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Explaining an old trend: Anti-urbanism in America

Ever wonder why 20th century American history is chock-full of bi-partisan anti-urban rhetoric? Steven Conn, a historian at Ohio State University, recently published a book on exactly that subject called "Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century."

In his interview with The Boston Globe, Conn defines anti-urbanism thusly: "On the one hand, it's the deep, deep fear of the messiness of urban life, and particularly the social messiness...And the other piece...is this deep suspicion of the role of government, and the idea that city life, especially starting at the turn of the 20th century, depends on government action and government intervention."

Conn sheds light on the challenges and changes cities like Detroit experienced during the postwar period, saying, "Starting in the 1950s but particularly in the 1960s, urban questions and racial questions became virtually synonymous, at least in the popular imagination...Cities became increasingly black and they became increasingly poor. So by the 1970s you have this really unholy mix of racial tensions and economic crisis...1975 to about 1985 was a real low-water mark for American cities. New York went bankrupt...Detroit’s economy really began to crumble in earnest...cities were saddled with the costs of poverty."

In response to recent trends in which Americans have become more in favor of urban living, Conn predicts the continued urbanization of formerly un-dense suburbs: "Even those places, whose very existence was predicated on the idea that we were going to leave the city, are recognizing the advantages of urban life, and one of those advantages is the social mixing. Even those places now are becoming socially more diverse. And in the long run, that is going to reshape our political ideas."

Source: The Boston Globe
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