In these 37 singular essays, some reading like research papers, others as personal as memoirs, n+1 editor Gessen (All the Sad Young Literary Men, 2008, etc.) and Harvard graduate student Squibb find in certain American cities the crucible of enormous change since the financial meltdown of 2008.
In “Lessons of the Arkansas,” Ben Merriman wisely considers the hugely troubling ramifications of diverting rivers such as the mighty Arkansas for the irrigation of arid land. Dan Albert’s “The Highway and the City” finds the interstate structure both a product of wrongheaded urban renewal and a “transcendent” step in technological progress. In “The Office and the City,” Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: The Secret History of the Workplace (2014), looks at how the once-ubiquitous office towers of New York, San Francisco, and other metropolises face conversion rather than obsolescence. Two of the chapters are interviews: historian Gar Alperovitz explores how Cleveland has become a model for worker-owned, multistakeholder institutions that anchor the community and distribute wealth more equally. City Life/Vida Urbana organizer and activist Steve Meacham shares his methods of helping advocate for tenants’ rights in Boston against foreclosures. Some of the more amusing essays are highly quirky reminiscences of living or growing up in certain cities—e.g., Annie Wyman’s ferocious “Dallas and the Park Cities,” which chronicles her move to this “dark heart of Republican power” as a child and feeling appalled by its racist tones; and Ryann Liebenthal’s “The Making of Local Boise,” which finds a charm in the “little anthills of aesthetic and cultural kinship” popping up in his hometown. Other contributors include Michelle Tea, Jenny Hendrix, and James Pogue.
From Whittier, Alaska, to Williston, North Dakota, to Palm Coast, Florida, these varied essays offer compelling snapshots of how Americans live, move, and work.