The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America

The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in AmericaMillions Of Americans Yearn For A Lost Sense Of Community, For The Days When Neighbors Looked Out For One Another And Families Were Stable And Secure The S Are Regarded As The Golden Age Of Community, But S Rebellion And S Nostalgia Have Blurred Our View Of What Life Was Really Like Back ThenIn The Lost City, Alan Ehrenhalt Cuts Through The Fog, Immersing Us In The Sights, Sounds, And Rhythms Of Life In America Forty Years Ago He Takes Us Down The Streets And Into The Homes, Schools, And Shops Of Three Neighborhoods In One Quintessentially American City Chicago In St Nicholas Of Tolentine Parish On The Southwest Side, We See How The Local Catholic Church Served As The Moral And Social Center Of Community Life In Bronzeville, The Heart Of The Black South Side, We Meet The Civic Leaders Who Offered Hope And Role Models To People Hemmed In By Poverty And Segregation And In Elmhurst, A Commuter Suburb Bursting With New Subdivisions, We Witness The Culture Of Middle Class Conformity And The Ways In Which Children And Adults Bent To The Rules Of The Majority CultureThrough Evocative Stories And Incisive Analysis, Ehrenhalt Shows That The Glue Holding Each Neighborhood Together Was An Unstated Social Compact Under Which People Accepted Limits In Their Lives And Deferred To Authority Figures To Enforce Those Limits A Compact Destroyed By The Baby Boomers Rejection Of Authority In The S Since That Time, An Entire Generation Has Come To Believe That Personal Choice Is The Most Important Of Life S Values But Ehrenhalt Argues That If We Truly Wish To Balance The Demands Of Modern Life With A Feeling Of Community, We Have A Great Deal To Learn From The Limited Life Of The S The Lost City Reveals The Price We Must Pay To Restore Community In Our Lives Today And The Values That Will Make Such A Restoration Possible Ehrenhalt s The Lost City is a tremendous and, really, not all that dated example of the best kind of communitarian criticism which the 1990s provided While he plainly approached his subject matter the ways in which the relative absence of economically, socially, or technologically enabled consumer or political choice in the 1950s resulted in forms of community which were filled with rich or at least genuinely mixed civic rewards with much of the then current communitarian or civic republican literature in mind, his detailed reportage and his framing of the crucial questions enabled him to produce something much greater than a mix urban sociology and political theory Really, it is almost a work of moral or historical philosophy For Ehrenhalt, the fact that mid century America was one where Christian religious presumptions about sin and wickedness allowed for an articulation of boundaries between worthy and unworthy behaviors meant that the aforementioned economic, social, or technological constrictions could be understood as meaningful in ways that they couldn t be in our choice obsessed, individualistic era today That meaning was, to be sure, often fought against, or even when it wasn t it was interpreted in various ways struggles over education, privacy, progress, and authority, whether it had to do with public schooling or Catholic parishes or factory jobs or journalism are revealed as complicated and rich than we might imagine otherwise thanks to Ehrenhalt s approach to telling these stories The great impression I have after finishing The Lost City is that Ehrenhalt has very effectively described social dynamics which have been played out in important ways as American society and the places where Americans live have changed over the past half century it s going to take me a while to think through what all those ways are which, really, is what the best sort of books can do. Very interesting to me because I lived near those three neighborhoods in the 1950 s His ideas about imposing control of choices in order to foster community are chilling to me Maybe I wanted to hear about adopting limitations on choices in order to commit to a community. The primary thesis of this book seems to be that Americans had a sense of well being in the 1950s and the Baby Boomers are mostly to blame for its absence today.The belief that the 50s were an fairly idyllic time is not simply nostalgia by those adults who lived through it Despite the nuclear and communist threats, corrupt political bosses, lack of privacy, racial injustice, constrictive roles for women and the dictatorial rules to be found just about everywhere one went, most people felt pretty good about life The optimism that exudes from the media of the day is tangible.So why was everyone so damn happy Ehrenhalt believes it was the social codes that were enforced by church, family, school and society at large that made for a content populace Authority, in other words, makes most people happy.Say what The concept may sound alien to us in 2015 or in 1995 when this book was published but it might not be so far fetched In one of his stronger arguments, Ehrenhalt says that while there is always a small group of bright and articulate libertarian minded people who wish to throw off all the chains that bind, most people are not like this Most people prefer order and a rulebook and get nuts when they don t have one or when others don t follow it The libertarian fallacy is the belief that everyone deep down wants to be like them In what sometimes sounds like a cranky old man telling kids to get off his lawn, Ehrenhalt lays the majority of the blame for this lost community at the feet of the Baby Boomers It was their teeming masses, he says, that were crammed into too small suburban houses and too crowded schools Was it constrictive architecture that eventually drove the Boomers to clamor so loudly about their need for personal space and to whip off anything that looked remotely like a shackle In the 1950s, privacy, choice and space were in short supply By the time the Boomers matured, if they knew nothing else, this generation knew they wanted lots of all of these things In their drive for abolition of rules of almost any sort, the relative calm that was known in 1950s America was seemingly swept away like a rushing river had burst through Mayberry In its wake, today we have 25 types of toothpaste and over 300 TV channels to choose between While this might make the libertarians among us rejoice, what about the majority of people who are intimidated by these things and prefer things to be less overwhelming As Ehrenhalt says It is not the place of the historian or social critic to mock the comforts of ordinary people If the anchors that made for a stable society will one day be restored, Ehrenhalt believes it will have to come from a future generation who are not so averse to limitations, who welcome a bit authoritative control, who will gladly exchange a little less freedom for a far less chaotic world Overall, the different areas of Chicago Parish, Ghetto and Suburb that are the focus of the book, are well evoked The book is a bit less effective at selling the arguments presented as there is little hard evidence given to support them Nonetheless, Lost City was a thought provoking read and is worth picking up if you ever wondered how we went from sock hops to Twitter feeds. This book is a study of 1950s Chicago, focusing on aspects related to urban and suburban communities during this period The author discusses the desire many Americans have for community in the contemporary period he wrote in the mid 1990s , and the lessons they can learn from the past.The book was well written and interesting, and the author makes his points well I liked the fact that he discusses the virtues of the past while not romanticizing it However, I thought the writing style was a bit choppy, with sections that appeared to be like a memoir interspersed with the author s reflections Somehow, it didn t flow well. A loaner from my brother, this was a surprisingly good read It appears as if it will be a dry sociological study of several Chicago communities, but instead it was a rich social and cultural history with interviews and great anecdotes about 3 Chicago communities in the 1950s His basic premise is that although it is good that people have choice and authoritarian and segregated communities should have ended, that we may not always be better off He wrote this 15 years ago and it s interesting already to consider that people have gravitated back toward community, as cities have rebounded and New Urbanism has made even suburban areas dense It s always nice when a book exceeds your expectations and this one, a fairly quick read, surely exceeded mine. While highly appreciative of the author s research and ability to describe what the 1950s felt like to various social groups, I found that he did too well of a job of recreating the atmosphere of that decade For me, the corruption, segregation and cultural pressures portrayed in each chapter totally override the regular attempts at justifying a nostalgia for order and authority If you re a conservative type looking for an alternative philosophy to the current laissez faire style of Republicanism, this may be for you If you re a progressive, then perhaps you may want to give this a chance to see what American life looks like to the other side. Hmm I m really interested in the specific history of Chicago here But I don t think I can put up with the author s moral framework He makes it all about this supposed trade off between quality of life and individual freedom I think that is a false dichotomy, and he doesn t offer any real evidence Things were better in the 50s because everyone conformed, too bad that was a rough deal for minorities just does not do it for me. Although I don t agree with the entirety of the author s thesis, involving the importance of retaining an external authority in society and a personal sense of sin, I found this fascinating reading With his examination of 3 Chicago communities in the 1950 s the historical details resonated with me His discussion of Bronzeville added to what I learned from Timuel Black s oral histories, published after this book although Ehrenhalt quotes Black several times Black and Ehrenhalt seem to agree, for somewhat different reasons, that was lost than gained in the demise of Bronzeville, despite the subsequent economic advancement of many of its former inhabitants Another community focused on is the suburb of Elmhurst, also of personal interest to me because I spent a lot of happy times there visiting my cousins after they moved away from us and the south side I feel confident that part of the reason the author chose that particular community was the existence of the Elmhurst Historical Society, where my aunt devoted many hours of labor to preserve the town s history Although the third locus of his study, a white ethnic, Catholic neighborhood on the southwest side, was foreign territory to me as a child, it too was an intriguing look at a place and era of close knit community that may be gone forever. A brilliant meditation on three Chicago neighborhoods in the 1950s relationships, community, stability and the requisite conformity and acquiescence to authority In demanding personal freedom and autonomy beginning with the 60s we have lost relationships and community Can one have community without conformity

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

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  • Paperback
  • 320 pages
  • The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America
  • Alan Ehrenhalt
  • English
  • 01 September 2018
  • 9780465041930

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