Seeing the Better City:

How to Explore, Observe and Improve Urban Space

Editorial Reviews

“A toolkit for fine-tuning your observational acumen…this type of close, thoughtful looking is a way to snap out of the stupor of the daily grind and parse the details that are so easily overshadowed. But, Wolfe writes, it’s also a way to think about how to shape the future.”
The Atlantic’s CityLab

“Absorbing…[Wolfe] encourages readers to think with our eyes and communicate with visual imagery in order to improve our cities.”
Huffington Post

“A book of insightful urban observation…works well as a detailed how-to instruction manual on capturing the essence of place.”

“As a guide for becoming a better observer, Seeing the Better City is highly successful. Wolfe provides a structured template for an urban diary, but invites readers to construct their own.”
ASLA’s The Dirt

“If we want to create the places of our dreams, we need to observe our cities more clearly. Seeing the Better City is both a thoughtful guide and an enticement to take up this challenge.”

Charles Montgomery, Author of Happy City

“We experience cities through what we see. Not since the legendary Kevin Lynch has an author opened our eyes to the power of observing urban space. This book masterfully illustrates how to understand and capture moments in time, see present-day patterns and layers of history, and gain visual insights into the urban space that shapes our daily lives. Chuck’s images and words will truly inspire you.”
Mitchell Silver, NYC Parks Commissioner and former president of the American Planning Association

“With Seeing the Better City, Chuck Wolfe accomplishes what few have tried—to actually bridge multiple disciplines in order to help people effectively see, understand, and improve urban spaces. He provides us with an invaluable, accessible roadmap for a place-led future.”
Ethan Kent, Senior Vice President, Project for Public Spaces, NYC

“We need to be incessant students of place. In Seeing the Better City, Chuck gives us this mandate as well as the tools to succeed in the endeavor. This book is a valuable contribution to the place conversation by championing ‘place ethnography’ for the betterment of cities and their people.”
Dr. Katherine Loflin, “The City Doctor”

Background and Resources

Screen Shot 2016-05-31 at 3.47.30 PMIn order to understand and improve cities today, personal observation remains as important as ever.

Seeing the Better City (now available from Island Press) brings our attention back to the real world right in front of us, focusing it once more on the sights, sounds, and experiences of place in order to craft policies, plans, and regulations to shape better urban environments.

Through clear prose and vibrant photographs, Charles R. Wolfe shows how to catalog the influences of urban form, public transportation, and other basic city elements. He then shares insights into how to use recorded observations to contribute to better planning and design decisions.

Order now from Island Press, or Amazon.

For Wolfe’s earlier work, see Urbanism Without Effort (Island Press, 2013).

See Wolfe’s recent summary of the book in The Huffington Post, here.

Press Kit

The Seeing the Better City Press Kit and Tip Sheet are now available from Island Press, here.

Events and Media

Read Chuck Wolfe’s April 27, 2017 article in Citiscope, “Photo-powered ‘urban diaries’ offer visual tool for guiding change,” here.

Read Yuri Artibise’s April 25, 2017 article in Spacing, “Book Review: Seeing the Better City,” here.

Listen to Ash Blankenship interview Chuck Wolfe on April 18, 2017 on the Parksify podcast “Chuck Wolfe on Documenting the City,” here.

Read Chuck Wolfe’s April 17, 2017 article in Governing, “A Visual Tool for Guiding Urban Change,” here.

Listen to Jeff Wood interview Chuck Wolfe on April 14, 2017 on the Streetsblog USA “Talking Headways” podcast, “Saving Cities One Picture at a Time,” here.

Listen to and watch the Next City/Island Press March 28, 2017 webinar, “Seeing the Better City: A Discussion with Chuck Wolfe,” moderated by Next City’s President, CEO and Publisher, Tom Dallessio, here.

Read Chuck Wolfe’s March 27, 2017 exclusive in Planetizen about the role of a “vocabulary of looking” in urban policy, plans and regulations, here.

For a Canadian photographer’s commentary and examples about the lessons of Seeing the Better City, see Jordan Cooper’s March 23, 2017 blog entry, here.

Read Aaron King’s March 15, 2017 article in the American Association of Landscape Architects’ The Dirt, “Book Review, Seeing the Better City,” here.

Read Patrick Sisson’s March 14, 2017 article in Curbed, “How better photos can help you document, and shape, your neighborhood,” here.

Read Knute Berger’s March 10, 2017 article in Crosscut, “Want to connect with Seattle? Get journaling,” here.

Listen to and watch an excerpt of the Island Press/Security and Sustainability Forum March 2, 2017 webinar about Seeing the Better City, here.

Read Jenn Kinney’s March 2, 2017 article in Next City, “Use Your Camera Like a City Planning Tool,” here.

Read Casey Brazeal’s March 2, 2017 news item in Planetizen, “Review: Seeing the City,” here.

Read Chuck Wolfe’s February 19, 2017 article in Huffington Post, “How to Use Urban Diaries in Times of City Change,” here.

Read Jessica Leigh Hester’s February 10, 2017 piece in CityLab about Seeing the Better City, observation, and urban diaries, here.

Listen to Chuck Wolfe’s February 9, 2017 presentation on Seeing the Better City at Town Hall Seattle, here.

Listen to Bill Radke interview Chuck Wolfe on KUOW/The Record on February 9, 2017 about “How Can We See a Better Seattle,” here.

Read Mónica Guzmán’s February 8, 2017 piece in The Evergrey about the potential of the urban diary tool for Seattle, and traps to avoid, here, as well as her February 15 follow-up on elicited urban diary examples, here.

Read Kaid Benfield’s February 6, 2017 Huffington Post review of Seeing the Better City, here.

Read Chuck Wolfe’s January 27, 2017 Puget Sound Business Journal interview, “Seattle’s urban density diarist,” here:

Key events include:

  • ULI San Francisco, Seeing the Better City Presentation and Walk, June 7, 2017
  • Seeing the Better City Presentation, SPUR, San Francisco, June 6, 2017
  • Seattle Architectural Foundation, Seeing the Better City Presentation and Walk, Seattle Center for Architecture and Design, 4:00 p.m. June 1, 2017
  • Joint Book Release Event, with Professors Rachel Berney, Jeff Hou and Manish Chalana, College of Built Environments, University of Washington, Seattle, 5:30 p.m. May 23, 2017
  • Seeing the Better City Presentations and Roundtable Participation, Centre for the Future of Places, KTH University, Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, May 10-12, 2017
  • 25th Congress for the New Urbanism, Seattle, “Seeing the Better City, Making a Better Place,” Seattle Art Museum, 4:15 p.m. May 5, 2017
  • Joint Presentation with J. Alexander Maxwell, “Seeing the Better City: Two Points of View,” Gonzaga and Eastern Washington Universities, Spokane, April 27, 2017
  • Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Reading, “The Role of Purposeful Observation,” at the Ghosts of Seattle Past Book Launch, 7:00 p.m. April 11, 2017
  • NextCity/Island Press Webinar/Discussion with NextCity President, CEO & Publisher Tom Dallessio, 10:00 a.m. PDT, March 28, 2017
  • Security and Sustainability Forum/Island Press Webinar/Panel Discussion, “Seeing the Better City”, 10:15 a.m. PST March 2, 2017
  • ULI Northwest “Seeing the Better City” Presentation and Live Interview at MG2 Architecture in Seattle, with Marc Stiles, Puget Sound Business Journal, 4:00 p.m. February 28, 2017
  • Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, “Seeing the Better City: Seattle Edition,” 7:00 p.m. February 13, 2017
  • Town Hall Seattle, Presentation, 7:30 p.m. February 9, 2017
  • Kirkland City Hall, King County Sustainable Cities Roundtable, “Winter Walk With Wolfe,” Presentation and Walk, Noon, February 9, 2017
  • King County Bar Association Environmental & Land Use Section Presentation, 4:15 p.m. January 19, 2017
  • Photo Expo and Book Prequel, Cupcake Royale, Madrona (Seattle), 4:00 p.m., December 3, 2016, with photos on display December 1-31.

Listen to, and read about, two Seeing the Better City “prequel” events, the October 3, 2016 Urbanism Speakeasy podcast, here, and the October 23, 2016 Futurewise “walkshop” and book talk in Spokane, Washington, here.

To learn more, see the book trailer, embedded below. The trailer provides a book overview, explains key themes, and highlights multiple photographs featured in Seeing the Better City.

Book Preview

See the recently released book preview, embedded below.