Michael B. Katz


On his book Why Don't American Cities Burn?

Cover Interview of February 05, 2012

A close-up

If you come across this book in a bookstore, I hope you will browse the Prologue, “The Death of Shorty,” and that it will draw you in to the rest of the book. Even if it does not, the story provides a concrete, vivid illustration of all the book’s themes. It shows how complicated and interconnected the issues are, and it reminds readers that the historical and sociological material in the book refers to real people, human beings struggling to survive with some dignity on the mean streets of North Philadelphia and other American cities.

I would point readers, too, to the section on the “management of marginalization” in the title chapter. For it highlights aspects of everyday experience whose significance is easy to miss. And it limns modern techniques for keeping the peace in the face of persistent, and growing, inequality. This is an area in which America is a world leader.

If you pick up the book, please also browse the Epilogue and think about the wonderful quotation from the brilliant urbanist Anaya Roy with which the book ends. I want readers to understand what the book calls “the existential dilemma of urban studies” and enter the conversation about how we can shape a new narrative that energizes, not depresses, the bright young people who want to help build a better urban future.