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Small, Gritty, and Green: The Promise of America's Smaller Industrial Cities in a Low-Carbon World (Urban and Industrial Environments) Hardcover – November 10, 2011

11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"As the former mayor of a mid-sized, declining Northeastern city, I have long argued that the only attention which comes our way is when something negative happens: a major employer leaving town, a failed economic development venture, or a significant outbreak of violent crime. We were rarely seen as centers of innovation and ingenuity, or as having the assets to revitalize ourselves. Now Catherine Tumber has laid out a coherent path for recovery and revitalization of these small-to-medium-sized industrial cities. Hers is based not on academic theory but on observation of what is in place and what possibilities actually exist. Her prescriptions do not rely on pity but on how to play a winning hand." -- William A. Johnson, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Mayor of Rochester, 1994-2005

"This is a clear and intelligent call for Americans to find the great value waiting in the many small cities across this land. At a time in history when everything has to get smaller, finer, and more local, these places occupy increasingly important geographic sites and need to be brought back to life. Catherine Tumber understands the dynamic completely and lays it out eloquently." -- James Howard Kunstler, author of the novels The Long Emergency and World Made by Hand

" Small, Gritty, and Green shows how small and mid-sized rust-belt cities can serve as models for sustainable urban living. Tumber's thesis is presented in a fast-moving mix of history, original interviews, and assessment of received urban planning wisdom. Her compelling argument is that planners, politicians, and the general populace would be wise to try something completely different and that these cities, though largely invisible in past scholarship, represent an important pathway to the future." -- Peggy F. Barlett, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology, Emory University, editor of Urban Place: Reconnecting with the Natural World

"[Tumber's] excellent new book…finds potential in many busted and booming-again cities." -- Scott Carlson, Urbanite

About the Author

Historian and journalist Catherine Tumber is a Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University's School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, a Fellow of the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth's Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, and a former Research Affiliate with the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning's Community Innovators Lab.

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Product Details

  • Series: Urban and Industrial Environments
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (November 10, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262016699
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262016698
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,430,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Catherine Tumber is a historian, journalist, and senior research associate at Northeastern University's School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. She holds a doctorate in U.S. social and cultural history from the University of Rochester. She has taught U.S. history at the University of Rochester, Syracuse University, and St. Lawrence University, and has worked as an editor for the Boston Phoenix and the Boston Review. Her essays and reviews have appeared in both publications as well as in Book Forum, the Nation, the Washington Post, Architectural Record, the Wilson Quarterly, In These Times, Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Commonweal, and American Literary History, among others.

She can be reached at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Robert Drew on January 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What impressed me about this book was not just how attuned it is to the challenges that small industrial cities have inherited but how much hope it holds for these cities' future. The book offers dozens of compelling accounts of initiatives and controversies surrounding urban revival, suburban sprawl, effective land use, and renewable energy drawn from small cities in the Midwest and Northeast. It is highly informed by current debates in urban planning and environmentalism, including academic ones, while thankfully never getting bogged down in academic jargon. An ideal primer for anyone who cares about the economic viability of small cities and their role in a sustainable future.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Francis M Vanek on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I read this book cover to cover and found it to be a very approachable and informative treatment of an important question: what to do with the aging, shrinking, small industrial cities of the northeast and Midwest? The focus on the small city is crucial, since the solutions of the mega-city of this region do not necessarily apply.

The author combines straightforward presentation of an academic argument with anecdotes and narratives about people she encounters as she gathers information to write the book. The result is highly readable - as I read, I found myself looking forward to encountering the next "character" involved in the transformation of small cities.

Overall, the book provides a wealth of information that can benefit planners, engineers, elected officials, and other readers interested in finding ways to rejuvenate small industrial cities in a post-carbon world. As a starting point, the detailed critique of the policies that led to the demise of many small manufacturing cities is invaluable for understanding their current condition. Equally remarkable is the description of how much some of these cities have been left vacant awaiting some new purpose. The potential advantages of small cities are also compelling, including the relatively open space for creating a repurposed built environment, or the proximity to land that would be appropriate for food or energy crops, or else wind or solar installations.

There were some minor shortcomings on the technical side as well, hence my 4 out of 5 stars rating. In a few places, the author in discussing energy issues mixes up "cost per kilowatt-hour" and "cost per installed watt", so that based on the numbers given it is difficult to assess whether initial capital cost or ongoing production cost is the focus.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By landscapearchitect9 on January 3, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've only gotten through the first twenty or so pages thus far, but I am impressed to this point with Tumber's foundation for her arguments. As a native and resident of Syracuse, which receives quite a bit of space in this book, I am interested in the author's thoughts on the city. I am reading the book partly for the commentary and because I am just generally interested in the subject, and partly as another source of ideas and inspiration for my thesis project (I'm a graduate student of landscape architecture at SUNY-ESF, mentioned in the book). As I get deeper into the book, I will update this review. Until then, I will say I appreciate that finally, some attention is being paid to cities like Syracuse, cities that combine the best of the big city with the best of the countryside. Regardless of my final opinions of this book when I finish reading it, I am grateful to the author for helping to get this very needed conversation started.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I do not disagree with Tumber's assertion that small cities have been at best lumped into "small towns" and at worst overlooked as planners (and politicians) have attempted to plan for the near- and medium-term future. I found her description of the evolution of the bias against small cities edifying, and I must confess that I was embarrassed to realize that I have indulged some of the metropolitan prejudices she outlines here.

After reading the introductory paragraph alone, it does seem incredible that any professional would focus only on linking large cities and, effectively, let small cities fend for themselves. I wholeheartedly support a vision that takes into account not only "centers of gravity" but also surrounding regions. Further, I am also convinced that smaller cities, given their access to open spaces and historical expertise in both agriculture and industry, can forge a unique economic path.

Of the three paths suggested- agriculture, industry and energy- I was most impressed with the author's arguments in favor of the first two. Several of the areas that the author profiled have already seen successes in the last two decades in agriculture, although the challenge now appears to be making the produce both available and attractive to more immediately local customers. (However, as one of Tumber's subjects points out, the one-hundred mile rule is an arbitrary measurement.) As far as industry, while it would be a mistake to wait for manufacturing on the scale of the car industry to return to this country, many small cities have a legacy left from "Detroit" to be able to take advantage of opportunities to build small- and medium-size parts, and new opportunities in energy innovation.
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