Reviews

Praise

Reviews agreed that Ehrenhalt was a clear, descriptive and unbiased writer. It was perceived by reviewers as more of a descriptive than argumentative work. Publisher’s Weekly calls the work a “lucid, provocative, and rather hopeful forecast for America’s cities- one that illuminates their enduring appeal.” Curtis with the Wall Street Journal says that what “Mr.Ehrenhalt does especially well is avoid the smugness and triumphalism that has crept into so much writing about urban life in the past decade or so” and that he “doesn’t seem to be a crusader or city tout so much as curious traveler.” Publisher’s Weekly called it an “intriguing survey” and Siegel of the New York Times called it a “progress report of sorts”.

Reviewers also agreed that the author does a good job with his detailed examples of city neighborhoods in the midst of this change.  Curtis says that Ehrenhalt,  “locates place securely in context”.  Publisher’s Weekly says that the book is “reminiscent of the work of Jane Jacobs, integrates fine-grained readings of street life with shrewd analyses…”.  Siegel states that Ehrenhalt was “…most persuasive when describing the texture and feel of gentrifying neighborhoods.”

Criticisms

Not all reviewers were convinced that the demographic changes were a “great inversion” rather than gentrification.  Curtis says Ehrenhalt’s description “isn’t news, or particularly startling.  Essentially, he is writing about gentrification.” Joel Kotkin, author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, is Ehrenhalt’s strongest critic on this point. Siegel cites Kotkin, who claims that “the downtown revival Ehrenhalt applauds is merely a niche phenomenon confined to singles, childless couples, wealthy empty nesters and recently graduated students transitioning to a delayed adulthood.” Siegel, himself, is not as openly critical as Kotkin.

Siegel seems to feel that the demographic shifts are more broad than Kotkin; However, he is very critical of Ehrenhalt’s optimism on the matter.  Siegel writes, “Urban high-end living is part of the decline of the American middle class” and that “the quest for urbanity will no doubt continue among those who can afford to pay for private policing and private schools.  But so far, for all the upbeat articles on the clustering of ‘the creative class’ and the very wealthy in the new downtowns of Chicago and Philadelphia, millions in the private-sector middle class continue to head for the exits.”

Siegel is also not convinced of the author’s claim that, “Much of suburbia will seek to reinvent itself in a newly urbanized mode” and that it’s not even necessary to move downtown to achieve a sense of urbanity. Siegel argues Ehrenhalt doesn’t cite the specifics.  Finally, Siegel states that Ehrenhalt has a hard time explaining what the successes of the new urbanism add up to.