A strange tale of race and power politics in the putative cause of urban renewal. Miller (English/Univ. of Connecticut,...


HERE'S THE DEAL: The Buying and Selling of the Great American City

A strange tale of race and power politics in the putative cause of urban renewal. Miller (English/Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs), a longtime student of Chicago's architectural history (American Apocalypse, 1990), relates a story of how ward-heeling politics led to the unforeseen destruction of Block 37, a northside zone noted for shops, restaurants, and theaters catering to a middle class that, in the late 1960s and early '70s, began to shift from white to black. Mayor Richard Daley, Miller writes, saw in that shift a neighborhood inevitably going to seed, and in that deterioration a threat to his power. His response was to declare Block 37 a candidate for urban renewal, and he ordered his planners to make way for a mighty new complex of skyscrapers that would bring the big money back to the Loop in defiance of white flight to the suburbs. What he launched instead was a flurry of speculation, as developers bought and sold properties for vastly inflated prices, prefiguring the more notorious feeding frenzies of the 1980s. By calling for renewal, Miller argues, Daley sowed the seeds for Block 37's destruction: Where skyscrapers were to stand are now gaping holes and piles of rubble, the detritus of a real-estate boom gone bust. In telling his story, Miller sometimes falls into roman-noir prose (""Larry Levy had sold these big-time developers on this marooned strip of downtown as effortlessly as he hawked a flat slice of cheesecake at Kaplan's""). Although dealing with a cast of moneyed Jewish speculators and Irish and Italian heavies, Miller lays on the ethnic clich‚s a bit too thickly for comfort, and he tends to moralize needlessly throughout a story whose moral lessons lie close to the surface. Still, this is a sobering look at the destructive combination of big money and urban politics--a story played out all too often in recent American history.

Pub Date: March 22, 1996


Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996