The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City

The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City

by Alan Ehrenhalt
     
 

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In The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City we travel the nation with Alan Ehrenhalt, one of our leading urbanists, as he explains how America’s cities are changing, what makes them succeed or fail, and what this means for our future.
Just a couple of decades ago, we took it for granted that inner cities were the preserve of

Overview

In The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City we travel the nation with Alan Ehrenhalt, one of our leading urbanists, as he explains how America’s cities are changing, what makes them succeed or fail, and what this means for our future.
Just a couple of decades ago, we took it for granted that inner cities were the preserve of immigrants and the poor, and that suburbs were the chosen destination of those who could afford them. Today, a demographic inversion is taking place: Central cities increasingly are where the affluent want to live, while suburbs are becoming home to poorer people and those who come to America from other parts of the world. Highly educated members of the emerging millennial generation are showing a decided preference for urban life and are being joined in many places by a new class of affluent retirees.
Ehrenhalt shows us how the commercial canyons of lower Manhattan are becoming residential neighborhoods, and how mass transit has revitalized inner-city communities in Chicago and Brooklyn. He explains why car-dominated cities like Phoenix and Charlotte have sought to build twenty-first-century downtowns from scratch, while sprawling postwar suburbs are seeking to attract young people with their own form of urbanized experience.
The Great Inversion is an eye-opening and thoroughly engaging look at our urban society and its future.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The conventional model of the post-war American metropolis—a desolate inner city, home to impoverished minorities and immigrants, surrounded by affluent white suburbs—is turning itself inside out, according to this intriguing survey of the new urban geography. Ehrenhalt (The Lost City) examines a panorama of inner-city districts where well-heeled residents are flocking back in search of nightlife, short commutes, and dense, vibrant communities, including: Chicago’s once gang-ridden, now swanky Sheffield neighborhood; Houston’s Third Ward, in the throes of racially-charged battles over gentrification; and even sprawling, car-bound Phoenix, where a new light rail system may prove a magnet for downtown development. He contrasts these upscaling city precincts with suburbs like Ohio’s Cleveland Heights, uneasily split between leafy subdivisions and dilapidated tenements, and Georgia’s Gwinnett County, a formerly lily-white Atlanta ex-urb that’s now majority-minority thanks to a tide of Hispanic and Asian immigrant strivers. Ehrenhalt’s old-school urbanism, reminiscent of the work of Jane Jacobs, integrates fine-grained readings of street life with shrewd analyses of demographics, crime patterns, transportation systems, housing policy, and zoning and tax regulations to reveal the changing dynamics of metropolitan areas. The result is a lucid, provocative, and rather hopeful forecast for America’s cities—one that illuminates their enduring appeal. Photos. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
“Ehrenhalt takes his reader on a tour of the changing American cityscape . . . An enjoyable and engaging read, especially for those considering a move back to the city . . . Solidly researched with great questions asked and plenty of hard facts and anecdotal answers provided.”
—Richard Horan, Christian Science Monitor
 
The Great Inversion and the United Nations agree; the world is becoming more urban by the day . . . To Ehrenhalt’s credit, he does not pass moral judgment on the process. With clear prose that is both informative and entertaining, he objectively states the facts (and presents a great number of voices from immigrant businessmen and local civil servants to politicians from Elite African-American families and developers), leaving his readers free to render their own verdict.”
—Joshua Bloodworth, Dominion of New York
 
“Most writers on cities are either cheerleaders or naysayers. Ehrenhalt is neither, and he has written a balanced, hard-hitting book that is a persuasive forecast of our complex urban future.”
—Witold Rybczynski, author of Makeshift Metropolis
 
“The future of the city is the future of America and the world. Alan Ehrenhalt shows us how a desire for urbanism is bringing people back to America’s downtowns, and what suburbs and communities of all sorts must do to thrive in the future.  The Great Inversion is a must read for anyone concerned with American cities, urbanism, and the future of the way we live.”
—Richard Florida, author of Who’s Your City?

"[The Great Inversion] is a serious, provocative, and gracefully written, and consistently interesting look at how the urban-suburban balance is shifting"
Better! Cities & Towns

Library Journal
With young adults and well-off retirees flowing in, immigrants and poorer folks flowing out, and the impulse to revitalize downtowns there if sometimes still defeated by urban sprawl, America's cities are definitely changing—and sometimes swapping roles with those upstart suburbs (that's the "great inversion"). From noted urbanologist Ehrenhalt; not just for city libraries, since this new demographic affects everyone.
Kirkus Reviews
A political scientist looks at a possible "demographic inversion" in which America's cities may follow in the footsteps of late-19th-century European capitals: "affluent and stylish urban core[s] surrounded by poorer people and an immigrant working class on the periphery." With large public-housing complexes demolished and their former inhabitants pushed into the outer suburbs, young professionals, senior citizens and other groups are beginning to find their way back to older central city neighborhoods. Pew Center on the States information director Ehrenhalt's (Democracy in the Mirror: Politics, Reform and Reality in Grassroots America, 1998, etc.) main examples are Chicago's Sheffield neighborhood, which has gone from an urban wasteland to one of the city's most fashionable and desirable locations, and New York City's financial district, where commercial office buildings have been converted to residential uses and the evening streets are populated by couples with baby carriages. Ehrenhalt finds the historical parallels for this process in the renewal and reconstruction of city centers in 1890s Paris and Vienna. He also discusses cities where he doesn't think such revivals are possible, including Philadelphia and Baltimore, both of which have locally focused political structures based on privately owned row houses with small lots, and the former industrial wasteland of Detroit. Between these extremes he presents cases like Phoenix, which has tried multiple times to build a center city that never existed, and continues to fail. Ehrenhalt points to Northern Virginia's Tysons Corner--now the twelfth largest business district in the United States"--as the test case for whether a commercial strip, lacking residential development, can be transformed into a unified city-type center. The author's historical perspective helps shape his provocative view, though he doesn't examine whether the demographic trends will generate either the financing or the wider employment that Paris and Vienna were able to stimulate in their own unique ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307474377
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
01/22/2013
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
472,734
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher

The Great Inversion is a must read for anyone concerned with American cities, urbanism, and the future of the way we live. . . . The future of the city is the future of America and the world. Alan Ehrenhalt shows us how a desire for urbanism is bringing people back to America’s downtowns, and what suburbs and communities of all sorts must do to thrive in the future.”
—Richard Florida, author of Who’s Your City?
 
“[Ehrenhalt’s] provocative, nuanced examination of the dynamics of change encourages the reader to apply his insights to cities closer to home. . . . Alan Ehrenhalt’s fascinating new book, The Great Inversion . . . finds that American cities are doing a very un-American thing: reshaping themselves in the mold of European capitals, where the privileged live in the city center, orbited by rings of immigrants and other strivers in the poorer suburbs”
Commentary
 
“Fascinating. . . . A convincing case. . . . Mr. Ehrenhalt’s travels have given him a front-row view of ‘The Great Inversion.’ . . . Alan Ehrenhalt has traveled to towns and cities across the land and witnessed firsthand the early stages of what surely will be nothing short of a social transformation.”
The Washington Times
 
“[A] mix of sharp-eyed observation and analysis. . . . Weaving census and public-opinion data throughout, Ehrenhalt displays the same narrative and reporting skills he put to good use in The Lost City.”
City Journal

“Ehrenhalt takes his reader on a tour of the changing American cityscape . . . An enjoyable and engaging read, especially for those considering a move back to the city . . . Solidly researched with great questions asked and plenty of hard facts and anecdotal answers provided.”
Christian Science Monitor

“Books about cities tend to be polemics. An author decides what’s right and wrong about how we live, then marshals anecdotes and rhetoric to buttress the case. There’s another way to approach the topic: in person and on foot, following one’s instincts but open to nuance along the way. Alan Ehrenhalt follows that path, to our benefit, in his new book The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City. . . . Ehrenhalt’s sympathies are with movements like new urbanism and smart growth, but these sympathies don’t blur his sharp eye for details or the wry clarity of his prose.”
San Francisco Chronicle

The Great Inversion and the United Nations agree; the world is becoming more urban by the day . . . To Ehrenhalt’s credit, he does not pass moral judgment on the process. With clear prose that is both informative and entertaining, he objectively states the facts (and presents a great number of voices from immigrant businessmen and local civil servants to politicians from Elite African-American families and developers), leaving his readers free to render their own verdict.”
—Joshua Bloodworth, Dominion of New York

“Most writers on cities are either cheerleaders or naysayers. Ehrenhalt is neither, and he has written a balanced, hard-hitting book that is a persuasive forecast of our complex urban future.”
—Witold Rybczynski, author of Makeshift Metropolis

“[The Great Inversion] is a serious, provocative, and gracefully written, and consistently interesting look at how the urban-suburban balance is shifting.”
Better! Cities & Towns

“The author’s historical perspective helps shape his provocative view.”
Kirkus Reviews

Meet the Author

Alan Ehrenhalt was the executive editor of Governing magazine from 1990 to 2009. He is the author of three books: The United States of Ambition, The Lost City, and Democracy in the Mirror. In 2000, he was the winner of the American Political Science Association’s Carey McWilliams Award for distinguished contributions to the field of political science by a journalist. He is currently executive editor of Stateline, a daily news service reporting on politics and policy in all fifty states. Ehrenhalt lives near Washington, D.C.

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