Design by Deficit:
Neglect and the Accidental City

Design by Deficit tackles the array of urgent issues besetting the American city, from crime to infrastructure failure to entrenched inequality,  with warmth and wit, taking those new to urban issues by the hand and showing them around the accidental cities crafted by unintended consequences. A surprisingly positive volume,  presenting the promise of nature in the city and more resilient sustainable living with scholarly rigor and irresistible flair.

Praise for Design by Deficit

Personable and witty… Delightful to read… Thought-provoking… A book that will stick with me… A lot of food for thought…

Challenges us to open our eyes, look around, and see neglect around us… Wonderful book… Makes me stop and think… Highly recommended

Delightful book… Essential reading… Full of insights… Sharp analysis… Memorable aphorisms… Vivid images… Important ideas… Strong and inspiring new reasons for hope… Passionate… A must-read… Shines a much-needed light on the forces of neglect…

Unintentional consequences, things deferred and unfunded, are the unseen hand shaping our cities. These gaps can become the primary designer of urban environments and their impact on our lives – but we train ourselves not to see them. Design by Deficit brings this neglect and its effects into focus, and reveals what they mean for living in and around the city.

Available for library and bookstore purchases via Ingram’s wholesale distribution

Print ISBN: 978-1-7376280-0-2

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-7376280-1-9

Urban Wilds

“If you grew up in a town with an abandoned house all the kids thought was haunted, that house’s overgrown yard was preserved by this kind of fear.” (“Landscape Management”/ Accidental Nature)

Crime and Safety

“Just because you fear a place does not make it actually dangerous. Sadly, the converse is true as well.” (“Crime, Not Fear”/ The Scary City, Crime, and Fear)

Sustainable Cities

“The biggest benefit of neglect could end up being the space it’s cleared in our cities for what we need to do next.” (“Climate Change”/ Connections to Larger Issues)

Climate Resilience

“Like ecological value, climate impact is best viewed as how much can your site do and how badly is it needed.” (“The Kit of Parts”/Sail with the Current)

Ecosystem Services

“Things fall apart. In this case, when they fall apart, they offset combined sewer overflows.” (“Benefit by Neglect”/Portrait of the Neglected City)

Places for People

“People matter to the city, and one way they matter is through behavior.” (“People Matter, So Behavior Matters”/ People in the Neglected City)

Public Health Issues

“No one dresses as failing infrastructure for Halloween, yet it’s the bigger threat to public health by far.” (“Abandoned Buildings and Health”/Public Health)

Racial Inequality

“We don’t consider making the built environment into a more level playing field, because we insist on seeing it as neutral, if we notice at all.” (“Not Someone Else’s Problem”/Inequality)


“When it doesn’t work, it makes our daily lives spectacularly impossible — if you want to experience living in a previous century, make all you infrastructure fail at once.” (“Infrastructure Fail”/ Invisible Infrastructure)

Could there be benefits from letting everything run to ruin? Who gets the benefits and who pays the costs?



Susan Dieterlen, a smiling woman in a black jacket standing in front of a brick wall

Meet the Author

Susan Dieterlen, PhD, is a researcher and designer focused on sustainability, clean energy, and how people interact with environments. She is originally from Indiana and currently lives in Connecticut. Dr. Dieterlen holds degrees from the University of Michigan and Purdue University, and has been a registered landscape architect since 2001.

Book Review of Design by Deficit

Reviewed in Landscape Journal by Richard Smardon, PhD

Twin Progeny of the Neglected, Transforming City

Column for ACSA on Design by Deficit and its companion class, Studio/Next