The Heart of the City | Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century


Washington, DC (May 7, 2022)—As long as downtowns thrive, we can be certain of a prosperous and thrilling future for the American city. Some downtowns, including Uptown Houston and Atlanta’s Buckhead, have never stopped thriving. Others, such as downtown Detroit, have been in decline for half a century. A third trajectory includes downtowns such as lower Manhattan and downtown Los Angeles that were once on the decline and are now resurgent. Why are some downtowns in trouble while others are thriving? And what does it take to ensure a healthy future for the heart of America’s cities?

Distinguished urban planner Alexander Garvin answers these questions and lays out concrete recommendations to help any downtown thrive in The Heart of the City: Creating Vibrant Downtowns for a New Century (Publication Date: May 7, 2022). Drawing on nearly five decades of experience studying and working in America’s cities, Garvin identifies shared elements of great downtowns, offers lessons from successful and failed projects, and charts a path forward to support downtowns into the twenty-first century.

The Heart of the City opens with a diagnosis of downtowns across the United States, including how and why they are changing. Garvin then explores brief accounts of how people, business, institutions, and public agencies can shape downtowns. Examples range from preservationists restoring downtown Denver, to artists generating downtown revival in New York’s SoHo district, to the role of immigrants in downtown Miami. Next, Garvin draws lessons from New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Boston that embody exemplary efforts to improve twenty-first century downtowns.


Paul Goldberger, contributing editor at Vanity Fair and architecture critic said, “Alex Garvin looks at cities with a clearer eye than any other planner in America…This book is a paean to downtown, driven not by dogma but by a realistic, practical sensibility and an understanding of how cities really work, seasoned with passion and a lifetime of knowledge.”

As Garvin writes, “Downtowns are unable to change anything. People change downtowns.” This book is for public officials, civic organizations, business owners, and people who want to expand opportunities for their downtown and guarantee its prosperous and thrilling future.

Alexander Garvin is adjunct professor at the Yale School of Architecture and President and CEO of AGA Public Realm Strategists, Inc., a planning and design firm in New York City that is responsible for significant public-realm projects throughout the United States. Over the last 49 years, he has held prominent positions in five New York City administrations, including Deputy Commissioner of Housing and City Planning Commissioner. He is the author of numerous books including The American City: What Works and What Doesn’t and What Makes a Great City, published in 2016 by Island Press.