Cover image for America's undeclared war : what's killing our cities and how we can stop it
America's undeclared war : what's killing our cities and how we can stop it
Lazare, Daniel.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2001]

Physical Description:
xiv, 353 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HT352.U6 L39 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberties of man," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1800, sounding a note that has echoed throughout American history. In this bracing reexamination, Daniel Lazare traces the progress of America's unwavering war on its cities and looks at the profound consequences.

From Jefferson through Henry Ford and Franklin Roosevelt to the present, we have labored to wither our cities, simultaneously fouling our air and our landscape, depleting our energy resources to feed our automobiles and neglecting any form of community other than hollow, homogenous suburbs. And yet the average American has a smaller share of the country's wealth than the average European and less opportunity to improve his or her lot.

Provocative and enlightening, America's Undeclared War exposes a prejudice both fundamental and destructive to American culture. With a mordant wit and a refreshing clarity, Lazare offers a vision that can re-invigorate us, our communities, and our future.

Author Notes

Daniel Lazare has written about race, drugs, and urban policy for a wide variety of publications, including Harper's, The American Prospect, and Le Monde Diplomatique. He lives in Manhattan

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Lazare is something of a contrarian. The bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution produced predictable gushing about the Founding Fathers' brilliance; Lazare wrote The Frozen Republic (1995), a Book-of-the-Month Club selection that blamed the Constitution's rigidity for many of the nation's problems. Now, with the media full of "bubbly talk about an urban renaissance," Lazare is back, analyzing the roots of "America's love-hate relationship with the city," from the conflicting visions of Jefferson and Hamilton to today's auto-clogged urban and suburban areas in an increasingly globalized nation. Lazare traces that history, exploring major urban crises, examining the impact of "Fordism," and considering the consequences of internationalization, including the policy implications of global warming. At the center of the latest urban crisis are the automobile's huge negative externalities; in any effort to reduce these subsidies, Lazare notes, the Constitution will be a barrier. But the author offers hopeful suggestions about how cities could flourish if Americans' housing, employment, and transportation choices were made in a context that was not skewed in favor of the automobile. ^-Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

"I view great cities as pestilential to the morals, the health, and the liberties of man," said Thomas Jefferson, voicing a concern of many early Americans about the moralÄand, implicitly, democratic and politicalÄsuperiority of rural over urban life. If Jefferson's view was predicated on a fear of powerful federal and state governments (dependent upon urban centers), Alexander Hamilton promoted strong, stable states and the idea of cities as necessary to economic and civil health. According to Lazare (The Frozen Republic), the Jeffersonians are winning this ideological fight, much to America's detriment. As a result, he says, the U.S. consistently treats its urban centers with prejudice and neglect. Lazare has marshaled an enormous range of ideas and facts to advance and substantiate his argument, variously suggesting that though cities breed social reform, they are traditionally condemned as hotbeds of immorality; that automobile mass production occasioned urban redesign that endangers the public; that California's draconian 1979 Proposition 13 tax cut further eroded the state's highways and urban schools; and that Jacob Riis's urban reform campaigns were profoundly anti-immigrant and anti-urban. In his last chapter, "Solutions," Lazare calls for implementing our (constitutional) right to amend our "ancient Constitution," and for broader acceptance of emerging technologies like cheaper, faster and lightweight trains. Drawing upon rich historical details, the urban and social theory of John Kenneth Galbraith, Jurgen Habermas, Michel Foucault and Jane Jacobs, and economic and environmental studies, Lazare provides an engaging, provocative and alarming portrait of America at the turn of the millennium. (Apr. 23) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Declaring war on American antiurbanism, Lazare devotes two-thirds of this book to exploring a historical vein that includes Thomas Jefferson, Henry Ford, Lewis Mumford, and others and the rest to analyzing today's city, which he finds ravaged and abandoned in favor of a vacuous suburban ideal. To save the city, he suggests policies to end the public subsidy of automobile transportation and of private housingÄchanges flowing from a new collectivist ethic that stresses larger social efficiencies over private freedoms. As Lazare earlier argued in The Frozen Republic, the American constitutional system is too cumbersome to enable such a shift, which must instead stem from political transformation of the working class. At times stimulating, this book is more often tendentious, best suited to large urban studies collections. Other libraries can pass, served as they are by finer works of social criticism such as Kenneth Jackson's Crabgrass Frontier (LJ 9/1/85), Clay McShane's Down the Asphalt Path (LJ 5/1/94), and Witold Rybczynski's City Life (LJ 9/15/95).ÄRobert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Lazare, a New York-based writer who has written extensively about social problems and urban policy, here provides an overview of the origins, evolution, and possible remedy to the nation's longstanding urban crisis. The first four chapters treat the rise of the crisis by examining its roots in the Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian utopia, the forces that subsequently launched the industrial city, and the countermovement that attacked its living conditions. The next four chapters cover the deconcentration of the city, tracing the unremitting suburban drift and the accompanying rise of the automobile-based culture. The two final chapters survey the internationalization of these trends and offer a vision of a better urban future based on the reversal of policies that Lazare insists are now destroying our cities. A high point is the author's well-informed, fast-paced writing style; his book may one day take its place alongside the classic commentaries of Lewis Mumford, Jane Jacobs, and William H. Whyte. Especially recommended for urban studies and planning collections. P. O. Muller University of Miami

Table of Contents

Introduction: America the Paradoxicalp. ix
1. The City, the Individual, and the Nationp. 1
2. The First Urban Crisisp. 27
3. The Second Urban Crisisp. 57
4. The Gathering Assaultp. 91
5. Fordismp. 131
6. The Urban Wave Crests and Crashesp. 155
7. The Antisocial Societyp. 187
8. The Third Urban Crisisp. 213
9. Internationalizationp. 243
10. The Solutionp. 273
Notesp. 305
Bibliographyp. 329
Indexp. 343