walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

Belated Reviews (kindle)

These will be short reviews.

_Arrival City: How the Largest Migration in History Is Reshaping Our World_, Doug Sanders

Sanders did a good job. He repeats himself, but that's okay. His thesis is simple: history had a lot of migrations from rural areas to urban areas; we're in the biggest and last of those (ever). He visited a _lot_ of places and was able to see how really shockingly not-up-to-our-standards housing can work well as part of a pathway to stability and prosperity. This is important; reading a book about how everywhere is too small, too grimy and doesn't have proper sewage disposal and thus it should all be torn down is Not Helpful. He also provided some tantalizing insight into why so many observers see communities with what look like upside down priorities to us (cable but no sewage disposal, say).

Read it. It isn't perfect, but it's close.

_Why the Garden Club Couldn't Save Youngstown: The Transformation of the Rust Belt_, Sean Safford

What a title! Safford compares Allentown, PA and Youngstown, OH, which seemed kind of similar but took different paths when steel and a bunch of manufacturing left in the late 1970s/early 1980s. He does network analysis on the towns, and I _think_ what he concluded was that if you were management? Elite? in Youngstown, you'd be hard pressed to tell whether you were at a party for a museum, the boy scouts or work -- you'd see exactly the same group of people in every case, whereas in Allentown, that was not at all the case.

Safford argues that something like initial conditions (settlement patterns in the towns' early histories) led to this situation. Basically, Allentown has very distinct subcommunities that didn't intermarry for a while; Youngstown was founded a little later by a somewhat more homogenous group. Also, Allentown's initial round of money went off and did cultural things, leaving a separate management class; Youngstown didn't, so when business dived, everything came down with it. Allentown has a secondary structure.

It's an interesting argument and worth thinking about. Safford's policy suggestions are not helpful, to the extent that they exist.

_Cities and Suburbs: New Metropolitan Realities in the US_, Bernadette Hanlon, John Rennie Short, Thomas J. Vicino

It's expensive and seems to be a textbook. The tables look better on the DX than the regular kindle, but they aren't tremendously helpful either way. Their photographs and the captions on the photographs are at times incomprehensible in an unintentionally funny way (like a picture of a kinda cool 1920ish bungalow -- falling down -- caption along the lines of "area of concentrated poverty". It's _one house_! To be fair, Figure 5.3 does show what might be a vacant lot next door. I'm sure it _is_ an area of concentrated poverty; photo was taken in Detroit in 2002.). This book presents what is probably the new/current consensus understanding of cities in the US (and elsewhere): multi-centered, regional, with a wide variety in density throughout. The worst poverty is _not_ located in the center (if you can even identify a singular "center") and the wealth is not entirely located in the "suburbs", some of which themselves behave like city cores. They spend some time on immigration and note that a lot of immigration into the US is direct-to-suburbs (which anyone who has just read _Arrival City_ already fully understands_. They provide a decent overview of the timeframe of flows of people from one part of the metropolis to another, and how that is influenced by race, class, larger regional and economic issues, etc.

It's fundamentally a little weak -- but it's a textbook. If I were reviewing it as a textbook, I'd say it was pretty good. If I were viewing this through an academic lens (an uncredentialed amateur, but still), it's mediocre. As trade non-fiction, it kinda sucks and it's expensive. If this is an area of intense interest to you, you don't really need this -- you can produce the framework through other reading. But if you're assigned this in a class, it's probably worthwhile.

There's a real possibility that the humorous captions were _intentionally_ humorous. This is most likely for things like Figure 11.4, which shows a big Caterpillar, a line of trees acting as a windbreak and some scraped ground, captioned "Not smart growth in Maryland". I'm reasonably certain that was supposed to be humorous.

One of the biggest problems with development/city/suburb/metropolis discussion is that participants usually sort themselves into the groups currently in contention, and they often at least act like the previous, no-longer-popular groups never existed. So you get summaries of the development of metropolitan areas that leap over really crucial quarter centuries or, worse, use nomenclature invented _later_ to describe something that planners were complicit in and used other terminology form. The most notable instance in this text is using Garreau's term "Greenfields" to describe what I believe to be the New Town movement. It sounds like carping, but it makes it harder to understand what happened and why -- and much easier to repeat errors.
Tags: book review, politics, real estate
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