Alex Marshall (journalist)

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Alex Marshall
Alex Marshall
Alex Marshall
Born Alexander Campbell Marshall[1]
(1959-05-07) May 7, 1959 (age 57)
Norfolk, Virginia
Occupation Journalist
Nationality United States
Citizenship United States
Education B.S., Political Economy & Spanish, Carnegie Mellon University, 1983
M.S., Journalism, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, 1988
Genre Non-fiction, journalism, commentary
Subject Urban design, transportation, economics
Notable works
  • How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and the Roads Not Taken
  • Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities
  • The Surprising Design of Market Economies
Spouse Kristi Barlow

Alex Marshall is a journalist who writes and speaks about urban planning, transportation, and political economy. He is a Senior Fellow of the Regional Plan Association and contributes to publications concerned with urban design, municipal government, architecture, and related matters — including Metropolis and Governing.

Marshall has authored three books: How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and the Roads Not Taken, Beneath the Metropolis: The Secret Lives of Cities, and The Surprising Design of Market Economies (Texas 2012).


Marshall was born in Norfolk, Virginia to John Francis Marshall, Jr. and Eleanor Jackson Marshall.[1] Marshall's great-grandfather, Albert H. Grandy, founded The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk in 1898, and was its first publisher and editor-in-chief.[1]

Marshall attended Woodberry Forest School in the graduating class of 1978.[2] He received a dual Bachelor of Science degree in political economy and Spanish from Carnegie Mellon University in 1983[3] and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 1988. Marshall studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design during the 1999-2000 academic year as a Loeb fellow.[4]

Marshall lives with his wife Kristi Barlow in Brooklyn, New York where the couple were noted for their (ultimately unsuccessful) effort between 2008 and 2010 to organize a cohousing community in Brooklyn.[5]


From 1988 to 1997, Marshall worked as a staff writer and columnist for the Virginian-Pilot,[4] where he came to focus on State and local politics and urban development.[6] In 1998 and '99, Marshall wrote a bi-weekly opinion column as a correspondent for the Virginian-Pilot.[7]

Marshall left the paper in 1999 for a Loeb Fellowship at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He moved to New York City shortly thereafter, where he continued his free lance journalism.[4]

Markets and Democracy[edit]

In his 2012 book The Surprising Design of Market Economies (Texas 2012)and related opinion pieces in The New York Times, Bloomberg View and other publications, Marshall asserts that government constructs markets in an economic sense. He says the "Free Market" is a false concept that impedes a more active discussion about what kind of markets government builds, which he says in a democracy should be part of regular public discussion. His book takes readers through the construction of property, corporations, patents and physical infrastructure, all of which Marshall views as the foundations for markets.

The book and its ideas aroused opposition from those who view markets as existing out side government. On Sept 14, 2012, Nick Sorrentino, in his blog, described Marshall's ideas in a Bloomberg View essay the previous day as "nonsense."

"Markets are as natural as a dawn in the desert," said Sorrentino. "And like all of these things they do not need government to exist."

Marshall's ideas have received support from other quarters. Challenge Magazine, a journal edited by Jeffrey Madrick and whose editorial board includes Paul Krugman and Robert Solow, had an article by Marshall summarizing the book's ideas in its March/April 2014 issue.

Controversy over New Urbanism[edit]

In the 1990s, Marshall became involved in controversy over his criticism of New Urbanism, a school of suburban design he called a marketing scheme to repackage conventional suburban sprawl behind nostalgic imagery and aspirational sloganism.[8]

In a 1996 article in Metropolis Magazine, Marshall denounced New Urbanism as "a grand fraud".[9] Marshall continued the theme in numerous articles, including an opinion column in the Washington Post in September of the same year,[10] and in Marshall's first book, How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken (Austin: U. of Texas Press 2000).

Andrés Duany, the architect whose Duany Plater Zyberk & Company is among the leading promoters of New Urbanism, and some of whose projects had come under Marshall's strongest criticism, dismissed Marshall's criticisms in an interview for the Daily Princetonian, saying that Marshall, ". . . cannot stand the fact that we're working with the middle class. He wants us to spend all our time with the poor." [11]

New-Urbanism advocate James Howard Kunstler gave Marshall negative reviews of How Cities Work, in Metropolis Magazine.[12] Kunstler wrote,

As an analysis of the urban condition, the rest of How Cities Work is a patchwork of non sequiturs, platitudes, and tautologies. Its general theory is a one-dimensional preoccupation with transportation. As a discussion of particular places — Portland, Silicon Valley, Jackson Heights — it doesn't get beyond the self-evident. Along the way it takes cheap shots at the few figures on the contemporary scene who have tried to do something to alleviate the fiasco of the human habitat in our time.[12]

He concluded

... I simply cannot find a consistent or coherent point of view in Marshall¹s long essay on the question, or at the very least an explanation of how cities work.

What's missing is a recognition that the way cities have worked in America for the last half of the twentieth century was a gross aberration from the norms of human ecology that any civilization with a desire to endure would do well to avert.[12]

Architectural Record called How Cities Work an "important new work," saying

In many ways, this book is the 21st-century analogue to one of the most important planning books of the past century, Benton MacKaye's 1928 landmark, The New Exploration. Like MacKaye's book, which shaped the thinking of generations of regional planners in the 20th century, How Cities Work could become a touchstone for coming generations interested in comprehending and redirecting metropolitan growth.[13]



  1. ^ a b c Obituary of John Francis Marshall, Jr., Norfolk, Va., The Virginian-Pilot, July 16, 1995, archived at
  2. ^ Woodberry Forest Magazine and Journal, “Book Report: Recent Publications by Woodberry Alumni”, Fall 2012, p. 63, Retrieved August 10, 2013.
  3. ^ "Alex Marshall". Biography. Citistates Group. Retrieved August 10, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c "Alex Marshall". Biography. Regional Plan Association. Retrieved August 10, 2013. 
  5. ^ Toy, Vivian S. (November 30, 2008). "A Village Down the Block". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2013. ; related slide show,; Dominus, Susan (July 29, 2009). "Cockeyed Optimists and a Visionary Co-op". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2013.  (printed as "Cockeyed Optimists and Steely-Eyed Lenders"); Toy, Vivian S. (October 5, 2010). "Abandoning a Bid to Create an Urban Village". The New York Times. Retrieved August 10, 2013. 
  6. ^ See, e.g., Alex Marshall, "Libraries' Use Speaks Volumes", Virginian-Pilot [Norfolk, Va.]: September 30, 1995, p. A1. Print; "Sound Investment or Shaky Gamble? The City Council Will Decide Soon If Norfolk Will Pay Most of the $60 Million to Fund the East Ocean View Project", Virginian-Pilot [Norfolk, Va.]: January 14, 1996: p. B1. Print; "Fraim Optimistic About Rebirth of Urban Cores of Center Cities Mayor Says Norfolk Would Again Be a Hub of 'Creativity and Collaboration'", Virginian-Pilot [Norfolk, Va.]: April 12, 1996, p. B3. Print.
  7. ^ See, e.g., Alex Marshall, "Urban Renewal Paves Over Norfolk's Past: Many Historic Structures, Along With Slums, Were Bulldozed in the Name of Progress." Virginian-Pilot [Norfolk, Va.]: Aug 29, 1999, p. M9. Print. Archived by Infotrac Newsstand, Retrieved August 13, 2013.
  8. ^ See, e.g., Alex Marshall, "Building New Urbanism: Less Filling, But Not So Tasty", Builder Magazine, November 30, 1999, p. ___. Print; republished on Marshall's web site,
  9. ^ Alex Marshall, "Suburbs in Disguise", Metropolis Magazine, July 1996, p. 70, republished as "New Urbanism" in Busch, Akiko, ed., Design is ... Words, Things, People, Buildings and Places (New York:Metropolis Books/Princeton Architectural Press, 2002), p. 272; and as "Suburbs in Disguise" on Marshall's web site, Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  10. ^ Alex Marshall, "Putting Some 'City' Back In the Suburbs", The Washington Post, September 1, 1996, p. C1, print, Retrieved October 2, 2013.
  11. ^ Jessica Gross, “Alums lead New Urbanism movement”, Daily Princetonian, March 10, 2005, Web. Retrieved August 13, 2013. Metropolis Magazine published a "round-table debate" between Marshall and Duany in May of the same year, which is archived on Marshall's web site.
  12. ^ a b c James Howard Kunstler, "One Track Mind", Metropolis Magazine, January 2001, p. ___. Print.
  13. ^ Robert D. Yaro "'How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl, and the Roads Not Taken.'(Books)(Book Review)." Architectural Record, May 2002, p. 99. Print. Archived on the Web at Academic OneFile, (subscription required). Retrieved 2 October 2013. Yaro is president of the Regional Plan Association, which later named Marshall a senior fellow.

External links[edit]