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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) Paperback – September 13, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (September 13, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262525313
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262525312
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,237,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent, coherent and cogent synopsis of the problems, challenges and potential growth possibilities of smaller and mid-sized American cities. The flow of the text is both pleasant and effective. Regardless of ideological affiliation or lack thereof, the text will engage and interest anyone, nor has it been written just for academia. Catherine Tumber has done a great thing by writing about a subject that is routinely glossed over or flown over. Often her analysis is original as there has simply been so little research on smaller cities as a subject in and among themselves.

This book is highly recommended for those with overlapping concerns: the decline of easy petroleum, suburban sprawl and urban decay and economic vitality and globalization. One can only hope that others will follow the author's lead and begin doing the kind of creative research and traveling that she did.

A well written book and a very enjoyable read!
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