The Historical Present: Uses and Abuses of the Past

By Edwin M. Yoder | Go to book overview

American Cities: The History of a Reputation

IT IS ALWAYS EASY to make a case against the American city--easier, if the city is in part of the "rust belt." You simply imagine a conglomeration of high-rise office buildings, as conventional and often as unappealing as if they'd been hatched from a universal modular mold, occupied during the day by lawyers, bankers, accountants and stockbrokers but deserted and eerie by night. You connect it by crowded auto-commuting corridors to suburban enclaves, grouped around golf courses, whose adult residents play games (when they aren't at cocktail parties) and worry about the boredom of their children. The children, meanwhile, are at the malls, or, when someone's parents leave town, at beer busts. Divorce rates are high; so is the enrollment in churches of a theologically rudimentary sort where modern ambiguities can be forgotten or at least ignored for an hour or two on Sunday morning.

To reach these enclaves, you pass hollowed shells of public housing, remnants of the livelier hopes of the 1940s and 1950s. On spring and summer evenings passing commuters with sharp ears

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