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The Urban Mystique: Notes on California, Los Angeles, and Beyond
      by Josh Stephens

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Josh Stephens grew up in Los Angeles knowing that it was a perfectly pleasant place, with enviable weather, an impressive natural environment, and Hollywood glamour. But, still, he wondered whether a great city shouldn't be something ...more. With a title inspired by Betty Friedan's account of life in the suburbs, The Urban Mystique is equal part lamentation and celebration. It collects some of Josh's work from the California Planning & Development Report and elsewhere, covering everything from the minutiae of setbacks, the impacts of transit investments, the promise of smart growth and sustainability, and the precariousness of urban politics in the 21st century.

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Praise for The Urban Mystique

Josh Stephens is one of the best writers in city planning, and now he has written one of the best books on cities. Unlike academics who "theorize" about cities, Stephens observes cities and interprets them for us. What he says often seems obvious--after he has said it. I particularly admire his unfailing ability to summarize a big problem in the perfect phrase, like his disapproving description of Honolulu as "Houston with volcanoes." Every chapter of The Urban Mystique contains many similar gems of critical observation, and they add up to a genuinely enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable book.

- Donald Shoup

Distinguished Research Professor, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs; Author of The High Cost of Free Parking

On numerous occasions throughout my career, an essay or an article by Josh Stephens redirected my thinking and changed my understanding of the world for the better, and for good. Stephens's long career as a thoughtful and insightful observer of the professional field of urban planning reveals how fruitful a passion and interest in that subject can be for anyone searching for knowledge of the built and natural worlds. With this book, every reader has the chance to expand their understanding of the world through an improved understanding of the communities that call California home.

- James Brausell

Managing Editor, Planetizen

Josh Stephens is a bit of a magician. His trick? Taking often convoluted, context-dependent strands of thought and action--about zoning, floor-to-air ratios, density, NIMBY-ism, YIMBY-ism, all manner of arcane, acronym-laden planning ideas--and then weaving them into intensely human, compulsively readable stories. It’s a contradiction worthy of the city that he writes so evocatively about. His insights are deep and informed, but also witty and elegant. The voice is singular. Josh's stories shouldn't be as much pure fun to read as they are, but there you go--that's the magic I'm talking about.

- Martin Pedersen

Editor, Common Edge Collaborative; Editor Emeritus, Metropolis Magazine

Cities are provocative, blunt and idiosyncratic creatures—but too much writing about cities tends to be predictable and self-important. Not here. Josh Stephens uses his perch in Los Angeles to take stock of, and take aim at, everything from housing policy and gentrification to the histrionics of NIMBY-ism. In short, The Urban Mystique is a bracing look at the way we live now.

- John King

Urban Design Critic,San Francisco Chronicle

The Urban Mystique is a lively and wry collection of essays and reflections on the past decade of urban politics and trends, from Los Angeles to cities around the world. In the tradition of Joan Didion, Stephens roots many of the stories in his personal history and travels. At this moment of both promise and crisis for cities, Stephens chronicles key events from the rise of the Tea Party and pro-housing YIMBYs to sports stadia and ballot box controversies. For those who care about cities and their effect on our culture and politics, it's an engaging and worthwhile read.

- Ethan Elkind

Author of Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City

Josh Stephens is an astute observer and interpreter of the idiosyncratic built and spatio-political environment of Southern California, writing with both the fondness of a native and the critical perspective of an outsider. His provocative choice of subjects and penetrating-yet-pragmatic style make his work a pleasure to read, for both the practicing Los Angeles planner and thoughtful urbanist.

- Ashley Atkinson

President-Elect, California Chapter of the American Planning Association