Rebuilding Broken Cities.

AuthorBader, Eleanor J.
PositionThe Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America

In The Fight to Save the Town, Michelle Wilde Anderson chronicles a vicious cycle:

A local community's job base vanishes, evictions escalate, and mortgages go into default. This triggers a decline in property taxes, which leads to shrinking public services. Libraries are shuttered, public school class sizes increase, the school year is shortened, the professional fire department becomes a volunteer force, and publicly funded ambulance services vanish. Not surprisingly, people of color and immigrants bear the brunt of this disinvestment.

"Between 2000 and 2009," Anderson writes, "there was a 31 percent increase in the number of municipalities, counties, and census-designated places where at least one in five people lived under the poverty line."

The Fight to Save the Town zeroes in on four diverse localities--Detroit, Michigan; Josephine County, Oregon; Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Stockton, California--looking at both their economic downfall and the determined mutual aid and resistance that have developed to resuscitate them.

In 2012, when the 310,000-resident racially segregated city of Stockton declared bankruptcy, "small-government" Republicans ceded water management to a private firm. This saddled the city with a twenty-year, $600 million contract that raised residents' water outrage led to the ousting of these officials and the election of a progressive mayor and city council.

Empowered volunteers quickly raised funds to create soccer teams for kids, clear dilapidated parks, build new playgrounds, and begin working to bring a health clinic to a neighborhood without one. Under the leadership of Michael Tubbs, a Black Stanford graduate who won a seat on the Stockton city council in 2012 and later became the city's mayor, the library reopened, youth services were restored, and the city's lowest-income area got its first credit union and bank. Anti-gang diversion efforts soared, and a universal basic income pilot program was launched.

But opposition to these measures was fierce, and it led to Tubbs's 2020 electoral defeat. Nonetheless, many of his administration's changes remain in place, guarded by vigilant residents.

Similarly, residents of Lawrence, Massachusetts, a once-thriving mill town with a largely Spanish-speaking immigrant population, came together in the wake of factory closures. Budget...

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