Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century

ISBN : 9780199973668

Steven Conn
392 Pages
163 x 236 mm
Pub date
Oct 2014
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It is a paradox of American life that we are a highly urbanized nation filled with people deeply ambivalent about urban life. In this provocative and sweeping book, historian Steven Conn explores the "anti-urban impulse" across the 20th century and examines how those ideas have shaped the places Americans have lived and worked, and how they have shaped the anti-government politics so strong today. As Conn describes it, the anti-urban impulse has had two parts: first, an aversion to urban density and all that it contributes to urban life, especially social diversity, and second, a perception that the city was the place where "big government" first took root in America. In response, in varying ways across the 20th century, anti-urbanists called for the decentralization of the city, both its population and its economy, and they rejected the role of government in American life in favor of a return to the pioneer virtues of independence and self-sufficiency. In this way, by the middle of the 20th century anti-urbanism was at the center of the politics of the New Right. Conn starts in the booming industrial cities of the Progressive era at the turn of the 20th century, where these questions first began to be debated, and concludes with some of the New Urbanist experiments of the turn of the 21st. Along the way he examines the decentralist movement of the 1930s, the attempt to revive the American small town in the mid-century, the anti-urban basis of urban renewal in the 1950s and '60s, and the Nixon Administration's program of building new towns as a response to the urban crisis. Engagingly written, thoroughly researched and forcefully argued, Americans Against the City is important reading for anyone who cares not just about the history of our cities, but about their future as well.


Chapter 1
The American Urban Paradox
Chapter 2:
America's Urban Moment Arrives
Chapter 3
The Center Should Not Hold:
Decentralizing the City in the 1920s and '30s
Chapter 4
New Deal, New Towns: The Anti-Urban New Deal
Chapter 5
Looking for Alternatives to the City: The Past and The Folk
Chapter 6
The Center Did Not Hold:
The City in the Age of Urban Renewal
Chapter 7
The Triumph of the Decentralized City
Chapter 8
Small Town, New Town, Commune
Chapter 9
New Communities, New Urbanisms
Urbanism as a Way of Life

About the author: 

Professor and Director, Public History, Ohio State University; author, To Promote the General Welfare: The Case for Big Government (OUP, 2012); Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living in the Presence of the Past (U. Pa., 2006), et al.; co-ed., Building the Nation: Americans Write about Their Architecture, Their Cities, and Their Landscape (U. Pa., 2003).

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