AMERICA'S CITIES: A Report on the Myth of Urban Renaissance by Michael C. D. MacDonald

AMERICA'S CITIES: A Report on the Myth of Urban Renaissance

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MacDonald, a reporter for The Village Voice, has it in mind to argue that American cities generally are on the skids--in case we've been misled to think that Sunbelt cities are trouble-free, and Snowbelt cities are undergoing a ""renaissance."" His chief sources are the very publications--the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, Neal Peirce's regional surveys and Joel Garreau's The Nine Nations of North America--that have disabused even general readers of such notions; his purpose is to contend that ""only massive federal aid can arrest the decay."" (After all, federal favoritism to the Sunbelt is culpable, along with federal--and other--neglect of social welfare.) Altogether the book is a crude, hackneyed oversimplification, supported by a hodgepodge of facts. The Sunbelt, we're repeatedly reminded, had nine of America's ten most violent urban areas in 1080 (the exception was Atlantic City); the reasons are its slavery and frontier legacy, and ""rootlessness."" Also discussed under ""Sunbelt in Sunset"" are standard regional topics (energy, water, the environment), about which MacDonald's knowledge is spotty, which may-or-may-not relate to Sunbelt cities. The dozen-plus city profiles--Miami, Atlanta, Birmingham, and New Orleans; Houston, Dallas, San Antonio (and some of the Texas border cities); Denver, Phoenix, and Las Vegas; San Francisco and Los Angeles--offer nothing by way of characterization that will be new to readers of Peirce and Garreau, who say more in fewer words. (Anyone with a serious, growth-and-governance interest should see Sunbelt Cities, edited by Richard Bernard and Bradley Rice, 1984, p. 1279, 1983.) In the book's second half, on the Snowbelt, MacDonald speaks of the ""Potemkin-village"" nature of urban renewal and undertakes to explode three diverse, implicated ""myths"" (limited resources, uncontrollable crime, reindustrialization). He then profiles five ""disaster areas""--Philadelphia and Baltimore (prospectively ""salvageable""), St. Louis, Detroit, and Newark (""past the point of no return"")--and also ""four regional paragons"": Minneapolis, Kansas City, and Wichita (low jobless and crime rates, and diversified economies). The penultimate chapter, on New York City, concludes that, as Manhattan becomes gentrified, the Outer Boroughs are dying (an outdated commonplace); and that Mayor Koch is destroying the city by cutting services rather than increase commercial real estate taxes (a dubious proposition in various respects). Except as a repository of assorted bits-and-pieces about urban ailments, and another protest against victimization of the Sunbelt and the poor, this is a clear case of overreach: an unqualified author trying to be a combined John Gunther and Jane Jacobs.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster