In the years leading up to the pandemic those cities that suffered most from the shift to a post-industrial era appeared finally to be reversing a period of rising poverty and physical decline. Across the country, accounts of “new Brooklyns” and “cities rising” proclaimed an urban renaissance. In the new post-industrial economy, once devalued land was attracting new investment. Population losses were reversing. Previously abandoned downtowns were thriving, and housing demand and prices were rising. The Great Recession of 2008 undoubtedly interrupted but did not reverse the trend. Urban revitalization brought with it a central paradox,

Detroit’s Renaissance building. Alexander Garvin

however. Success in adjusting to the demands of globalization. and the economic restructuring it required, deepened existing divisions of race and class. External forces were challenging those cities in new ways. At the same time, the failure to solve divisions reaching back half a century to the first urban crisis of the 1960s complicated any true meaning of “revitalization.”  For as much as had changed in the years since civil disorder wracked the country, too much of the nation remained, in the words of the Kerner Commission formed to examine the causes of that rebellion, “two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.”

“Gillette superbly draws a set of nine urban portraits, cities addressing the tensions between economic development, equity, and community engagement…[C]ities can and should do more than what they are doing to balance the three goals of equity, economic development, and community engagement. They can benefit from implementation lessons described in this book. Howard Gillette has helped us understand the limits of what can be accomplished at the metropolitan level to resolve tensions between these three goals.”—Housing Studies
“[A] welcome addition to canonical urban planning history and theory…Gillette shows how local government policymaking can make a difference and that there are ways—albeit imperfect—to counter growth machine politics of corporate subsidies and creative-class hangouts. Gillette advances that a paradox of ‘progress’ is grinding poverty and dispossession. Contemporary city leaders must intentionally harness urban growth toward more equitable development. Experts and non-experts alike have much to learn from that frame.”—Journal of the American Planning Association

Following publication of my 2022 book, The Paradox of Urban Revitalization: Progress and Poverty in America’s Post-industrial Era,” I will further highlight through my blogs news of the nine cities featured in the book: issues they are confronting, solutions they have offered, and prospects for achieving greater equity in the years ahead. At the heart of this dialogue will be the question whether we are able finally as a society to balance the bias towards subsidizing business investment with returns for residents. For every manipulation of the system to enhance profit, there has to be investment in human development. We see this happening in community benefit agreements, affordable housing set-asides, and other measures responsive to the challenges posed by Black Lives Matter. While the pandemic has brought a period of uncertainty, the American Rescue Act has given local jurisdictions enough financial leeway to prioritize equity measures. The question is whether the lessons learned as illustrated in this book’s case studies have been sufficiently institutionalized to set American cities on a fairer and more just path. Posts related to this subject have been categorized under “Paradox.”

For a recording of a presentation on this book December 1, 2022, click here