VITAL SIGNS, U.S.A. by John Fischer


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Monitoring the national pulse and blood pressure from the Easy Chair at Harper's, John Fischer concluded that reports of the patient's death had been greatly exaggerated. After some more detailed field work, he has now revised and expanded his observations into an optimistic but only fitfully convincing book. The vital signs he detects are those of district, regional, and urban planning which bypasses the chaotic channels of state government and the perpetual insolvency of local government. Across the country he sees industrialists linking forces with city planners to create comprehensive ""development district"" schemes to bring more money into depressed areas without also bringing a flood of ecological horrors; imaginative housing experiments; municipal areas which have evolved new agencies to coordinate administration of ecological resources, sewage, and transportation. There is high praise for Jacksonville, Florida (which got fed up with its moribund municipal government, junked it, and made a fresh start), and for New York's ill-starred Urban Development Corporation (Fischer failed to detect financial clouds on the UDC's horizon). Do these efforts add up to the beginnings of Don Marquis' Almost Good Society? Maybe, if your trust is in the enlightened benevolence of local bigwigs who seem to have spearheaded most of these endeavors. One wants him to convince us that road-building and new industry are still the best medicine for depressed areas, not to take it for granted. And those who would like to see more proletarian initiative are not going to thrill to an optimism centered around businessmen, real estate agents, and assorted oligarchs who come off as selfless apostles of progress. Still, Fischer treats some issues whose time is coming, most notably the collapsing financial basis of local government and the need for new units of regional administration. Forward-looking and short-sighted, in about equal proportions.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1975
Publisher: Harper & Row