Arts & culture

Passionate about public space? Put these 8 books on your summer reading list

Check out the list of our favourite books for readers of all ages.

Published on June 9, 2023

Five stacked books, book block facing camera, with a woven straw hat and white chamomile flowers on top.

Summer is a special time of year. Schools are winding down, patios are bustling and parks are filled with people enjoying the weather. There’s no better time to kick back, relax and get lost in a great book.


While some like to unwind with a mystery or romance novel, we think stories about public space are at the heart of summer fun. From public swimming pools to outdoor music festivals to bike paths and trails, much of what makes summer special is made possible by the public spaces in our communities.


We’ve put together a list of our favourite books for readers of all ages. Whether you’re passionate about public space, art, history or just good storytelling, you’ll find something for your summer reading list.


Book cover for We Are Water Protectors
Macmillan Publishers


We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade is a beautifully illustrated, award-winning children’s book with a powerful message. Engaging young readers in conversations about land stewardship, We Are Water Protectors was written in response to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and celebrates Indigenous-led movements. The book emphasizes action and illustrates the importance of environmental justice for young readers.



Book cover for Palaces for the People
Penguin Random House


Palaces For the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life by Eric Klinenberg asks tough questions about the deep social divisions we are currently facing. Klinenberg proposes a way forward that relies on shared spaces as the foundation for healthy communities. From libraries to parks to childcare centres, Palaces for the People demonstrates how social infrastructure can help to solve some of societies’ largest challenges. Equal parts engaging and inspiring, Klinenberg calls readers to build interconnected communities filled with shared spaces.


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Book cover for Braiding Sweetgrass
Milkweed Editions


Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants, an essay collection from Robin Wall Kimmerer, is an absolute must-read. Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons. This series of reflections on natural history, botany, and ecological knowledge is based on the idea that sustained environmental change requires renewed attention towards networks of connection between human beings and the natural world. Rooted firmly in Indigenous knowledge and values of interconnection, Kimmerer makes a compelling argument for community building across the spectrum of living organisms and reminds us that small things can have a huge impact.


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Book cover for Home Sweet Neighbourhood
Orca Book Publishers


Home Sweet Neighbourhood: Transforming Cities One Block at a Time by Michelle Mulder is a charming book that celebrates places as the stage for thriving communities around the world. Inspired by the idea that kids are natural placemakers, Home Sweet Neighbourhood travels the globe to showcase different community projects that invest in fun and strong communities. Filled with fun facts and community spotlights, Home Sweet Neighbourhood is a great starting point for kids and adults alike who are new to the concept of placemaking. This is the book for your family if you want to learn how small, creative changes have the power to transform neighbourhoods.


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Book cover for Vital Little Plans
Penguin Random House


Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs edited by Samuel Zipp and Nathan Storring is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in dipping their toes into Jacob’s foundational work on urban life. Vital Little Plans provides a snapshot of Jacob’s extensive writing, which is as relevant now as it was when she initially published many of these pieces decades ago. In the face of rising costs of living and increasing divisions of wealth in cities across the country, we could all use a little more Jane Jacobs in our lives. This collection of bite-sized essays on cities and the worlds they create inspires readers to rethink the spaces they move through and the cities that we live in.


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Book cover for curious garden
Peter Brown Studio


The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is a truly delightful book for younger readers inspired by the revitalization of the High Line in New York City. The story follows a little boy named Liam as he learns how to care for a struggling garden surrounded by a concrete city. Brown curiously explores the question: what happens when a city begins to cooperate with nature?


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Book cover for Restorative Cities
Bloomsbury Publishing


Restorative Cities: Urban Design for Mental Health and Wellbeing by Jenny Roe and Layla McCay approaches the design of cities from a new perspective that foregrounds mental health. Written in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Roe and McCay explore the surge in demand for urban greenspaces that resulted in the expansion and creation of new parks and public spaces. This well-written and insightful book offers an accessible introduction to restorative urbanism that emphasizes the importance of mental health, wellness and quality of life for all.


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Book cover for Transforming Communities
Chalice Press


Transforming Communities: How People Like You Are Healing Their Neighbourhoods by Sandhya Rani Jha is a punchy and to the point book about the power of people. Covering topics like empowering community, truth and reconciliation, restorative justice, affordable housing and community consultation, Jha manages to cover a lot of ground in less than 200 pages. If you’re looking to get inspired this book is for you. With its unique blend of educational content, inspiring stories and DIY knowledge, Transforming Communities emphasizes the unique power each person has to positively impact their neighbourhood.


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