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How America Rebuilds Shrinking Cities
By Brent D. Ryan. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012, 277 pp., $45 hardcover
Brent D. Ryan teaches urban design and public policy at MIT and is at heart a modernist. His modernist inclinations might tempt some new urbanists to dismiss his newly published book as yet another attempt by a hostile academy to show that New Urbanism is socially or aesthetically retrograde.
But it would be wiser to approach Decline After Decline with an open mind. There’s a lot to learn from it. Ryan, who has worked as an urban planner in New York, Boston, and Chicago, possesses one of the more nuanced understandings of New Urbanism that I’ve encountered among academics from outside our movement. His book, while in some respects critical of New Urbanism, has instructive things to say about the challenges of fixing broken cities.
Ryan examines two of America’s toughest cases—Detroit, which lost more than 150,000 housing units between 1950 and 2000, and North Philadelphia, which in the same period hemorrhaged more than 300,000 inhabitants. He probes these two scarred big-city expanses in careful detail, trying to determine which revitalization strategies have a strong likelihood of delivering long-term benefits.
As Ryan sees it, the experience