work, By Alex Marshall

Journalist Alex Marshall shows how to end sprawl; the only question is, do we want to listen?

Are we bothered enough to make the tough decisions needed to change things? Make no mistake – they are tough decisions. Take the automobile (please!). Marshall notes that cities always developed according to the transportation of the day. Older downtowns feel different because they were built for pedestrians and horse-drawn carriages; Wal-Marts and post-World War II subdivisions were built for the car.

Faux Urbanism

(a review of the work of Alex Marshall)


The American Prospect
June 18, 2001

Book Review:
How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Road Not Taken, by Alex Marshall.
University of Texas Press, 243 pages, $ 24.95.

Celebration, Florida, is a picturesque town built from the ground up by the Walt Disney Corporation and planners Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, pioneers of New Urbanism. By some measures, Celebration is a success. It has a thriving downtown retail district and homes that sell for seven times what similarly sized houses in neighboring towns go for. What it doesn’t have, according to Alex Marshall in How Cities Work, is any real claim to urbanism, new or old.

Can You Be an Urbanist and Still Like Cities?

(a review of the work of Alex Marshall)


The 20th century produced a pantheon of brilliant urban thinkers and planners. Some built, some mostly wrote, some did both. Some did better than others at translating their ideas into reality. But one way or another, we are living with the consequences of their vision: Ebenezer Howard’s “garden cities,” Le Corbusier’s “radiant city,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Broadacre City” ‘ even Lewis Mumford’s unrealized dream of regional planning ‘ all of them represent the baseline for anyone who wants to create a modern urban revival.

Long Boats and Underground Vaults by the River Charles

By Alex Marshall
For The Powhatan Review
November 1999

Crewing is the ultimate wasp sport. It requires patience, diligence and years of work at the simple task of pulling oars through water, as you park your butt in the bottom of a tiny slivered almond of a boat. Crew is not flashy. There is no crew equivalent of passing the ball behind your back on your way to a slam dunk over the head of a surprised defender. No, crew is all about steady effort for the sake of some future reward that may never come.

The Peirce Report: Shaping A Shared Future

A Generation Ago It Would Have Seemed Absurd To List Charlotte With Atlanta, Miami, Denver, Dallas, Seattle. No Longer. Now, As The Carolinas’ Undisputed Economic Capital, Where Is The Charlotte Region Headed In The 21st Century

Sunday, September 17, 1995
The Charlotte Observer
Written by Peirce, LaRita Barber, Alex Marshall, and Curtis Johnson

This region is a place where people perennially assume a powerful bunch of bank presidents and other men (always men) call the shots. As the big oaks of business and civic leadership have fallen across America, Charlotte has seemed a case of arrested development. The mysterious group of business folks called ”The Vault” (they met at a bank) has long faded in Boston. The once-powerful Citizens Council has turned warm, fuzzy and conciliatory in Dallas. The immodestly named ”Phoenix Forty” has retreated from dominant leadership.

A Scary Trip To The Suburbs


My wife and two friends and I were lured out of our secure neighborhood of Ghent recently by the promise of seeing “Rushmore,” the latest Bill Murray movie. The closest theater was Greenbrier Cinema 13, so we climbed into a car and made our way down the interstate to the wilds of Chesapeake.

The cinema we chose is one of the big new movie complexes in Hampton Roads. Its innovation is not only stadium seating on some screens, but to package what is basically an entire amusement park around its 13 auditoriums. You enter this big box behind a strip shopping center and find yourself ushered into a gymnasium-size hall. Its two floors hold not only long rows of elaborate video games, but bumper cars, laser tag, miniature golf, skeeball and more — all amid waterfalls flowing over fake stone.