1st Edition

Rebuilding the American Town Design and Strategy at Small Scale

By David Gamble, Patty Heyda Copyright 2025
    350 Pages 153 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    350 Pages 153 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In the scholarship of urbanism, small towns are overlooked and understudied. Rebuilding the American Town highlights how smaller municipalities are transforming to serve their communities and meet the future. The book uncovers creative planning and design strategies of nine U.S. towns as they rebuild to remain vibrant, equitable and viable in the face of metropolitan sprawl, population shifts, political division, economic shortfalls and climate change. Rebuilding includes interviews and insights from those directly involved, to reveal the challenges and advantages of being a smaller city while highlighting the power of design at local levels.

    The book provides a new lens for contemporary urbanism more broadly as it shifts thinking away from large-metro concerns, towards novel, tactical strategies that advance the quality of life for residents through design and policies that are scaled to the populations and places they serve. The projects in this book show how the small town in the U.S. is unexpectedly progressive, experimental, urban and global.

    Introduction: American Towns in the 21st Century

    Section 1 Constellations

    1.1 North Adams, MA

    1.2 Jamestown, NY

    1.3 Bentonville, AR

    Section 2 Satellites

    2.1 Caldwell, ID

    2.2 Piqua, OH

    Section 3 Metroposts

    3.1 San Ysidro, CA

    3.2 Opa-locka, FL

    Section 4 Outposts

    4.1 Traverse City, MI

    4.2 Greensburg, KS




    David Gamble is a Lecturer in Urban Design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a registered architect and certified urban planner and Principal of Gamble Associates, based in Cambridge, MA. The practice focuses on urban revitalization and community development. He is the coauthor of Rebuilding the American City.

    Patty Heyda is Associate Professor of Urban Design and Architecture at Washington University in St. Louis. She researches American cities and design politics, with a focus on mapping and spatial justice in weak market cities and transitioning suburbs. She is the coauthor of Rebuilding the American City.

    Rebuilding the American Town is a love letter to our small cities and towns and confirms that spectacular urban design and planning outcomes can be found in the most unlikely places. Towns deserve to be our true laboratories for urban innovation and regeneration. It is hard work and the process is not always tidy but this book shows us how it is being done. We need hundreds of such rebuilding initiatives across America!” 

    Maurice CoxProfessor, Former Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development and Detroit Department of Planning, and Former Mayor of Charlottesville, VA

    “This book brings new attention to the American town in a way that fundamentally reshapes how we think about community and progress in the 21st century. The case studies offer a template for how we refashion American towns into models of affordability, upward mobility, and resilience in the decades to come. A must-read for anyone who dreams of how to shape our civic life.”

    Shaun DonovanU.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (2009 to 2014); CEO and President, Enterprise Community Partners

    “The well-documented case studies in this timely book will be a useful resource for years to come to everyone interested in helping small towns leverage local conditions to address challenges ranging from justice and climate change to depopulation and gentrification. Diverse and innovative improvements are discussed from various viewpoints, including candid insider insights on how they were financed and how they have performed both culturally and economically.”

    Ellen Dunham-JonesProfessor of Urban Design, Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of Retrofitting Suburbia.

    “Americans tend to sentimentalize small towns in memory while having largely abandoned them for the lures of the metropolis. Patty Heyda and David Gamble present a prescient counterpoint, revealing the urbanity, entrepreneurship, community and fulfilling lives found in modest sized settlements across the country.  Rebuilding the American Town is inspired in scholarship and perspective. As life-work expectations change facilitated by accommodating technologies, the narrative unveils a promising future for the American small town.”

    Alex KriegerProfessor Emeritus of Urban Planning and Design, Harvard University, and author of City on a Hill: Urban Idealism in America from the Puritans to the Present.

    “Like its Rebuilding the American City predecessor on larger cities, this companion volume's excellent case studies are packed with extremely useful information and are written in a very readable nontechnical style for a wide audience. Particularly helpful are the numerous interviews with community leaders, businesspeople, investors, design professionals and others who compellingly describe past successes and continuing challenges. An inspiration to read.”

    Randall Arendtauthor of Rural by Design.