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Paperback The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit Book

ISBN: 0691058881

ISBN13: 9780691058887

The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit

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Once America's "arsenal of democracy," Detroit over the last fifty years has become the symbol of the American urban crisis. In this reappraisal of racial and economic inequality in modern America, Thomas Sugrue explains how Detroit and many other once prosperous industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racialized poverty. He challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decline is the product of the social programs and racial fissures...

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Well researched, well written

The Detroit metropolitan area today is arguably the most racially segregated region in the United States, with a primarily African-American, largely abandoned and dilapidated urban center surrounded by layers of primarily white, affluent suburbs. This book is essential reading for anyone who lives in southeast Michigan as well as other cities that have similar histories of industrialization, urban decline and concentrated poverty such as Cleveland, Gary, Philadelphia, and South Chicago.Thomas Sugrue provides a thoughtful, well-researched, and fascinating analysis of systematic racial inequality in Detroit during the post World War II automotive industry boom of the 1940s through deindustrialization and "white flight", and ending with the catastrophic race riots of 1967. Sugrue avoids the current, common oversimplifications of blaming Detroit's urban crisis on the '67 riots or Mayor Colman Young by weaving together a complex story of human behaviors, fears, and incentive structures backed by data, references, and personal accounts: "By the time Young was inaugurated, the forces of economic decay and racial animosity were far too powerful for a single elected official to stem." Sugrue's analysis provides insight to understand major groups of stakeholders and their interactions: Workers flocked from the southern states to Detroit seeking relatively high-paying automotive jobs. In the free market, resulting housing shortages allowed landlords to divide properties into tiny apartments and charge premium prices, protecting their investments by being selective in their choice of "low risk" white tenants. Bankers also preferred "low risk" clients, resulting in unequal access to funds. White home owners, wanting to protect their families and financial investment, resisted neighborhood integration to avoid declining property values and perceived dangers. Real estate agents capitalized on fears of mixed neighborhoods by buying property from fleeing whites at junk prices and selling immediately to blacks at premium prices. Labor unions protected seniority, which unequally benefited whites, and tended to compromise on racial issues in order to gain bargaining ground. Store owners avoided hiring black workers, wishing to avoid offending or frightening mostly white, mostly female, customers. Suburban tax incentives and new technology made large, flat assembly plants more efficient than the old multi-story plants. This drove automakers away from Detroit, where the rail and riverside real estate was largely developed, and contributed to unemployment and race and class polarization. Racial inequality in Detroit stems from complex social systems of incentives and categorical isolation caused by systematic inequality in access to employment, housing, networking and other resources. Recognizing the complexity of this social system helps the reader understand how individuals who fail to actively oppose racism actually support it, and why official "race-blind" policies

A comprehensive look at postwar Detroit

This book is essential for anyone who really wants to understand the roots of urban decline in the United States since World War 2. Too many books focus solely on the debilitating effect of the welfare state. Urban decline is far too complicated to blame factor alone. The author of this book does an excellent job in examining the combined effects of housing and job discrimination, deindustrialization and the racist attitudes of many white Detroiters. To his credit, the author tells all sides of the story, so that no one side garners all the sympathy or hatred. Neighborhood associations are not mobs of angry, unthinking whites motivated solely by hatred of blacks; nor are blacks criminally-minded characters too lazy to find work. Once you look at everthing, you realize how intractable Detroit's problems were in 1970 and how they remain so today.Although this book is about Detroit, this book also sheds light on the fate of other American cities (i.e. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Newark, NJ) that also experienced massive deindustrialization and population loss in the last third of the century.


This is quite a remarkable book. It attempts to explain the riots that occurred in Detroit in the late 1967. These riots were racially based and some of the most brutal in America. The book basically is about racism. It describes the history of racism in Detroit between the 1930's and the 1960's. Unlike other books that tend to be anecdotal this book attempts to look at the mechanics of the process and to provide empirical material to illustrate and validate the material in the text. The story of the book is that racism is a complex phenomenon. Detroit in the 1940's had a vast appetite for labor. This lead to it being a city in which Afro Americans could be employed. Large numbers began to migrate and to fill the more lowly paid jobs in the auto industry. The book explains the sorts of mechanisms, which governed this process. How employers would discriminate against blacks, to keep them in lowly paid positions and the fights that some unions engaged in to overcome such practices.The book goes on to explain how housing was one of the main ways in which blacks were able to be limited to certain areas. The widespread use of housing covenants permitted blacks to be excluded from more affluent areas. This meant that blacks became concentrated in small areas which subsequently became ghettos. The action of courts and legislatures to overcome the use of discriminatory covenants was opposed violently. The book shows how populist politicians would ply the race card to gain election at the expense of the more principled. How they would exploit the fear of residents about the alleged nexus between Afro Americans and crime. This in turn led to violence being unleashed on those Afro Americans who were able to afford housing in more affluent areas. With the 50's and 60's came the widespread use of automation. The number of jobs in the auto industry began to decline. As the jobs dried up the position of Afro Americans eroded further. As employment fell away the areas they lived in began to run down and become the stereotypical ghettoes, wracked with decay and unemployment. This decay occurred against a background of a society which battled hard to exclude Afro Americans from good housing, employment and the political process. The violence of 1967 was thus hardly a surprise. The book is extremely good. Often books dealing with such subjects can rely on cliché and assertion. This book consists of fact after fact and it is full of tables and maps. It is one of the more interesting studies to come out in years. No wonder it won a prize.


Sugrue's work builds on that of other urban scholars, notably Arnold Hirsch and Raymond Mohl. Sugrue challenges the conventional wisdom that urban decay is the product of the social programs and racial problems of the 1960s. He looks beneath the surface prosperity and social consensus associated with the 1950s and finds the rise of hidden racial violence, a new ghetto (sim. to what Hirsch and Mohl term the "second ghetto"), discrimination, and deindustrialization. Sugrue seeks to rectify the lacking historical perspective that has hindered "underclass" studies. His work suggests that the intersection of race, economics, and politics in the 1940s-1960s paved the way for a social and economic disaster in modern cities. Sugrue argues that in the wake of Detroit's World War II boom, the city fell on hard times. As a result, a shrinking pie (so to speak) became highly contested by blacks and whites, particularly in the workplace and in marginal neighborhoods. Sugrue examines the racism associated with federal and local collusion to keep blacks confined in low-rent districts. Further, urban slum clearance and freeway construction worked to the detriment of the black community. Sugrue also shows how industries and businesses deserted the city in a mass exodus as whites went to the suburbs. The result? A spatial mismatch between jobs and the jobless. In the interest of space, I neglect numerous important aspects of Sugrue's seminal work. THE ORIGINS OF THE URBAN CRISIS should be mandatory reading for anyone who is too quick to blame "liberalism" and the Great Society for our urban ills. Essentially, Sugrue confirms for Detroit what Arnold Hirsch found true of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s -- that the conservative backlash does not spring completely from a sense of a failed Great Society.

Outstanding history of Detroit's decline, lessons for today.

Sugrue's thoroughly researched and documented history of racial segregation in Detroit is an essential tool for anyone working on behalf of America's cities. Detailed GIS maps show the razor sharp lines that have divided the city decade after decade in what is still the most racially segregated metropolitan statistical area of over 1 million people in the United States and the only one to get worse over the past 20 years. Sugrue does a good job of examining how racism distorts free market economics. As a result, free market approaches, critical to urban recapitalization, have received a much more cautious acceptance in Detroit than in many other cities that are coming back, such as Cleveland, Baltimore and Portland. David Dworkin Director Fannie Mae Detroit Partnership Office
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