The Unheavenly City

Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1970.

“‘This book will probably strike many readers as the work of an ill-tempered and mean-spirited fellow.’ These words begin Edward Banfield’s 1970 classic, The Unheavenly City, one of the most contentious, interesting, and insightful books ever written on urban policy. Banfield was often right, but he was never more accurate than in foreseeing the storm of angry reviews that greeted his book. Banfield described The Unheavenly City as “an attempt by a social scientist to think about the problems of cities.” In the late 1960s, America took its urban problems and its public intellectuals seriously. Banfield was a serious scholar who stood at the center of the national debate on urban America. Banfield’s core, correct message was that the utopian policies meant to solve America’s urban problems were going to fail. Few today will rise to the defense of the dense housing projects that concentrated the poor, or urban renewal, or the Model Cities Program. Banfield’s statement that mass transit would not ‘make any contribution to the solution of the serious problems of the city’ today seems far wiser than the contemporary denunciation of that claim in the pages of the New York Times.” — Edward Glaeser

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