In The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City we travel the nation with Alan Ehrenhalt, one of our leading urbanists, as he explains how America’s cities are changing, what makes them succeed or fail, and what this means for our future. Just a couple of decades ago, we took it for granted that inner cities were the preserve of immigrants and the poor, and that suburbs were the chosen destination of those who could afford them. Today, a demographic inversion is taking place: Central cities increasingly are where the affluent want to live, while suburbs are becoming home to poorer people and those who come to America from other parts of the world. Highly educated members of the emerging millennial generation are showing a decided preference for urban life and are being joined in many places by a new class of affluent retirees. Ehrenhalt shows us how the commercial canyons of lower Manhattan are becoming residential neighborhoods, and how mass transit has revitalized inner-city communities in Chicago and Brooklyn. He explains why car-dominated cities like Phoenix and Charlotte have sought to build twenty-first-century downtowns from scratch, while sprawling postwar suburbs are seeking to attract young people with their own form of urbanized experience. The Great Inversion is an eye-opening and thoroughly engaging look at our urban society and its future.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I bought this book about five or six days ago and uploaded it to my Android, thinking I would read a few pages here and there over the next few months. I couldn't stop reading it, and finished it in days.
The dilemmas confronting cities over how to attract people to an urban core as well as how to urbanize suburban areas are very interesting, and as the other reviewer noted, the author is very even-handed in his treatment of life-style preferences regarding cars, density, etc. (In this sense he is unlike the suburban advocate Joel Kotkin, who often writes with a sneer about the urbanists he disagrees with.)
I currently live in urban San Francisco with two small children, so the issues discussed here were very relevant. We can't afford to buy a house here, or at least one we would want in a neighborhood we would like. I'm going to be moving to Los Angeles soon, and this book helped me think about what I value in a future house, neighborhood, and commute down...
Alan Ehrenhalt has written a fascinating account what he calls a recent "demographic inversion" - not, thank you, "gentrification" - in which immigrants now tend to enter American society via the suburbs rather than the core city, the poor abandon or are driven from the core city into the suburbs via loss of livelihood, taxes, and buyouts, and those who can afford it take up residence in the urban core for entertainment, social amenities, and quicker commutes. Ehrenhalt provides a variety of different takes on the ways in which this process is unfolding, to varying degrees of success, in exemplary urban neighborhoods - Chicago's Sheffield, Brooklyn's Bushwick, Cleveland Heights, Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, and many more, all related in clear, felicitous prose.
Among my favorite chapters were those in which Ehrenhalt chronicled and assessed the fall and rise of the Clarendon section of Arlington, brought about by the by arrival of Vietnamese shop and restaurant...
I'm always suspicious of books that tell me what I want to hear -- in this case that central cities are becoming more popular than distant suburbs in metropolitan areas across the country. Ehrenhalt makes his case effectively but also qualifies his position with opposing arguments and acknowledgment of the uncertainty that surrounds any predictions. The author uses a diverse array of cities as case studies, and he deserves praise for being one of the few urbanist authors to write about Phoenix in a way that is balanced and accurate. He rightly identifies the city's strengths (e.g. its extraordinarily successful light rail line) and its weaknesses (e.g. the unreasonable expectation of ubiquitous free parking) and blends them to reach an informed conclusion free of the smug condescension and gratuitous derision that mars many other writings about Phoenix.
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