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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could Become a Landmark Work in the Study of Cities..., February 12, 2007
This review is from: Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor (Hardcover)
40 years ago, Jane Jacobs influenced generations of planners and urban policy makers with her "Death and Life of Great American Cities," a sensitive and sensible portrait of how great cities work as social organisms. Jacobs turned 60 years of urban policy on its head and gave birth to a new way of thinking about cities and how to solve their problems: by celebrating and encouraging their social fabric, rather than dividing it with freeways and public housing projects. Since Jacobs' work, American cities have seen a great resurgance in their central cores. But today they are more divided than ever between rich and poor. While America's central cities are seeing more investment and interest than ever before, those same central cities are also home to deepening poverty and despair.

Sudhir Venkatesh has produced a startlingly honest portrayal of how this "other half" the American urban experience really works. While Jacobs saw density as the answer to the city's problems rather than the cause of them, Venkatesh examines what happens when the density of the city meets deep generational poverty. In a world where everyone is engaged in everyday survival, the "eyes and ears" that Jacobs celebrated as the ultimate contol over social behavior become, in Venkatesh's analysis, the mechnism of regulation of a vast underground, off the books economy. The neighborhoods Venkatesh studies are places that are ignored and forgotten by the larger society, places where resources are scarce and where the very definition of "right and wrong" is colored by the need to survive, to put food on the table, to make rent.

Venkatesh provides a refreshingly non-ideological study into how the urban poor really live. He avoids glamorizing the lives of underground, criminal actors, and avoids moralizing or grandstanding. Rather, he tells us the realities and consequences of the economic decisions of those residing in America's poor central cities. This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about the state of our cities. It reveals the hidden order beneath the apparent choas of the ghetto. By defining how the ghetto works, Venkatesh may well have started a much-needed conversation on how what we can do to make sure it works differently.
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