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The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City

3.73  ·  Rating Details  ·  415 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
In The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City we travel the nation with Alan Ehrenhalt, one of our leading urbanists, as he explains how America’s cities are changing, what makes them succeed or fail, and what this means for our future.
Just a couple of decades ago, we took it for granted that inner cities were the preserve of immigrants and the poor, and that
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 24th 2012 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2012)
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May 23, 2012 Hadrian rated it really liked it
The momentum of history changes once again. From the Great Migration to Urban Flight to Gentrification and something new again entirely. But Ehrenhalt says differently.

The old demographic shift was that more affluent Americans moved away from the city, in order to get away from crime, blight, and so forth. Now that the old projects have been demolished, new condos are rising, and people move back in droves. Primarily for convenience. Gas prices have a role in it.

Suburbs will yet remain as plac
Sep 03, 2012 Brooks rated it liked it
I seem to enjoy books on Urban Planning - it is like chaos theory - you instantly can see if urban planning was effective, but no idea which variables matter for success. There are so many spectacular failures in urban planning and so few successes that it should be easy to figure out. But the professionals, real estate developers, have always known it is "all local" and what works in one area is a miserable failure in the next.

Ehrenhalt's book is based on simple observation - central cities ar
Jan 21, 2013 John rated it really liked it
A book to make the Mike Davises of the world wretch, which I happened to enjoy very much. As much as I appreciate the strain of urban scholar who ruminates on doom; ecological, cultural, etc., it's nice to read something written from a semi-excited amoral perspective where urban change is concerned. Having grown up in the Los Angeles area, which Davis covers with great aplomb, post apocalyptic reality is fairly workaday, especially when the forest fires are burning. So, Ehrenhalt's book with all ...more
Mar 31, 2013 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ever since my brother and I played "SimCity" in the late-1980s, I've been a closet city planner, so every now and then, I pick up a general book on the subject. The last was a manifesto on the "New Urbanism" by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zybek and Jeff Speck, so it's been a few years.

Ehrenhalt pulled me in immediately with his idea, namely, that in American cities are beginning to see a reversal of the trend toward the suburbs, especially among the young upper middle class. I was hooked afte
Nov 22, 2012 Gjacobsen rated it it was ok
I agree with this book's premise. While urban planning books can be dry, if not tedious, reads, The Great Inversion is much more enjoyable. The author literally takes things to the street level to illustrate his primary argument. So why the two stars? It may be simple and petty, but there was a glaring error early in the book that completely frustrated me page after page. That error is literally the size of a lake. A Great Lake, in fact: Lake Huron.

The author goes into a comparison between Chic
Jul 12, 2013 Diane rated it really liked it
This book starts out as a typical treatise on urbanism, seeking to explain the causes and consequences of millions of Americans moving back to formerly deserted inner city neighborhoods. However, after the first chapter, the author moves in to some new territory. He looks at the present position and future prospects of suburbs, as well as ways to redesign suburbs to make them more urban. He also discusses the role of immigration in revitalizing both cities and suburban districts.

The author compa
Jul 12, 2015 Alexander rated it really liked it
(This is closer to 3.5 stars, but the last 25% brings it to 4 rather than 3)
This is very much a 200-level book in the Jane Jacob's school. A tour of 8ish different cities' changes in the last 15 years, each with a different aspect of changes in who is living where. Light on really convincing statistics, heavy on stories, but an interesting set of archetypes and thoughts on what these examples mean for development everywhere. He underplays one of his core theses, that transport is critical - it s
Jul 06, 2015 Liam rated it it was amazing
"The 1800 census shows that the four lower Manhattan wards housed 22,871 people, which was more than a third of New York's total population. The 1970 census managed to find 833 residents in the same territory, many of them living in poverty in single-room occupancy hotels. ... By the turn of the twenty-first century, the lower Manhattan population had recovered its 1800 numbers. Then, to the surprise of much of the city's real estate industry, it began to explode. A decade later, the skyscraper ...more
Michael Lewyn
Oct 13, 2014 Michael Lewyn rated it really liked it
This book is full of zesty and easy-to-read essays about the improvement of some (but not all) urban neighborhoods and the diverstification of suburbia. Unfortunately, it is not fact-checked as well as one might like.

His first error was in page 4, where he writes that my home town of Atlanta "came within a few hundred votes of electing a white Republican mayor." White, yes- Republican, no. (Mary Norwood's opponents accused her of being a Republican, but she says she is an independent). He writes
Feb 16, 2014 Rj rated it really liked it
Studying the return of the white middle class to the inter cities, Ehrenhalt wants to understand the reasons why. Looking at a selection of cities he uses them as examples to explain the relationship between urban cores and their surrounding suburbs. He looks at Paris, London and Vienna in Europe in the introduction and then American cities in subsequent chapters. Including Sheffield in Chicago, Wall Street in NYC and Bushwick in Brooklyn, Gwinnett County in Atlanta, Cleveland Heights in Clevela ...more
Kelley Jansson
Dec 26, 2014 Kelley Jansson rated it really liked it
This book introduces the concept of gentrification in the Western World's biggest cities with subsequent chapters as city-by-city examples to make the case. Each example is well researched, but most readers will find more to identify with in cities that are more familiar. I was particularly interested in the few mentions of "urbanizing suburbia," which all seemed like failed attempts due to transit issues. I would love for the author to write another book on that subject alone as it seems we now ...more
Juan Reynoso
Jan 17, 2016 Juan Reynoso rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The Great Inversion is an incredibly in-depth landscape of the changing urban dynamics in American cities. As a budding urban planner, I enjoyed reading through the pages and pages of research and theories. However, I was disappointed that Alan Ehrenhalt did not put enough focus on the inequality aspect of revitalization. Just as tens of thousands of middle-class Americans are returning to the urban core, tens of thousands of low-income Americans are being priced out and displaced to the outskir ...more
Nov 21, 2015 Amanda rated it liked it
I really enjoyed this look at how metro areas across the US are changing and, as a city dweller, of course want to be optimistic about their future. I wonder to what extent there really is some particular happening vs. human societies will just constantly in flux and always moving to seek something better. Ehrenhalt clearly did a lot of research and got to know the communities he studies well, but sometimes his descriptions of young people and the future read a little like an old man's take on t ...more
Jun 20, 2012 Jessica rated it really liked it
I learned so much reading this book and there is a fascinating chapter on Philly.
Apr 10, 2014 Caleb rated it it was amazing
By far the most pleasant surprise in a book I've read in a while, this was an engaging read about the trends in American cities as the inner city and surrounding neighborhoods have improved while suburbs become more diverse, more economically challenged, and the location for recent immigrants. Ehrenhalt's enthusiasm for the subject shines through and he assembles 8 fascinating chapters on different cities and what is happening there. I twice stayed up later than wanted to because it was such an ...more
Russell Fox
I read this book by Alan Ehrenhalt immediately after reading The Lost City, and while this book leaves behind the moral and historical perspective of that earlier book, and very explicitly focuses on current demographic and urban trends, I nonetheless see a connection. In The Great Inversion, Ehrenhalt points to data (both systematic and anecdotal) that shows a change in American life, with a greater sense of urbanity, and a greater desire for density and the kind of "civic" interactions usually ...more
In 1994 my husband and I bought a house in a charming little town we ironically called Mayberry (see, if you called the local police station after 5 pm there wasn't anyone in. You could either leave a message or call 911 for assistance.) Quaint. Soon after, my long interest in architecture expanded to include urban planning and I read a number of books on the subject and became an admirer of the New Urbanists. Since then I've paid attention to local mixed use developments, and less to what was h ...more
Samuel Lubell
Mar 08, 2014 Samuel Lubell rated it liked it
The author believes that American cities will soon resemble European ones with the wealthy moving into the cities and the poor moving into close by suburbs. The problem is, he doesn't really prove this, since his examples where this takes place, like the Wall Street area of NYC only have a very few people doing this, and other examples in the book like Philadelphia don't show this pattern. He is right about places like Arlington becoming more like walkable cities rather than strip mall suburbia.
Paul Frandano
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 dif ...more
Mark Wilkerson
Mar 01, 2013 Mark Wilkerson rated it liked it
I bought this book on the cheap from Amazon, for I am, for some odd reason that I cannot exactly explain, fascinated by the planning of cities; possibly it was the years of my youth that I spent playing SimCity and Civilation and all of the sequels for these games. That being said, I was very much intrigued by what Alan Ehrenhalt, obviously an expert in the area of city-planning, had to say about modern American cities. Ehrenhalt displays a keen understanding of the challenges that large (and no ...more
Jul 16, 2014 Zach rated it really liked it
In a nutshell, the demographics of American cities are reversing: Young, affluent white people are moving to the inner city, and minorities & immigrants are being pushed to the outer neighborhoods and suburbs. As someone who lives in a moderately gentrified, sometimes dicey neighborhood in a large city, this is interesting, and it raises some moral questions.

For instance, gentrification is often seen as a good thing. It's hard to argue against lower crime rates, new restaurants, and people w
Peter Mcloughlin
In 1963 Jane Jacobs wrote the death and life of American cities. Many thought her observations at the time were nostalgic hopes for the city. The suburbs were the future the cities were dying. It now turns out she may have been a keen observer who was more forward looking than backward. Cities are now attracting affluent educated professionals and the inner ring of suburbs is now becoming a place for newcomers and the less affluent. What was old is new again. American cities are looking demogra ...more
Nov 22, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing

A few interesting take-aways thus far:

-The upscaling of neighborhoods proceeds along public transit lines.
-A lot of the cities which have neighborhoods or inner-ring suburbs with lots of small one-family homes on small plots of land are running into problems. Those small plots & homes were originally built for the families of manufacturing workers, and now that manufacturing has left the US, it is hard to find new owners who want to take over those properties. People who want to live in hous
Nov 18, 2012 Du rated it really liked it
Shelves: planning
Very interesting take on census data documenting that growing numbers of people are moving back into central cities, and that minorities and working class peoples are more often living on the outskirts of cities. This is a return to patterns that existed in Europe 200 years ago.

The book lays out examples of these trends that occur in cities around the US. The ideas are interesting and the trends are documented with data, however the overall impact and examples suffer from lack of reinforcement
Aug 17, 2012 Alexis rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Having read The Death and Life of American Cities years ago, this was really interesting. I find the premise intriguing and possibly quite true.
One fault I find with the book is that he spends so much time explaining his example cities and not enough explaining his actual thesis. In jumping from example to example I don't know whether he's saying the specifics of a given case are in line with his theory or that they're an exception that proves the rule or what. It's a bit like listening to a p
Sep 08, 2012 Joshua rated it it was amazing
A great look into the obstacles and opportunities that American cities face. I enjoy how each idea or theory is related or demonstrated through a specific city, and in this, the reader gets a individual look into the cities of Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Cleveland, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Houston, Phoenix, and Denver. I particularly found the history and descriptions of the cities of yesteryear; Paris, Vienna, and London, to be quite enjoyable. The way the author also profiles each city, ...more
Sarah Giammo
Feb 13, 2015 Sarah Giammo rated it it was amazing
Fascinating read, and a really interesting perspective on 21st Century living patterns. Ehrenhalt has me convinced that what we are seeing now and will continue to see is a demographic inversion, the question I think will be how all of the other cities and suburbs across the nation deal with the phenomena he has discussed.
Feb 06, 2013 Ross rated it liked it
Shelves: urbanism
Ehrenhalt predicts that American cities in the 21 century will resemble European cities from the 19th century (minus the mud, factories and angry proletariat). There are several interesting descriptions given of urban places such as the old Ringstrasse in Vienna, Sheffield in Chicago and the Third Ward in Houston. I agree that we are witnessing in American something much larger than gentrification that will be truly transformative for our cities.

However, the majority of the book was very accommo
Aug 31, 2014 V rated it liked it
Shelves: cities
Somewhat interesting in terms of explaining the phenomenon of demographic inversion that is happening in US cities whereby rich people are moving into the cities and poor people into the suburbs. The discussion could have been more detailed, but a somewhat decent basic overview.
Mar 08, 2013 Luis rated it it was amazing
A great book that brings focus to ideas and thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head since undergrad. It confirmed for me that there is a trend in American cities that people who grew up in the suburbs are turning to the city in there twenties and choosing to settle there. This book explores neighborhoods in which this has occurred and talks about the changing face of the suburbs as they become the ethnic enclaves of the late 19th century. The changing landscape of suburbia and and urb ...more
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ALAN EHRENHALT was the executive editor of Governing magazine from 1990 to 2009. He is the author of The United States of Ambition, The Lost City, and Democracy in the Mirror. In 2000, he was the recipient of the American Political Science Association's Carey McWilliams Award for distinguished contributions to the field of political science by a journalist. He is currently Information Director at ...more
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