How to ensure that everyone can live a life with opportunity and meaning is an enduring question. It is also a question related in part to where people live. Are homes and neighborhoods vibrant, safe, affordable, and nurturing? Do they support different kinds of people living different kinds of dreams? What are the roles of the private sector, individuals, and experts in building these good communities? What roles do governments have in making places healthy, supporting local initiatives and preferences, and creating a framework so that everyone contributes toward the common good? At a time when such questions are barely being asked, at least at a national level, an historical perspective is especially valuable.
In Saving America’s Cities, Lizabeth Cohen—dean emerita of the Radcliffe Institute and Jones professor of American studies—addresses these larger questions about what people owe each other in society. She uses the life of “ ‘top city saver,’ ” “ ‘Mr. Urban Renewal,’ ” and “ ‘master rebuilder’ ” Ed Logue to tell the story of urban policy in the United States from the 1950s to the 1980s. Like Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump or Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Logue during his working life found himself in the center of a series of major federal and state approaches to revitalizing urban areas. A controversial figure who died in 2000, he was very active in taking advantage of programs and creating new opportunities, using his skills as a negotiator to capture funds from newly approved programs and his capacity as an innovator to launch additional policy and program initiatives in three cities. Focusing most attention on the central cities of medium to larger metropolitan areas, he also dabbled in working at a metropolitan and state level. He had a lifetime commitment to racial equity, particularly notable in his hiring practices.