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The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration, 1966-1999


Publisher:Free Press



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About the book:

With a great deal of sadness, NPR host Ray Suarez chronicles the effects of the American migration from cities to suburbs in the second half of the 20th century. He visited a number of cities--including Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Miami, and Washington--to find out what went wrong. The Old Neighborhood makes its case with an effective mix of data and quotes from interviews with community organizers, government officials, people who stayed in the cities, and those who left. One of the best things about the book--no doubt a product of Suarez's radio background--is its tendency for extended quotes, where the voices of his interview subjects more fully emerge.

Suarez passes blame around freely for what happened to the cities and their neighborhoods, citing the loss of inner-city manufacturing jobs, crime, the decline of urban schools, and the increased availability of the automobile and development of highway systems. But mostly he blames America's inability to deal with race, asserting that whites simply don't want to live with blacks and will continue to move out further and further to prevent that from happening. (Suarez has little to say, however, about the tendency of middle-class blacks to flee the city as well.)

Although crime was down and job creation up in cities in the '90s, Suarez tends to focus on the negative. He did not, for example, interview people who moved back to the cities because their children finished school and they tired of long, bumper-to-bumper commutes and the lack of cultural offerings in the suburbs. And while many of the people he did talk to say they miss the close-knit community of their downtown neighborhoods, almost all say they are happy they left and were able to give their children a better life. Still, The Old Neighborhood remains an extremely readable clarion call for the importance of city life, obviously written from the heart. --Linda Killian

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