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6 x 9
On an otherwise normal weekday in the 1980s, commuters on busy Route 1 in central New Jersey noticed an alarming sight: a man in a suit and tie dashing across four lanes of traffic, then scurrying through a narrow underpass as cars whizzed by within inches. The man was William “Holly” Whyte, a pioneer of people-centered urban design. Decades before this perilous trek to a meeting in the suburbs, he had urged planners to look beyond their desks and drawings: “You have to get out and walk.”
American Urbanist shares the life and wisdom of a man whose advocacy reshaped many of the places we know and love today—from New York’s bustling Bryant Park to preserved forests and farmlands around the country. Holly’s experiences as a WWII intelligence officer and leader of the genre-defining reporters at Fortune Magazine in the 1950s shaped his razor-sharp assessments of how the world actually worked—not how it was assumed to work. His 1956 bestseller, The Organization Man, catapulted the dangers of “groupthink” and conformity into the national consciousness.
Over his five decades of research and writing, Holly’s wide-ranging work changed how people thought about careers and companies, cities and suburbs, urban planning, open space preservation, and more. He was part of the rising environmental movement, helped spur change at the planning office of New York City, and narrated two films about urban life, in addition to writing six books. No matter the topic, Holly advocated for the decisionmakers to be people, not just experts.
“We need the kind of curiosity that blows the lid off everything,” Holly once said. His life offers encouragement to be thoughtful and bold in asking questions and in making space for differing viewpoints. This revealing biography offers a rare glimpse into the mind of an iconoclast whose healthy skepticism of the status quo can help guide our efforts to create the kinds of places we want to live in today.
"A marvelous new biography."
The New York Times
"Journalist Rein debuts with an intriguing intellectual biography of journalist and urbanist William "Holly" Whyte (1917–1999)… [He] foregrounds Whyte’s own writing and analyses, which were remarkably prescient. The result is a welcome tribute to a visionary thinker."
"Rein’s comprehensive biography of this icon of the planning and preservation movement focuses on Whyte’s vision and legacy, offering an accessible and worthy source of inspiration for contemporary and future land-use challenges."
"In American Urbanist, journalist Richard Rein tells the story of William H. Whyte’s particular genius and why it exercises an enduring influence on American life"
Wall Street Journal
"Whyte's life, urban planning ideas, and significant impact on building and growing the preservation movement in America should be part of any library collection strong in not just urban development and planning, but social change and community issues. The blend of biography and insights on urban development choices and trends is outstanding."
Donovan's Literary Services
"Richard K. Rein’s American Urbanist is a must-read book—not just for those who care about building better cities but for anyone and everyone who cares about more-effective companies and creative organizations. Through Rein’s detailed telling, ‘Holly’ Whyte emerges as among the most important urbanists—and even more so, as one of the most important public intellectuals of our time, shaping the discourse about economy and society, cities and management, innovation and creativity, over the course of the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries."
Richard Florida, author of "Rise of the Creative Class"
"William H. Whyte had a profound influence on how we think about cities, but his contribution was so wide-ranging that it can be hard to pin down. In his engaging new biography, Rein presents Whyte as an original thinker who was always restless to ‘blow the lid off’ accepted wisdom, trusting his eyes and his gut instead."
Amanda Kolson Hurley, "Bloomberg Businessweek" Journalist and author of "Radical Subrubs"
Introduction: A Man of Many Missions
Chapter 1: The Cast of Characters, from White to Whyte
Chapter 2: Princeton—from Rower to Writer
Chapter 3: Vicks and the Marines—Information to Intelligence
Chapter 4: Fortune Magazine—the Foundation for a Career
Chapter 5: Is Anybody Listening?—the High Cost of Harmony and Groupthink
Chapter 6: The Organization Man—More than an Epithet
Chapter 7: The Exploding Metropolis—Discovering Jane Jacobs
Chapter 8: With Laurance Rockefeller, Conservationist Turned Environmentalist
Chapter 9: Preserving the Last Landscape, Rural and Urban
Chapter 10: Organization Man to Family Man
Chapter 11: From Men in Suits, a Radical Plan for New York City
Chapter 12: Preservation Tactics in the Urban Landscape
Chapter 13: The Art of Small Urban Spaces
Chapter 14: From Small Spaces to the City: Rediscovering the Center
Chapter 15: Revisiting the Organization Man—and Woman
Chapter 16: Applying Urban Principles in Suburban Places
Chapter 17: The Final Years
Chapter 18: Whyte in the Twenty-First Century—the Urban Imperative
Chapter 19: Whyte in the Twenty-First Century—Battling the Status Quo
Afterword: Taking Cues from Whyte’s Way
About the Author
William (Holly) Whyte was a pioneer of people-centered urban design who challenged planners to look beyond their desks and drawings: “You have to get out and walk.”
Join the Smart Growth Network at 1:00 p.m. EDT, Thursday, April 7, as Richard Rein, author of the new biography of White, American Urbanist, offers a glimpse into the mind of an urbanist whose thoughts changed how planners and others think about how to create the kinds of places we want to live in.
Participants of the live webinar are eligible for 1.5 AICP CM credits (live attendance required).
In what the New York Times review calls a "marvelous new biography," journalist Richard K. Rein chronicles the life of William H. Whyte, one of the most influential writers and analysts of American cities and society in the second half of the twentieth century. From his bestselling, seminal book The Organization Man of 1956, to the revelatory The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces of 1980, “Holly” Whyte’s work changed how people thought about careers and companies, cities and suburbs, urban planning and open space preservation.
Whyte’s keen eye for urban observation and clear, insightful writing on human behavior in public space, both preceded and enabled the voice of Jane Jacobs to burst forth in print in the 1960s, first as her editor at Fortune, then as an instrumental figure in the publication of Death and Life of Great American Cities. Somewhat eclipsed by the subsequent fame of Jacobs – especially today – the influence of Holly Whyte on now several generations of urban designers, do earn him the description on Rein’s title, American Urbanist.