In twenty-first century America, some cities are flourishing while others are struggling. But all must contend with deteriorating infrastructure, economic inequality, and unaffordable housing. City governments have limited tools to address these problems, and many must rely on the private market to support the public good.
It wasn’t always this way. For three decades after World War II, even as national priorities promoted suburban sprawl, the federal government underwrote renewal efforts for cities that had suffered during the Great Depression and the war and were now bleeding residents and jobs into the suburbs.
In Saving America’s Cities, the prizewinning Harvard historian Lizabeth Cohen follows the career of Edward J. Logue, whose shifting approaches to the urban crisis in New Haven, Boston, and all over New York State tracked the changing balance between government-funded public programs and private interests that would culminate in the neoliberal rush to privatize solutions to entrenched social problems. A Yale-trained lawyer and sometime critic of both Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, Logue saw government responsibility for renewing cities as an extension of the liberal New Deal.
Logue’s era of urban renewal has a complicated legacy. There is no denying that neighborhoods were demolished and residents dislocated, but there were also genuine successes motivated by progressive goals, such as the economically and racially diverse “New Town in Town” of Roosevelt Island in New York City. Saving America’s Cities is a dramatic story of heartbreak and destruction but also of human idealism and resourcefulness. It is not just the history of the postwar city—it also aims to open up new possibilities for public action in our own time.
READ AN INTERVIEW WITH LIZ ABOUT THE BOOK IN THE HARVARD GAZETTE, OCTOBER 16. 2019: