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The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 24, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In the future, American cities could look like late-nineteenth-century Vienna, with lively, affluent metropolitan core areas and the lower classes consigned to life in peripheral suburbs. Such cities will go well beyond gentrification and involve the displacement of the poor in inner-city areas by the wealthy, according to urbanologist Ehrenhalt. He details how the trend toward such cities is already apparent in Chicago, Atlanta, Washington, Houston, and other metropolitan areas. Drawing on census data and economic research, he examines the factors behind the trend, including mass transit, retail and housing development in downtown locations, and the declining appeal of long commutes to distant suburbs. Ehrenhalt also offers detailed portraits of the future of suburban sprawl in areas struggling to re-create the appeal of cities by developing more accessible commercial zones. This is an engaging look at demographic changes that promise a very different future for cities and suburbs. --Vanessa Bush


“Ehrenhalt takes his reader on a tour of the changing American cityscape . . . An enjoyable and engaging read, especially for those considering a move back to the city . . . Solidly researched with great questions asked and plenty of hard facts and anecdotal answers provided.”
—Richard Horan, Christian Science Monitor
The Great Inversion and the United Nations agree; the world is becoming more urban by the day . . . To Ehrenhalt’s credit, he does not pass moral judgment on the process. With clear prose that is both informative and entertaining, he objectively states the facts (and presents a great number of voices from immigrant businessmen and local civil servants to politicians from Elite African-American families and developers), leaving his readers free to render their own verdict.”
—Joshua Bloodworth, Dominion of New York
“Most writers on cities are either cheerleaders or naysayers. Ehrenhalt is neither, and he has written a balanced, hard-hitting book that is a persuasive forecast of our complex urban future.”
—Witold Rybczynski, author of Makeshift Metropolis
“The future of the city is the future of America and the world. Alan Ehrenhalt shows us how a desire for urbanism is bringing people back to America’s downtowns, and what suburbs and communities of all sorts must do to thrive in the future.  The Great Inversion is a must read for anyone concerned with American cities, urbanism, and the future of the way we live.”
—Richard Florida, author of Who’s Your City?

"[The Great Inversion] is a serious, provocative, and gracefully written, and consistently interesting look at how the urban-suburban balance is shifting"
Better! Cities & Towns

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 24, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307272744
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307272744
  • ASIN: 0307272745
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,009 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Michael Brown on May 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book, written with the data in mind but without the more heavy-handed charts and foot notes that often can be presented in such texts. Much as "edge cities" was coined in the late 1980's and came into common usage, so too based on the context of the research, will the term "the great inversion" come to be the model or some variant in future parlance.

The author begins with a tour through 19th century Paris and Vienna and then moves chapter by chapter through different American cities or clusters of similar cities and their attempts to stave off decline or simply revitalize. Some will criticize the absence of sweeping praise or condemnation. For me, this is a pleasant aspect of the book. It is a completely readable text for all audiences, served up with fair critiques of the New Urbanists and the current American suburban mindset with all its contradictions.

The author's research is most fascinating with his projections about the make-up of the future vibrant cities. One would have suspected them to have been simply class oriented, but according to the author they will also be very skewed ethnically. This would be a significant and ground-shifting movement which will have implications on political systems, school systems, economics and the city as we have grown accustomed to it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book about five or six days ago and uploaded it to my Android, thinking I would read a few pages here and there over the next few months. I couldn't stop reading it, and finished it in days.

The dilemmas confronting cities over how to attract people to an urban core as well as how to urbanize suburban areas are very interesting, and as the other reviewer noted, the author is very even-handed in his treatment of life-style preferences regarding cars, density, etc. (In this sense he is unlike the suburban advocate Joel Kotkin, who often writes with a sneer about the urbanists he disagrees with.)

I currently live in urban San Francisco with two small children, so the issues discussed here were very relevant. We can't afford to buy a house here, or at least one we would want in a neighborhood we would like. I'm going to be moving to Los Angeles soon, and this book helped me think about what I value in a future house, neighborhood, and commute down in that area.

Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alan Ehrenhalt has written a fascinating account what he calls a recent "demographic inversion" - not, thank you, "gentrification" - in which immigrants now tend to enter American society via the suburbs rather than the core city, the poor abandon or are driven from the core city into the suburbs via loss of livelihood, taxes, and buyouts, and those who can afford it take up residence in the urban core for entertainment, social amenities, and quicker commutes. Ehrenhalt provides a variety of different takes on the ways in which this process is unfolding, to varying degrees of success, in exemplary urban neighborhoods - Chicago's Sheffield, Brooklyn's Bushwick, Cleveland Heights, Gwinnett County northeast of Atlanta, and many more, all related in clear, felicitous prose.

Among my favorite chapters were those in which Ehrenhalt chronicled and assessed the fall and rise of the Clarendon section of Arlington, brought about by the by arrival of Vietnamese shop and restaurant owners to properties emptied out by the disorder and loss of business due to Metro construction, and the continuing death spiral of the urban shipwreck that is Philadelphia, or, as some locals call it, "Bostroit," for its unique 18th-century core in close proximity to areas of utter blight, drug dens, and boarded up row houses, all a result of the rapid post-industrial loss of manufacturing and port services. And yes, sports fans, Ehrenhalt lingers for a while on an aspect of Philly most of you will recognize, as "the only large American city in which no one is surprised when parade watchers boo Santa Claus, where fans boo their sports teams for failing to win a second consecutive championship, or where grandmothers at the stadium insult spectators who happen to be wearing the wrong jersey.
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Format: Hardcover
This a gem which has received far less attention than it deserves. Anyone who lives in or near a metropolitan area has been catching glimpses of the trend that Ehrenhalt explores with a magnifying glass. He begins by sketching the urban lifestyles of great European cities like Vienna and Paris during the late 19th century to illustrate the urban lifestyle he sees current American twenty and thirty-year-olds as well as retiring baby-boomers seeking. He uses the term inversion to describe the demographic trend away from suburban sprawl based on autos, highways, and strip malls to pedestrian-friendly urban landscapes encompassing residential, retail, and office space served by public transportation. "Inversion" describes the trend for the more affluent -- particularly singles and retirees -- to seek center city residences while the suburbs attract immigrants and lower middle class workers.

Ehrenhalt proceeds to examples of successes and failures across the country examining revitalized neighborhoods in cities like New York and Chicago; looking at the alternatives for inner suburbs in Cleveland, Atlanta, Denver, and Washington, D.C.; analyzing attempts by sprawl cities like Houston and Phoenix to define a central city; looking at the realities of New Urbanists to create models from Seaside, Florida to Tyson's Corner, Maryland.

This book is a delight to read because it feels like it is written by a realist rather than a dreamer -- someone who enjoys a cup of coffee on the sidewalk outside a cafe while observing the street scene and talking to people passing by. He doesn't criticize or advocate, he describes and raises questions about what it means.
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