Partisans on both the left and right wings of America’s theory class and political spectrum believe we’re in trouble, big trouble. The economy is limping along. Inequality has reached unprecedented levels. And we seem to be on the verge of being overwhelmed by immigrants who don’t look and act anything like our grandparents did much less the men and women who founded our country. Angry, scared, disengaged and distrustful when we aren’t openly antagonistic toward each other, Americans can’t figure out who we are ...
Partisans on both the left and right wings of America’s theory class and political spectrum believe we’re in trouble, big trouble. The economy is limping along. Inequality has reached unprecedented levels. And we seem to be on the verge of being overwhelmed by immigrants who don’t look and act anything like our grandparents did much less the men and women who founded our country. Angry, scared, disengaged and distrustful when we aren’t openly antagonistic toward each other, Americans can’t figure out who we are as a people and openly fret about our best days being behind us. To make matters worse, our political system, the one place we’re supposed to be able to work on behalf of a broader public good with people who aren’t like us, appears even more broken than these other parts of our culture.
There’s some unexpected good news, however, and it’s coming from one of the last places in America you’d expect different people to be getting along: Boston. Bostonians — well known for their unwelcoming and sometimes violent treatment of newcomers and unwillingness to find common ground with people deemed outsiders — aren’t acting broken or taking their resentments out on each other these days. They’ve turned instead to calmer ways of talking about each other and treating each other in public. Far from being disconnected and afraid, people in Boston are better connected and more respectful of each other, and their city is better organized and more orderly than at any time in its long and storied history. Bostonians have learned to get along with the strangers among them in ways their ancestors never knew or expected the rest of us would be willing to entertain much less master. They have their civic act together.
Engaging Strangers explores how the people of Boston have learned to practice a more congenial and respectful set of civic virtues. In this book, the author provides a model for civic conduct for the rest of America to study and follow.
Observers of urban sociology and politics have long lamented the disorder and alienation that prevails in US cities. Monti challenges this view in his study of "civil rites" and "civic capitalism" in contemporary Boston. Traditionally, Boston's Brahmins, the wealthy and well-educated white upper class, took the lead in civic projects, and other residents simply followed the Brahmins, if they paid attention at all. While traditional conflicts continue to resound in the city's politics, other actors, notably the business community and institutions like the Catholic Church, have steadily cultivated a civic culture in which residents of varied income levels and ethnic identities focus on what they have in common more than on what divides them. Businesses, in particular, are more inclined to treat all citizens as actual or potential customers, and those citizens learn to conduct themselves in credible and credit-worthy ways. Monti thus holds that the civil culture has become more "bourgeois" in the full span of the interactions. Whether this is also occurring in other cities is outside his research, and this offers an agenda for other urbanists to explore and critique. Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduate, graduate, research, and professional collections.
Dr. Monti is Professor of Public Policy Studies at Saint Louis University. He is the author of over 50 scholarly articles and six books on subjects ranging from educational reform and inner-city redevelopment to youth gangs, and American urban history and civic culture. He currently is working on a textbook dealing with urban life, an edited book on the culture of entrepreneurship, and a book detailing the redevelopment of Saint Louis that will constitute the longest ongoing study of inner-city redevelopment ever undertaken. His earlier research on business and civic ties led to his creation of two technical assistance programs for small businesses that are attempting to grow: InnerCity Entrepreneurs in Boston and Entry in St. Louis. A former Woodrow Wilson Fellow and member of the Missouri State Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Professor Monti has consulted with private companies and agencies of the federal government.
Table of Contents
Foreword: “Engaging Strangers and the Banality of Civility” by Zane Miller
Chapter 1: “Lost in Boston”
Chapter 2: Boston by the Numbers
Chapter 3: Brahmins Don’t Eat Here Anymore
Chapter 4: Ritualized Crises and Institutional Strangers
Chapter 5: Neighbors Make Good Fences
Chapter 6: The Enchanted Trolley Tour
Chapter 7: “At First We Were Just Civic Friends”
Chapter 8: A Crowded Mother’s Day on the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge
Chapter 9: Boston’s Tribes
Chapter 10: The Leisure of the Theory Class