Larry Bennett


On his book The Third City: Chicago and American Urbanism

Cover Interview of November 30, 2010

In a nutshell

The Third City is an unconventional interpretation and explanation of contemporary Chicago.

By exploring this iconic American city, I comment on broader trends in American urbanism.  And what I mean by American urbanism is the cluster of attributes that define cities in the United States.  These attributes include decentralized and relatively low-density metropolitan regions, a high degree of socio-economic segmentation within metropolitan regions, continued (but not always successful) efforts to create busy downtown areas and congenial residential districts, ongoing economic challenges as cities seek to attract private investment, and again—across metropolitan areas—great disparities in the provision of public services and access to other public amenities.

Chicago is one of the United States’ most observed cities—by visitors and social scientists, as well as by local journalists, scholars, and creative writers.  Rich literatures have contributed to a particular view of Chicago that resonates locally and across the United States—dynamic but culturally parochial, the site of a perpetual civil war pitting reformers against “the machine,” “the city of neighborhoods.”

In The Third City I seek to determine how relevant these images continue to be, and to the extent they should be set aside or at least modified, what are the most striking features defining the emergent Chicago.  Further: how is this new Chicago—what I characterize as the third Chicago—influencing the broader shape of American urbanism?

This is a book for readers who appreciate cities.  It’s especially for those observers of cities who are struck by the paradoxical character of American urbanism:  revitalized downtown and near-downtown residential areas, persistent social disparities, seemingly unending suburbanization—even in the face of energy and broader environmental constraints.