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date: 24 March 2017

Urban Politics in the United States since 1945

Summary and Keywords

Urban politics provides a means to understand the major political and economic trends and transformations of the last seventy years in American cities. The growth of the federal government; the emergence of new powerful identity- and neighborhood-based social movements; and large-scale economic restructuring have characterized American cities since 1945. The postwar era witnessed the expansion of scope and scale of the federal government, which had a direct impact on urban space and governance, particularly as urban renewal fundamentally reshaped the urban landscape and power configurations. Urban renewal and liberal governance, nevertheless, spawned new and often violent tensions and powerful opposition movements among old and new residents. These movements engendered a generation of city politicians who assumed power in the 1970s. Yet all of these figures were forced to grapple with the larger forces of capital flight, privatization, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, immigration, and gentrification. This confluence of factors meant that as many American cities and their political representatives became demographically more diverse by the 1980s and 1990s, they also became increasingly separated by neighborhood boundaries and divided by the forces of class and economic inequality.

Keywords: cities, politics, segregation, race, urban renewal, immigration, gay rights, federal government, neighborhoods, urban uprisings

Urban politics traditionally evokes images of Tammany Hall–style machine bosses, backroom dealings, and political favors in the late 19th and early 20th century.1 With the dissolving of the boss system and the larger decline of cities after 1945, like shuttered downtown department stores, urban politics seemed to represent a relic of a bygone era. Although urban politics undoubtedly changed from its earlier form in the second half of the 20th century, it became no less an important topic or force.

The Great Depression and World War II fundamentally expanded the scope and scale of the federal government. These events dramatically transformed urban space and governance for the next half century. In the postwar period, the federal government fueled both suburbanization and urban renewal and redevelopment, which created a new physical landscape and contributed to further racial and economic segmentation and inequity. These factors in turn shaped urban politics. In the decades after World War II, cities across the country became the home of new residents and groups such as African Americans from the South; Latinos from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic; young professionals; and queer people who altered and redefined urban politics. While white ethnic neighborhood associations, black power organizers, the middle-class members of the neighborhood movement, and gay rights activists had fundamentally different and often contrasting ideological orientations, they shared both an opposition to the liberal model of governance and a desire to forge an alternative form of urban politics emphasizing the neighborhood.

These movements produced city politicians who represented the various facets of the urban politics in the last decades of the 20th century. Figures including Coleman Young, Frank Rizzo, Harvey Milk, Ed Koch, and Tom Bradley represented the new demographic diversity of the cities in the 1970s and beyond. Yet all of these figures grappled with the larger forces of capital flight, the fiscal crisis, privatization, the contraction of the social welfare state, the war on drugs, mass incarceration, immigration, and gentrification. This confluence of factors meant that as many American cities and their political representatives became demographically more diverse they also became increasingly separated by neighborhood boundaries and divided by the forces of class and economic inequality. Residential segregation and economic restructuring, which was produced by a range of political forces, continued to define the parameters and possibilities of urban politics into the 21st century.

Urban Redevelopment and Its Discontents

The postwar period marked a new era in the relationship between the federal government and American cities. The federal government had played a minimalist role in urban affairs in the early 20th century, but after World War II, new agencies and entitlements made it a key actor in shaping industry, transportation, and residency, and it was more intimately involved in urban redevelopment and municipal governance than ever before. Federal policy also subsidized the migration of millions of white families, industry, and their tax dollars into the suburban periphery while further concentrating the poor and people of color in the urban core. This sorting reinforced the segmentation of metropolitan space, creating new dilemmas for American cities.

These developments coincided with and influenced key changes in the power structure of city governments across the country. In the first decades of the 20th century, cities like Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago, and Detroit had functioned on a neighborhood-based, machine-style system held together by ethnic and community attachments and the incentives of jobs and other benefits.2 By the end of World War II, most cities had moved away from this very localized and personality-driven form of politics. Cities passed new charters that implemented at-large elections so that more city councilors represented the entire municipality rather than a single ward. The system explicitly de-emphasized the power of any single neighborhood and instead intended to elect officials who would represent “the city as a whole.”3 This innovation along with other changes led to the election and appointment of a new generation of politicians and officials committed to the principles of liberal reform and economic growth.

Urban planning and urban renewal programs became the primary mechanism through which municipal governments implemented the shared goals of reform and growth. By the end of the 1950s, all major American cities had some type of redevelopment program. From Miami to Chicago, New Haven to San Francisco, cities also boasted urban renewal coalitions composed of urban politicians, planning officials, corporate executives, and real estate developers to initiate these plans. Urban planning officials like Robert Moses of New York, Edward Logue of Boston, and Edmund Bacon of Philadelphia amassed unprecedented power in their pursuit of modernizing urban space.4 The focus on urban planning represented the larger political and social emphasis in the postwar era, which put a heightened faith on expertise and bureaucratic efficiency.

The federal government, through legislation such as the Housing Acts of 1949 and 1954 and the Highway Act of 1956, gave cities millions of dollars and wide discretion to develop their own projects. Years of neglect had left all U.S. cities in dire need of infrastructure investment; city governments quickly embraced the new windfall from the federal government to simultaneously modernize their city and counter the forces of mass suburbanization. Local officials became increasingly savvy at directing urban renewal funds toward economic redevelopment, particularly enhancing central business districts.5 Thus, rather than improving the infrastructure in older low-income areas, urban redevelopment occurred at the expense of poor, immigrant, and racially diverse communities.

Redevelopment agencies used the power of eminent domain to clear “blighted” neighborhoods and make room either for new expressways or to create parcels of private land to sell to private developers to build new skyscrapers to improve the city’s tax base. The new projects often boasted a modernist architectural aesthetic that marked a clear differentiation from the previous era of city building and urban life. However, the projects imposed a new architectural uniformity among American cities and also created new tensions that captured the contradictions of modern liberalism and urban politics. Officials believed that urban renewal would bring order and stability to the cities. Instead, it generated strife and new forms of neighborhood politics. In places like Boston, urban renewal heightened the sense of neighborhood allegiance, distrust of liberal technocrats and overall alienation among blue-collar Irish and Italians who did not follow the massive migration of whites out to the suburbs.6 The emphasis on defending turf showed the persistent importance of place and neighborhood in defining both the identity and politics of many white urban residents in the postwar era.

In other parts of the country, urban renewal, particularly highway construction, galvanized residents to protect their neighborhoods.7 Jane Jacobs, who led a campaign to save her West Village neighborhood and other parts of lower Manhattan from highway construction, influenced this form of civic activism and offered a fierce critique of Robert Moses’s style of mass clearance programs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961).8 Whereas Moses’s vision put little value into neighborhoods, Jacobs emphasized the importance of distinctive local communities and contended that they were the most fundamental unit of civic life. She inspired a new type of urban political engagement, encouraging residents to join community boards, speak out at public hearings, and lobby their elected officials in order to fight for their neighborhoods.

The opposition to urban renewal highlighted the ways in which citizens increasingly worked within the channels of municipal politics to create change. These protests successfully convinced city officials in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, and Boston to abandon plans for expressway building, which facilitated a shift in urban planning politics from top-down urban renewal toward emphasis on citizen participation and input.9 It laid the foundation for many of the urban political issues and movements that emerged in the 1970s. Yet it also revealed that this form of action benefited some residents and neighborhoods over others. The movement achieved its greatest success in saving white middle-class neighborhoods in such places as New York’s Greenwich Village and Cambridge, Massachusetts.10 The protests proved less successful in non-white and low-income neighborhoods. In Boyle Heights in East Los Angeles, neighborhood activists failed to prevent the construction of two large interchanges and six freeways from bisecting the community in the 1960s. The city also forcibly evicted residents of the nearby Chavez Ravine barrio to build a new baseball stadium for the Los Angeles Dodgers.11 These instances exposed not only urban political power hierarchies, but also the growing and changing diversity of postwar metropolises.

New Populations, New Tensions

The postwar period witnessed the mass migration of new residents into cities around the country, particularly African Americans from the south and Latinos from Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, in search of job opportunities and a better quality of life. This migration produced new forms of neighborhood politics and fostered a grassroots rebellion against liberalism at the local level, particularly as residents came to realize the possibilities of both violence and municipal politics as a means to protect their neighborhood and individual rights.

Newcomers and existing residents of color bore the brunt of the urban renewal plans. Urban redevelopment agencies routinely targeted minority neighborhoods for clearance to construct new expressways and skyscrapers. These projects significantly shrank the housing supply available in most cities to underrepresented groups and created competition among African Americans, Latinos, and Japanese Americans recently returned from internment camps for the few available units. Landlords significantly overcharged for those housing options that were available, many of which were substandard.12 The situation also led to a dramatic increase in applications for public housing. In response, city officials across the country built projects using money offered by the federal government. However, local officials confronted staunch opposition to projects in or near white sections of cities. In Chicago, and Cicero, Illinois, for example, whites rioted in opposition to the potential of public housing in their communities.13 White residents also feared individual families, particularly African Americans, moving into their neighborhoods.

Many white working- and middle-class residents in places like Detroit, Chicago, and Miami responded to the threat of encroachment of both public housing projects and individual African American families by forming new neighborhood associations. In Detroit, residents founded almost two hundred neighborhood associations between 1943 and 1965, forming one of the largest and most power grassroots movements in Detroit’s history.14 The association members sought to protect their neighborhoods and individual property values through a combination of tactics that included pickets, arson, vandalism, and physical violence. Yet, more often, members worked within the traditional channels of politics, mobilizing residents to send letters, testify at city council meetings, and most of all to vote.15 The movement helped to usher in mayoral candidates like Albert Cobo, who took an explicitly “pro-homeowner stance,” which elevated the voice of the neighborhood groups in local political affairs and led to Detroit’s retreat on its public housing plans.16 Officials predominantly decided to place new public housing projects in already poor and minority or transitioning areas and provided far fewer units than originally planned or needed.17 The claim by grassroots activists that public housing was a form of communism also proved an effective argument at the height of the Cold War and further justified the decisions of officials in Detroit to limit the construction of public housing. However, the cumulative effect of these policies increased patterns of racial segregation and inequality.18

The targets of these processes of urban renewal and homeowner politics did not stand by as passive victims. In cities in the North and West, members of underrepresented communities worked hard to achieve their own rights and protection by also working within the political system to challenge discriminatory practices, often creating alliances with white liberals sympathetic to the cause. Many urban liberal politicians in the North and West incorporated civil rights language of equal opportunity and equality under the law into their platforms and speeches and pushed for the passage of new legislation to ban forms of racial discrimination in public accommodations, employment, education, and housing at the municipal and state levels.19 However, civil rights activists faced difficulty getting the ideals and promises of equality embedded in these laws transformed into a lived reality. This difficulty stemmed in part from the fact that very few political officials of color in municipal office were elected to represent minority groups and their neighborhoods. The shift to a citywide election system might have diluted the power of the white ethnic machines, but it also increased the difficulty of electing local representatives from segregated neighborhoods. Even those candidates from underrepresented groups elected in the new system faced considerable obstacles.20 Edward Roybal, a Mexican American, succeeded in a 1949 campaign for a Los Angeles city council seat representing a multiracial eastside district. He successfully built a coalition that included Mexican Americans, African Americans, Japanese Americans, and members of the left-labor movement. However, once in office, Roybal confronted the limits of his political power. He proved unable to prevent freeway construction and projects like Dodger Stadium from destroying the homes of many members of his district.21

Roybol’s multiracial alliance was relatively rare. Many Asians and Latinos moved into deteriorating neighborhoods like Boyle Heights, the Near North Side in Chicago, and Washington Heights in New York previously occupied by lower-middle-class whites who had departed for the suburbs. These neighborhoods experienced the consequences of postwar capital flight and neglect but also became the sites of new forms of community activism and laid the foundation for later political campaigns.22 Yet this segmentation made the forging of multiracial alliances at the city level difficult to achieve and sustain. Many Latino and Asian residents navigated the increasingly segregated landscape by positioning themselves in comparison to African Americans and each other in order to gain favor and a superior position in the changing racial and political hierarchies of American cities and the nation as a whole.23

In the growing metropolises of the sunbelt south like Charlotte and Atlanta, African Americans found it easier to build alliances with municipal political leaders who came to see African Americans as potential allies in their efforts to carry out urban growth and redevelopment.24 Residential segregation in Atlanta and Charlotte, nevertheless, actually increased during the period of this coalition as the downtown elite’s emphasis on urban renewal and economic growth depended on tactics that further concentrated African Americans in distinct urban neighborhoods.25 By the early 1960s, members of the civil rights community in Atlanta and Charlotte chafed at the asymmetrical dimensions of the alliance and grew more assertive on issues of meaningful desegregation and economic equity.26 Civil rights activists demanded school and neighborhood desegregation and better job opportunities, thereby threatening the business elite’s control over urban politics and highlighting the tenuousness of the coalition.27 As African American leaders across the country increasingly questioned both alliances with white liberal and moderate politicians and the mechanisms of integration as a means to achieve equality, violence in the streets made racial tensions impossible to ignore.

The grassroots rebellion within the ghettos of most major cities in the 1960s permanently changed the relationship between race and politics and propelled new forms of urban politics. The wave of urban violence began in 1963 and crested in 1967 with 163 uprisings, the most significant occurring in Los Angeles, Newark, and Detroit. The uprisings were often local in their orientation, but together represented a reaction to decades of spatial concentration of poor African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican Americans in the urban core and the failure of policymakers to establish more racial and economic equality or impose reforms on police practices.28 Although not part of a unified political movement, the riots were above all about controlling turf and regaining control of black and Latino neighborhoods, which participants believed were controlled by political outsiders. The targets of aggression tellingly, therefore, were primarily the police and white-owned businesses.29 Participants, nevertheless, rarely left the ghettoes to attack city hall, corporate headquarters, or other symbols of the urban political power structure and white establishment.

Even without a physical attack on government buildings, the violence created a crisis for leadership in many major cities and challenged the liberal vision of government and urban planning. The uprisings powerfully demonstrated that the sense of cohesion and stability that postwar liberals believed their modernist concept of government would provide had not occurred. These events served as a key turning point in urban politics, but were not a nail in the coffin. As historian Heather Thompson argues, “the polarizing urban rebellions of the 1960s generated new political possibilities for America’s inner cities.”30 Thus, while the riots were in part a response to the limits of political power, their legacy continued to play out politically and in response to liberalism.

Neighborhood Power

The late 1960s produced a series of political movements, politicians, and issues that changed the nature of urban politics. Black power, white ethnic conservatism, and the neighborhood movement were each extensions of earlier groups and causes that had opposed urban renewal. Yet each movement made that critique even more pointed and more directly sought to influence and change the political system by gaining electoral representation. While these movements had key ideological differences, they all embraced a model of neighborhood politics and sought to turn the segregation and segmentation of cities into a source of political strength.

The uprisings validated and enhanced a new generation of black power activists, who more than any group reconfigured urban electoral politics in the 1970s.31 Black power activists sought to use the systemic segregation of African Americans into urban ghettoes as a means to gain self-determination, community control, and political power. As Eldridge Cleaver articulated in 1969, African Americans “didn’t choose to be packed into ghettos, but since that’s where we are, we’re not going to get any real power over our lives unless we use what have—our strength as a bloc.”32 Black power activists in several cities came to realize that representation in politics would provide a way not just to gain power, but also to channel material resources into their communities.33

The turn toward electoral politics by black power activists coincided with the decision by many African American candidates to embrace the ideals and rhetoric of black power, group pride, and neighborhood identity to gain the support of the African American community. This convergence contributed to a new wave of African American mayors in cities across the country. The election of Carl Stokes in Cleveland, Richard Hatcher in Gary, Coleman Young in Detroit, Maynard Jackson in Atlanta, Tom Bradley in Los Angeles, Lionel Wilson in Oakland, Wilson Goode in Philadelphia, and Harold Washington in Chicago embodied the sea change in urban political leadership. Beginning in the 1970s, thousands of African Americans gained office in cities across the country, serving on city councils and school committees and in other positions of municipal politics.34 Thomas Sugrue observed “The surge in black political power maybe have been the most enduring consequence of the civil rights revolution.”35 Although the election of African Americans like Bradley, Goode, and Washington often depended on forging coalitions with white residents, these victories occurred primarily in cities that had black majorities or pluralities. The persistence of segregated neighborhoods, therefore, played a key role in the rise of black political representation, reinforcing the ways in which structural segregation created possibilities for social movements. Yet the persistent economic dilemmas of many low-income minority neighborhoods illustrated how African Americans, even in political office, had difficulty overcoming the pernicious forces of segregation.

The uprisings in Detroit and elsewhere bolstered and extended the antiliberal politics and defensive localism that had dominated white working-class urban neighborhoods since the 1940s. The violence also motivated many white families who could afford it to move across municipal boundaries, which made the racial ground of many major cities even more unsteady in the late 1960s and 1970s.36 For those who stayed in the city, the uprisings reinforced the sense that their cities and neighborhoods were under attack by both African Americans and white liberal reformers. The mandatory desegregation of schools in cities across the nation in the late 1960s further fueled the anger among many urban whites who believed that they unfairly bore the burden of integration. Like the proposed public housing projects and other elements of urban renewal, these residents saw busing as something imposed by liberal bureaucrats and judges. Their opposition displayed a sense of class resentment and anti-elitism as found in earlier forms of neighborhood defense.37 The situation proved most dramatic and fiercely violent in Boston, where white working-class residents used neighborhood-focused chants such as “Here We Go Southie.” This language and slogan invoked a desire for community control similar to that of black power activists in places like Philadelphia and Oakland.

A series of white conservative politicians channeled this anger and opposition to liberalism into local politics. Racially conservative politicians seized on the riots and busing to appeal to white voters worried about the trajectory of racial and ethnic change. Frank Rizzo emerged from the ranks of the Philadelphia Police Department to become mayor by emphasizing “law-and-order,” invoking inflammatory racial language, and skillfully manipulating the media. Rizzo signaled the persistence and increase of white racialist politics in many white working-class urban neighborhoods during the 1970s.38 Similarly, in Boston a generation of politicians like Louise Day Hicks gained seats on the city and school councils by playing on this opposition to liberal social engineering.39 This resurgent brand of neighborhood-based politics aimed to preserve the systems of racial segregation and counter the rise of black political power. These campaigns illuminated the racial and class fragmentation of Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities throughout the 1970s, which left the future of urban politics up for grabs.40

The late 1960s and 1970s witnessed the rise of another variety of urban neighborhood-based political movement intent on saving local communities. Inspired and forged in part by the freeway revolts of the 1960s, a new urban-based citizens’ movement emerged in places like Brooklyn that made the neighborhood a focal point of action. Like black power and urban white conservatism, neighborhood activists opposed urban renewal and growth-oriented liberalism and sought a return of political and economic power and control to the local level.41 Many of the residents who joined the movement were disillusioned with national politics in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate. They turned to local issues over which they felt they could have more control.42 In many cities this movement altered the structures of municipal governance. For example, in Atlanta, the neighborhood-based opposition to an expressway inspired the formation of the citywide League of Neighborhoods, which exercised increasing power in city elections. In 1974, the group pressured Atlanta to create a new charter that gave increased power and control to city neighborhoods.43

This movement had a powerful impact on urban politics in the 1970s even as it avoided simple political categorization as liberal, conservative, or radical.44 Activists explained their calls of “neighborhood power” as a type of reform, but a type that was in contrast to the bureaucratic reformers who had implemented urban redevelopment.45 The movement stood in direct opposition to the emphasis in the postwar era on large institutions, comprehensive planning, social science, cooperation between big government and business, and modernism. Instead, the neighborhood movement celebrated smallness, intimacy, voluntarism, privacy, and authenticity.46 The movement’s emphasis on individualism and self-reliance and opposition to government intervention at times put participants less in line with the new left than with the new right. Gale Cincotta, a working-class community organizer from Chicago, captured the attitude of many members of the movement, “We don’t want any more government programs. It was government programs that destroyed our cities.”47 Her comment mirrored the sentiment of black power activists and white urban conservatives, showing the widespread sense of disillusionment of many urban residents following the liberal age of urban redevelopment and renewal.

The antigovernment emphasis of neighborhood activists, nevertheless, seemingly ignored the fact that many poor residents required government services like welfare assistance and public housing, revealing a larger class- and race-based tension in the movement. The most powerful and effective neighborhood activists were educated whites who purchased and renovated brownstones in places like Brooklyn. This cohort demonstrated the ways in which neighborhood activists shaped municipal politics and policy. However, their forms of political action ensured that their voices and interests were often heard over less-advantaged people and neighborhoods. The movement’s ability to bring power back to the neighborhood level provided white middle-class residents a means to keep their communities even more exclusive and hostile to outsiders like low-income residents and projects like public housing, homeless shelters, and drug treatment facilities. Thus in asserting the power of the neighborhood, these activists assumed some of the same exclusionary traits as earlier antiliberal residents in places like Detroit and Chicago. These factors made broad-based coalitions difficult to sustain and set the stage for new forms of inequity and conflicts within the local political sphere over the future direction of urban development and distribution of resources.

“The Mayor of Castro Street”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the gay rights movement also increasingly came to understand the importance of the urban neighborhood as a means to gain electoral power. The rise of the gay rights movement intersected with black power, white racial conservatism, and the neighborhood movement. It also shared features of all these groups. San Francisco led and provides the clearest example of these trends. By the late 1960s San Francisco emerged as the epicenter of the nation’s gay population and activism. However, gay activists remained marginal to municipal electoral politics, as was true in most American cities. A group led by Harvey Milk believed that gay residents could not achieve full rights and privileges of citizenship and protection from harassment without electoral representation. Milk was the owner of a camera store in the Castro District of the city, a neighborhood where the forces of urban renewal and suburbanization gave birth to a burgeoning gay enclave where many young professionals started small businesses and renovated Victorian homes.48 Although a political novice, he believed that “You’re never given power, you have to take it.”49 This ethos led him to enter the race for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk lost his first three bids for the position of supervisor, thwarted by San Francisco’s citywide electoral system, but each time he gained more visibility and a following. Milk’s campaigning tactics quickly earned him the nickname of “the mayor of Castro Street.” The title underscored his knack for forging personal connections with local residents to build a following, which was similar to early-20th-century urban white ethnic politicians. The nickname also illustrated his understanding about the power of controlling turf as means to gain power in local electoral politics. Paralleling the black power movement, Milk used the spatial concentration of gays and lesbians to his political advantage. In the mid-1970s San Francisco switched from citywide to district elections as a means to better reflect the new diversity and identity politics of the city. The shift concentrated many middle-class, gay voters into a single precinct centered on the Castro and propelled Milk’s eventual election to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. Drawing on an older model of urban pluralism, Milk also quickly realized that controlling a group and area provided a means to build coalitions. As a candidate and official, he forged alliances with representatives of other identity-based movements such as African Americans, feminists, Latinos, and the Chinese American community, as well the Teamsters and liberals like Mayor George Moscone.50

Throughout his career as candidate and supervisor, Milk valorized the importance of neighborhoods as a central feature of municipal politics. As president of the Castro Valley Association, he frequently railed against the ways in which city elites favored downtown at the expense of neighborhoods and small businesses, which directly echoed the sentiments of citizens’ groups in Brooklyn and Atlanta. In a speech the day after he was inaugurated, he contended, “My election was not alone a question of my gayness. . . . In a very real sense, Harvey Milk represented the spirit of the neighborhoods of San Francisco. . . . my fight to make the voice of the neighborhoods of this city be heard was not unlike the fight to make the voice of the cities themselves be heard.”51 Milk, therefore, remained committed to a vision for the future of the city and queer politics that was rooted in both a neighborhood-based and pluralist past. Many residents of San Francisco, nevertheless, missed the ways in which Milk’s approach drew on this older and more traditional model of ethnic politics and felt under attack by Milk and the change he represented.52 This faction included fellow Board of Supervisor member Dan White, a former firefighter from a largely blue-collar, lower-middle class, socially conservative Catholic neighborhood. White murdered both Milk and Mayor Moscone in November 1978.

Following the death of Milk, the gay community in San Francisco continued his style of neighborhood-based coalition politics. By choosing their own elected officials, patronizing their own businesses and bars, residents of the Castro and other gay neighborhoods across the country increasingly emulated the traditional urban ethnic political model, which gave them increased power in the fragmented landscape of municipal politics. Although gay activists remained relatively weak as an organized political force at the state and federal levels in the 1980s and 1990s, the gay vote became very effective at the municipal level in part due to the concentration of openly gay residents in particular communities that were more often than not middle-class.53 Many African American candidates understood the importance of the gay vote in their efforts to amass a coalition to win the mayor’s office. Chicago’s Harold Washington reached out to gay voters in 1983, making reference to the African American and queer communities’ shared history of police harassment.54 The support of gay voters played a crucial role in Washington’s victory.

These new coalitions underscored the changing demographics and power structure of many cities across the country by the 1980s. Yet the persistence of segregation and commitment to neighborhood and group identity coupled with class politics prevented these partnerships from evolving into a permanent alliance.55 The development of new coalitions in the 1970s and new leaders represented the culmination of the previous twenty years of urban neighborhood organizing and marked a new era of city politics. Yet many wondered if these new politicians had inherited a hollow prize, as the economic fortunes of the nation’s cities took a sharp turn for the worse.

The Hollow Prize?

The continued flight of residents and capital to the suburbs, deindustrialization, the recession of 1973, the oil crisis, increasing inflation, and unemployment hit urban areas across the country hard. The tax revolt of the late 1970s further devastated cities that depended heavily on property taxes to pay for key services. This series of cascading problems created a budgetary crisis for nearly every major American city. Some, like Cleveland, Boston, Newark, Detroit, and New York, veered toward insolvency. The fiscal crisis once again highlighted the ways in which city politics were shaped both by larger national trends beyond their control and by actions of the federal government. Federal urban policy in the 1970s and 1980s focused primarily on withdrawing funds from cities. This retrenchment, revealed the continued importance of federal policy in urban politics though in a different way than in the 1950s when it underwrote urban renewal. U.S. president Richard Nixon initiated this shift by launching a “new federalism” that urged strengthening the power of states and municipalities by scaling back funding and programs like the Office of Economic Opportunity. Ensuing presidents pursued a similar course. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration adopted an even more aggressive version of “New Federalism,” which significantly reduced assistance to cities and devolved decision making to local authorities. Coupled with the larger cuts to spending on welfare, homeless services, and low-income housing under Reagan, these budgetary restrictions were devastating. The cuts proved particularly destructive to cities with limited property tax bases and high levels of unemployment and poverty that could not make up the deficit.

The response of many cities to this federal disinvestment and economic restructuring further underscores the newfound faith in the free market and the scaling back of the social welfare state that defined American attitudes about government after 1945. No place more clearly embodied these changes and approaches than New York City. In 1975, New York teetered on the brink of bankruptcy as banks withdrew their lines of credit and the Ford administration refused to intervene, or as the New York Daily News interpreted it: “Drop Dead.” The city narrowly avoided that fate, after local officials implemented strict budget cuts that led to the laying off of over 25,000 city workers including teachers and sanitation workers, the raising of tuition imposed for the first time at the City University of New York, a sharp reduction in expenditures for public parks and libraries, and the creation of a non-elected financial control board with significant power over the municipal budget.56 The garbage piled up on the streets, and graffiti-covered subway cars offered the most visible symbols of New York in the age of the fiscal crisis.

The crisis brought about a change in city leadership and initially propelled the neighborhood movement into political power with the election of Ed Koch in 1977. Koch had begun his career as a Democratic reformer from Greenwich Village. He won the mayoralty through a coalition that brought together the various aspects of the neighborhood movements of the 1970s, including a contingent of middle-class African Americans, white working-class ethnics, middle-class professionals, and gay voters.57 Once inaugurated he focused primarily on economic recovery, implementing a version of austerity politics focusing less on services to the poor and middle class and more on tax breaks for corporate investors and real estate developers. Encapsulating his approach of urban governance, Koch declared soon after taking office that “the main job of municipal government is to create a climate in which private business can expand in the city to provide jobs and profit.”58 This statement represented a reinterpretation of the purpose of local government that had prevailed in New York and other major cities for most of their history.

From 1977 to 1989, Koch implemented this vision of private-sector growth by providing billions of dollars of incentives to economic elites. Koch facilitated office building construction, encouraged corporations to keep their headquarters in Manhattan, and offered subsidies to developers who initiated a real estate boom of commercial spaces and luxury apartments. The Koch administration also initiated the redevelopment of city neighborhoods like SoHo and Lower Manhattan to make them more attractive to tourists and new residents. The Reagan administration’s deregulation of the financial services sector led to the explosive growth of the finance industry in New York.59 Over the course of the 1980s, the city’s economy gained 400,000 jobs, added almost 45 million square feet of new commercial real estate, and basked in soaring tax revenues.60 The city once again assumed its position as the center of global capitalism, with new skyscrapers and a flood of new residents to work on Wall Street or another burgeoning industry and live in luxury apartments.61

Koch and other mayors proved that the emphasis on unfettered private-sector growth especially at the municipal level had become a bipartisan enterprise not solely pursued by conservative Republicans like Reagan. Many observers bemoaned Koch’s style as a decline or end of the postwar liberalism. Koch’s approach, nevertheless, in some respects echoed the growth liberal agenda of urban mayors of the 1950s. While Koch did not initiate the aggressive decimation of low-income neighborhoods by eminent domain and slum clearance that dominated reform strategies of the 1950s, his emphasis on the private sector and austerity created comparably destructive effects. The Koch administration policies effectively evicted New York’s poor and low-income residents by allowing (and even encouraging) the increase in rents and overall cost of living in the city. Moreover, the incentives for corporations generated new employment opportunities, but not for low-income residents who lacked advanced degrees and the skills required for many of the post-industrial jobs that came to New York.62 The high overall employment numbers obscured this form of growing inequality over the course of the 1980s.

The withdrawal of federal funding and the turn toward the private sector further created winners and losers both within and among cities in the 1970s and beyond. U.S. cities began competing with one another for corporate investment as the means to increase their tax bases. This competition put particular pressure on the wave of recently elected African American politicians, many of whom were elected in the very Rust Belt cities where the combination of deindustrialization, the recession, and the retrenchment of federal funds had the most catastrophic impact.

The economic situation produced new pressures to deliver results, which led many mayors, even those who had run on more progressive or black power–based platforms, to pursue pro-growth politics. In Detroit, Coleman Young initially tried to implement an agenda of police reform and increasing African American public- and private-sector employment. Yet, by the late 1970s, Young shifted priorities. He worked closely with the chief executives of the Big Three automobile companies in an effort to keep their investments in Detroit proper. He managed to convince a few automobile factories to move back to the city through generous tax subsidies, and oversaw the construction of the Renaissance Center, an office, hotel, and retail complex. But these projects proved inadequate to address the city’s massive unemployment and drained Detroit further of its tax base. Young’s efforts illuminated that the forces of economic decay and the consistent problems of racial animosity were too powerful for a single official or project to resolve.63

Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley similarly symbolized the challenges for urban politicians leading in a period of rapid economic and demographic change. Bradley was first elected mayor in 1973 through a multiracial coalition of middle-class African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and white liberals; he served five consecutive terms. In the 1970s and 1980s Bradley adopted a politics of austerity, refusing to institute a tax increase to raise money for social services, and instead emphasized turning Los Angeles into a “world class” city. He wooed Japanese investors to spend billions on real estate, particularly downtown.64 At the same time the Bradley administration did little to assist residents of low-income neighborhoods of color like South LA, which was decimated by the flight of manufacturing jobs, the decline in services, and the growing drug economy.65

Bradley did not completely abandon public-sector spending. Rather, he coupled his pro-growth agenda with an increase in the power and budget of the Los Angeles Police Department.66 Fueled by the larger rise of the war on drugs at the federal and state level, the Los Angeles police arrested and eventually incarcerated thousands of low-income men for a range of infractions from gang activity and drug dealing to loitering and jaywalking.67 Los Angeles stood at the forefront of a national trend that occurred in the aftermath of the urban violence of the 1960s as cities adopted much more aggressive policing tactics that effectively militarized urban space.68 Politicians at the state and federal level simultaneously embraced the issues of crime and drugs, in part to gain political favor with concerned white middle-class voters, especially those in the suburbs. The passage of new laws to penalize the use and distribution of drugs further fueled these patterns.69 The rise of mass incarceration fundamentally changed daily life in low-income urban communities of color and showed once again the ways in which national political trends had direct impact on urban spaces.

The Bradley administration’s emphasis on downtown redevelopment therefore did not help poor Angelenos but intensified the problems of inequality in the city. The politicization of issues such as growth and policing ensured that LA in the 1980s and 1990s also came to reflect the broader inequities that were characteristic of the Reagan era and beyond. The 1992 acquittal of the police officers who beat Rodney King after a traffic violation in 1991 sparked outrage and one of the largest uprisings in American history. The event illuminated the limits of the pro-growth and tough-on-crime approach to urban politics.70 The Los Angeles uprisings also raised attention to the changing demographics of major American cities and the ways in which they had become far more multiracial since the 1960s.

“Today We March, Tomorrow We Vote”

The expansion of immigration in the late 20th century fundamentally changed the racial demographics of Los Angeles and other American cities and had a direct impact on the political landscape. The majority of the new immigrants settled in major metropolitan areas that have long served as ports of entry, such New York, Los Angeles, Miami, and San Francisco, as well new gateways like Atlanta, Seattle, Washington, DC, and Salt Lake City.71 By 2000, immigrants and their children constituted more than half the total population of these gateway cities.72 This wave of immigration coincided with increased racial segregation and economic restructuring that defined city politics after the 1960s and compounded these existing patterns of segregation and inequality. The shift to a post-industrial economy in places like San Francisco and New York benefited educated immigrants, who have prospered in the economy.73 The vast majority of recent immigrants did not have such skills and entered into low-wage service positions, which further contributed to the economic and racial segregation of most major cities.

The new immigrant settlement patterns both replicated and altered existing patterns of urban neighborhood-based politics. While many educated immigrants decided to move to the suburbs or wealthy and exclusive urban areas, many members of the post-1965 wave built on the inroads made by earlier groups and clustered into ethnic neighborhoods, creating or expanding enclaves like Koreatown in Los Angeles, Pilsen in Chicago, or Gulfton in Houston. These settlement patterns created clear trade-offs. This clustering reinforced the segmentation of most Americans cities; it also served as a source of political strength for immigrant groups. Paralleling the black power and gay rights movements, many ethnic groups used population concentration in particular urban neighborhoods as a means of political power. A new generation of Latino and Asian municipal officials built their strength on new population growth and its clustering in certain neighborhoods. This group-based organizing created certain tensions, often pitting underrepresented groups against each other for resources and power.74 Latino and Asian elected officials confronted the same difficulties of economic restructuring and the retrenchment of federal spending on cities as African Americans had.

Many immigrant rights groups, nevertheless, recognized the ways in which cities serve as sources of strength in seeking policy changes at the local, state, and national levels. The rise of new immigration fueled a backlash that echoed the fights over race and housing that occurred in the 1940s and 1950s in places like Detroit and Chicago. In response to these assertive forms of nativism, activists organized a powerful protest movement that was largely urban-based. In order to challenge the restrictive immigrant policy considered by Congress in 2006, activists organized a “national day of action” in cities around the country during the spring of that year. Between three million and five million people participated in the protests and led directly to the tabling of the legislation. Politicians clearly took to heart participants’ chants of “Today we march, tomorrow we vote.”75

Many urban mayors and local officials have realized the importance of supporting immigrant issues to gain favor with this key constituency and as a tool of economic development for their cities. Municipalities like Detroit and Baltimore have explicitly dubbed themselves “welcome cities” in order to lure immigrants and their potential tax revenue as means to expand the economy and to counter substantial population loss.76 Latinos and other immigrant groups have also come to increasingly exert clout in state and national politics as candidates recognize the necessity of securing the votes of urban-based groups.

A New Urban Politics

The political outreach of national political candidates to urban voters embodies a larger shift in the relationship between cities and the federal government in the 21st century. In the last few elections, urban voters helped tip the scales in several key battleground states like Ohio, Nevada, Colorado and Pennsylvania.77 In many traditionally Republican states there has been a growing divergence between cities and urban areas. The major cities in Texas voted Democratic in 2008 and 2012 even though the Republican Party candidate won the state. Likewise, Atlanta, Indianapolis, New Orleans, Birmingham, Tucson, Little Rock, Las Vegas, and Charleston, South Carolina, all were blue islands in red states. Moreover, many cities have received a great deal of praise for their innovative solutions to the problems of the recession in contrast to the bitter partisanship and gridlock that has paralyzed Washington and many statehouses in the 21st century.78 Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley in their book The Metropolitan Revolution predict the “inversion of the hierarchy of power in the United States” from a federal-led to an urban and locally based system.79

These electoral results and endorsements reflect larger changes that have occurred in cities since the 1990s and their longer historical roots. The corporate incentives of the growth-oriented mayors coupled with the neighborhood movement’s emphasis on small-scale rehabilitation have led to new job opportunities and gentrified areas for a generation of middle-class post-industrial workers. Even struggling cities like Detroit have experienced a resurgence, as members of “the creative-class” have been drawn to the city’s cheap rents and burgeoning artisanal movement.80 These trends, nevertheless, did not lead to more economic equitability or racial integration but instead increased the unequal growth and segregation in cities since 1970. The efforts to make cities “safe” for the new middle-class population and corporate dollars served as a motivating factor in cities like New York to redouble the use of street-level police practices like “stop and frisk.” These new tactics generated an increase in police brutality and incarceration of low-income people of color as well as a new and powerful movement to protest these practices.

The issues of police brutality and the “Black Lives Matter” campaign, gentrification, and immigration have become the dominant issues shaping both urban and national politics since the turn of the 21st century. These issues reflect the long legacy of structural segregation as well as the successes and limits of urban political movements since 1945. While their impact on local and national electoral politics remains to be seen, they demonstrate the continued centrality of urban politics to the past, present, and future of American history.

Discussion of the Literature

A review of the literature underscores the multifaceted and nuanced nature of urban politics since 1945 and how it traverses many disciplines, historical subfields, and issues. Political science spawned much of the early, traditional literature on urban politics, with a large portion of it written in the postwar era itself.81 The fields of urban planning, sociology, and geography have also explored questions of urban politics and the political economy of cities.82

A rich literature on urban renewal and urban redevelopment of the postwar era exists within both political science and history. Political scientists first explored the topic of growth coalitions, which was subsequently addressed and expanded upon by urban historians.83 Both historians and political scientists have produced extensive studies of urban renewal policy at the national and municipal levels and the role of these policies in producing inequality.84 Scholars have also offered in-depth analysis of Robert Moses and other key postwar urban planners.85 Historians have devoted considerable attention to Jane Jacobs as well as other critics of urban renewal and to the freeway revolts.86 These studies are indicative of the frequent use of a biographical approach to the issue of urban politics since 1945. Scholars and journalists have written important accounts of key figures from John Lindsay and Carl Stokes to Harvey Milk and Ed Koch.87 Several scholars have examined the riots and how urban leaders responded to the crisis.88

The rise of black political power in the 1970s and especially the rise of African American mayors have produced an extensive literature both in history and political science.89 Many focus on particular figures or places.90 Journalist Tamar Jacoby’s Someone Else’s House offers a more critical account of African American municipal power, particularly the leadership of Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, and Coleman Young.91 Several other political scientists and historians concentrate on the success and limits of African American coalition building in the 1970s and beyond.92 The topic of working-class backlash since 1945 has attracted a great deal of attention by historians. In addition to looking at the attitude of white working-class urban residents toward mandatory desegregation, scholars have studied the impact of this group on national politics, identifying this group as the quintessential “Reagan Democrats” who symbolize political realignment at the national level.93 Suleiman Osman’s work has refocused attention to the neighborhood movement, which earned a great deal of attention in the 1970s with works by many of the participants themselves, but had gained less attention from historians.94 Many historians have challenged the traditional black-white focus of the literature and highlighted the longstanding multiracial dimensions of urban politics, particularly the role and place of Asian and Latino residents.95 A growing literature on the urban dimensions of queer politics and the gay rights movement’s impact on a variety of elements of urban politics has appeared most recently.96

The subfield of metropolitan history has popularized the community study model, focusing on particular cities as well as the relationship between national policy and grassroots actors. The key works in this field examine elements of municipal politics, especially its role in fostering forms of segregation and inequality.97 Historians have also increasingly focused on questions of the fiscal crisis, privatization, and neoliberalism in cities, as part of the growing attention to 1970s and the 1980s and the history of capitalism.98 The rise of mass incarceration and the criminalization of urban space have also gained increased attention by historians. Many have begun and will continue to examine the role of municipal and national politics and policies in shaping this important issue and the impact of the carceral state on individual urban residents and urban politics as a whole.99

Primary Sources

An array of primary sources sheds light on urban politics at the national level and in many cities. The National Archives has the records of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides important resources on federal urban renewal policies and programs. The papers of Edward Logue and Robert Moses provide further insight into postwar redevelopment and renewal. The papers of individual elected officials offer an excellent resource, and many have been preserved at libraries around the country. The LaGuardia and Wagner Archives at LaGuardia Community College have the records of several mayors, including John Lindsay, Ed Koch, David Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani. The Jerome Cavanaugh, Coleman Young, and Tom Bradley papers offer important materials on the politics of Detroit and Los Angeles. Many of these figures have written useful and valuable memoirs as well.

Excellent collections on various urban-based social movements and neighborhood organizations include Northeastern University in Boston and the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco. Northeastern University Special Collections has digitized and made available online a rich collection related to the Latino community in Boston. The Berkeley, California, neighborhood association newsletters for 1975–1976 are preserved and provide important perspective on the movement in Berkeley and around the country. The Prelinger Archives online has archival film footage related to urban politics and renewal such as Detroit: City on the Move. The Brookings Institution has produced several important reports on contemporary urban politics, particularly the topics of immigration and urban revitalization. The Woodrow Wilson Center has also produced several important reports on immigration and urban politics.

Documentaries address various facets of urban politics since 1945 and provide excellent visual evidence of urban politics, including The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2012), Chávez Ravine: A Los Angeles Story (2003), The Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), Let the Fire Burn (2013), Street Fight (2005), and Koch (2013). The radio show This American Life produced a fascinating look at the mayoral career of Chicago’s Harold Washington entitled “Harold” (Episode 84, November 21, 1997). The HBO television series The Wire provides an outstanding fictional account of the multifaceted dimensions of urban politics at the end of the 20th century.

Further Reading

Avila, Eric. Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014.Find this resource:

Ballon, Hilary, and Kenneth T. Jackson, eds. Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.Find this resource:

Banfield, Edward C., and James Q. Wilson. City Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963.Find this resource:

Cannato, Vincent J. The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York. New York: Basic Books, 2001.Find this resource:

Carmichael, Stokely, and Charles V. Hamilton. Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America. New York: Random House, 1967.Find this resource:

Caro, Robert. The Power Broker. New York: Knopf 1974.Find this resource:

Countryman, Matthew J. Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Dahl, Robert. Who Governs?: Democracy and Power in an American City. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961.Find this resource:

Fernandez, Lilia. Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961.Find this resource:

Judd, Dennis R., and Todd Swanstrom. City Politics: Private Power and Public Policy. 2d ed. New York: Longman, 1998.Find this resource:

Katz, Bruce, and Jennifer Bradley. The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2013.Find this resource:

Kurashige, Scott. The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Lukas, J. Anthony. Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985.Find this resource:

Osman, Suleiman. The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Self, Robert O. American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Shilts, Randy. The Mayor of Castro Street: The Life and Times of Harvey Milk. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Soffer, Jonathan. Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Stewart-Winter, Timothy. Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Stone, Clarence N. Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946–1988. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989.Find this resource:

Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Sugrue, Thomas J. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. New York: Random House, 2008.Find this resource:

Thompson, Heather Ann. Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.Find this resource:

Zipp, Samuel. Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.Find this resource:


(1.) For a discussion of the machine system, see Dennis R. Judd and Todd Swanstrom, City Politics: Private Power and Public Policy, 2d ed. (New York: Longman, 1998), 53–78.

(2.) Edward C. Banfield and James Q. Wilson, City Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 51.

(3.) Banfield and Wilson, City Politics, 95.

(4.) Christopher Klemek, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal: Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011), 48–77; and Samuel Zipp, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(5.) Alison Isenberg, Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 170.

(6.) Ronald P. Formisano, Boston against Busing: Race and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1991), 120–125, 165; and J. Anthony Lukas, Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), 200–201.

(7.) Eric Avila, Folklore of the Freeway: Race and Revolt in the Modernist City (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

(8.) Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961).

(9.) Klemek, Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal, 129–142.

(10.) Avila, Folklore of the Freeway, 2–3.

(11.) Eric Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight: Fear and Fantasy in Suburban Los Angeles (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004), 55–62, 145–184, 195–223.

(12.) Thomas J. Sugrue, The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996), 33–72.

(13.) Arnold R. Hirsch, Making the Second Ghetto: Race & Housing in Chicago, 1940–1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 68–99, 215–219.

(14.) Sugrue, Origins, 211.

(15.) Sugrue, Origins, 211–224, 231–234.

(16.) Sugrue, Origins, 84–87, 222–225.

(17.) Sugrue, Origins, 85–88.

(18.) Thomas J. Sugrue, “Crabgrass-Roots Politics: Race, Rights, and the Reaction against Liberalism in the Urban North, 1940–1964,” Journal of American History 82.2 (September 1995): 568–569; and Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight, 38–40.

(19.) Heather Ann Thompson, Whose Detroit?: Politics, Labor, and Race in a Modern American City (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001), 28–44; Matthew J. Countryman, Up South: Civil Rights and Black Power in Philadelphia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), 13–79; Robert O. Self, American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 76–95; and Scott Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race: Black and Japanese Americans in the Making of Multiethnic Los Angeles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 174–185.

(20.) Civil rights activist Charlotta Bass’s quest to become the first the first African American elected to the Los Angeles City Council in the late 1940s symbolized the limits of black political power. Despite galvanizing many factions of the black community, she lost by two-to-one. Josh Sides, L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 152–153.

(21.) Kurashige, Shifting Grounds, 230–232; and Sides, L.A. City Limits, 152–153.

(22.) Lilia Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City: Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in Postwar Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 13–14.

(23.) Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City, 5, 81–82.

(24.) Kevin Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern of Conservatism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 25–41.

(25.) Matthew D. Lassiter, The Silent Majority: Suburban Politics in the Sunbelt South (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006), 50–53, 123–131.

(26.) For one critique of the raw deal this coalition gave the African American community, see Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America (New York: Random House, 1967), 70–72.

(27.) Clarence N. Stone, Regime Politics: Governing Atlanta, 1946–1988 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1989), 51–82

(28.) Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City, 159–172.

(29.) Thomas J. Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North (New York: Random House, 2008), 356.

(30.) Thompson, Whose Detroit, 47.

(31.) Self, American Babylon, 254.

(32.) Self, American Babylon, 254.

(33.) Countryman, Up South, 296.

(34.) Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty, 501–505.

(35.) Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty, xxii.

(36.) Sugrue, Origins, 266–267.

(37.) Formisano, Boston against Busing, 3.

(38.) Countryman, Up South, 255; Suleiman Osman, “The Decade of the Neighborhood,” in Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, ed. Bruce J. Shulman and Julian E. Zelizer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 112.

(39.) Formisano, Boston against Busing, 44–65, 179–202; and Lukas, Common Ground, 115–138.

(40.) Thompson, Whose Detroit, 192–199.

(41.) Harry C. Boyte, The Backyard Revolution: Understanding the New Citizen Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980), 3.

(42.) Boyte, Backyard Revolution 53–54.

(43.) Boyte, Backyard Revolution, 71.

(44.) Osman, “Decade of the Neighborhood,” 110.

(45.) Osman, “Decade of the Neighborhood,” 114.

(46.) Osman, “Decade of the Neighborhood,” 110.

(47.) Osman, “Decade of the Neighborhood,” 119.

(48.) Clayton C. Howard, “The Closet and the Cul de Sac: Sexuality and Culture War in Postwar California” (PhD Diss., University of Michigan, 2010); and Josh Sides, Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 83–123

(49.) Randy Shilts, The Mayor of Castro Street; The Life & Times of Harvey Milk (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1982), 74–75.

(50.) Shilts, The Mayor of Castro Street; and George C. Bailey, Gay Politics, Urban Politics: Identity and Economics in the Urban Setting (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 201.

(51.) Shilts, The Mayor of Castro Street, 323.

(52.) Sides, Erotic City, 141–173.

(53.) Timothy Stewart-Winter, “The Law and Order Origins of Urban Gay Politics,” Journal of Urban History 41.5 (September 2015): 825–835.

(54.) Timothy Stewart-Winter, “Queer Law and Order: Sex, Criminality, and Policing in the Late Twentieth-Century United States,” Journal of American History (June 2015).

(55.) Stewart-Winter, “Queer Law and Order.”

(56.) Judd and Swanstrom, City Politics, 346.

(57.) Suleiman Osman, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 274–275.

(58.) Judd and Swanstrom, City Politics, 417.

(59.) Vincent J. Cannato, “Bright Lights, Doomed Cities: The Rise or Fall of New York City in the 1980s?” in Living in the Eighties, ed. Gil Troy and Vincent J. Cannato (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 73–74.

(60.) Cannato, “Bright Lights Doomed Cities,” 74–75.

(61.) Jonathan Soffer, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 255–258.

(62.) Cannato, “Bright Lights Doomed Cities,” 80; and John Hull Mollenkopf and Manuel Castells, eds. Dual City: Restructuring New York (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1991).

(63.) Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty, 503–504; and Sugrue, Origins, 270–271.

(64.) Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage Books, 1992), 136–138; and Kurashige, Shifting Grounds of Race, 7–8.

(65.) Judd and Swanstrom, City Politics, 397–400.

(66.) Davis, City of Quartz, 267–322; and Donna Murch, “Crack in Los Angeles: Crisis, Militarization, and Black Response to the Late Twentieth-Century War on Drugs,” Journal of American History 102.1 (2015): 162–173.

(67.) Judd and Swanstrom, City Politics, 398.

(68.) Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters: Rethinking Crisis, Decline, and Transformation in Postwar American History,” Journal of American History (December 2010), 710–713.

(69.) See Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press, 2010); and Dan Baum, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (Boston: Little, Brown, 1996).

(70.) Judd and Swantsrom, City Politics, 400.

(71.) Audrey Singer, “The Rise of New Immigrant Gateways” (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2004).

(72.) Gary Gerstle and John Mollenkopf, E Pluribus Unum? Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Immigrant Political Incorporation (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2001), 2.

(73.) Gerstle and Mollenkopf, El Pluribus Unum, 8; and Singer, “The Rise of New Immigrant Gateways.”

(74.) Matt A. Barreto, Benjamin F. Gonzalez, and Gabriel R. Sanchez, “Rainbow Coalition in the Golden State: Exposing Myths, Uncovering New Realities in Latino Attitudes toward Blacks,” in Black and Brown Los Angeles: Beyond Conflict and Coalition, ed. Laura Pulido and Josh Kun (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2013), 208–232.

(75.) Jonathan Fox, Andrew Selee, Robert Donnelly, and Xóchitl Bada, Context Matters: Latino Immigrant Civic Engagement in Nine U.S. Cities, Reports on Latino Immigrant Civic Engagement (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, April 2010).

(76.) Mike Davis, Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City (New York: Verso, 2000), 1–1; and Monica Davey, “Immigrants Seen as a Way to Refill the Detroit Ranks,” New York Times, January 24, 2014.

(77.) Josh Kron, “Red State, Blue City: How the Urban-Rural Divide Is Splitting America,” Atlantic Magazine, November 30, 2012.

(78.) Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley, The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2013), 1–13.

(79.) Katz and Bradley, Metropolitan Revolution, 5.

(80.) Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work and Leisure in America (New York: Basic Books, 2002).

(81.) See for example, Banfield and. Wilson, City Politics; and Robert Dahl, Who Governs?: Democracy and Power in an American City (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1961). Dennis Judd and Todd Swanstrom have written the most comprehensive and widely assigned recent textbook, which highlights the themes of political economy and examines the interaction of public and private history; see Judd and Swanstrom, City Politics.

(82.) See for example, John R. Logan and Harvey L. Molotch, Urban Fortunes: The Political Economy of Place (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).

(83.) Paul E. Peterson, City Limits (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981); Gregory J. Crowley, The Politics of Place: Contentious Urban Redevelopment in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005); and Jon C. Teaford, The Rough Road to Renaissance: Urban Revitalization in America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990).

(84.) See Martin Anderson, The Federal Bulldozer: A Critical Analysis of Urban Renewal, 1949–1962 (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1964); Jewel Bellush and Murray Hausknecht, eds., Urban Renewal: People, Politics and Planning (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967); and John H. Mollenkopf, The Contested City (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983). For historical accounts of urban renewal and its impact on racial inequality see for example, N. D. B. Connolly, A World More Concrete: Real Estate and the Remaking of Jim Crow South Florida (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); Howard Gilette Jr., Between Justice and Beauty: Race, Planning, and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington DC (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); Alison Isenberg, Downtown America: A History of the Place and the People Who Made It (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004); Andrew Highsmith, Demolition Means Progress: Flint, Michigan, and the Fate of the American Metropolis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Christopher Klemek, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal: Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); Self, American Babylon; and Samuel Zipp, Manhattan Projects: The Rise and Fall of Urban Renewal in Cold War New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

(85.) Robert Caro’s The Power Broker (New York: Knopf, 1974) is a highly critical account of Robert Moses’s approach, while Hilary Ballon and Kenneth T. Jackson, eds. Robert Moses and the Modern City: The Transformation of New York (New York: W. W. Norton, 2007) offers a more sympathetic view. For more on the broader political environment in which in which Moses operated, see Joel Schwartz, The New York Approach: Robert Moses, Urban Liberals and Redevelopment of the Inner City (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2010). For more on planners in other cities, see, for example, Lizabeth Cohen, “Buying into Downtown Revival: The Centrality of Retail to Postwar Urban Renewal in American Cities,” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (May 2007): 82–95.

(86.) Contemporary critics of the politics and aesthetics of urban redevelopment include Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961); and Herbert Gans, Urban Villagers: Group and Class in the Life of Italian Americans (New York: Free Press, 1962). Historical treatments of the opposition to urban redevelopment include Klemek, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Renewal; Suleiman Osman, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); and Zipp, Manhattan Projects. For more on the freeway revolts, see Avila, Folklore of the Freeway; Alan Lupo, Rites of Way: The Politics of Transportation of Boston and the U.S. City (New York: Doubleday, 1970); Raymond A. Mohl, “Stop the Road: Freeway Revolts in American Cities,” Journal of Urban History 30.5 (July 2004): 674–706; and Mark H. Rose, Interstate: Express Highway Politics, 1939–1989 (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990).

(87.) Vincent J. Cannato, The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York (New York: Basic Books, 2001); S. A. Paolantonio, Frank Rizzo: The Last Big Man in Big City America (Philadelphia: Camino Books, 1994); Buzz Bissinger, A Prayer for the City (New York: Random House, 1997); Jonathan Soffer, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); and John Hull Mollenkopf, A Phoenix in the Ashes: The Rise and Fall of the Koch Coalition in New York City Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994).

(88.) See for example, Sidney Fine, Violence in the Model City: The Cavanagh Administration, Race Relations, and the Detroit Riot of 1967 (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2007); and Heather Ann Thompson, Whose Detroit?

(89.) Countryman, Up South; Jeffrey Hegelson, Crucibles of Black Empowerment: Chicago’s Neighborhood Politics from the New Deal to Harold Washington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014); Adolph Reed Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-Segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1999); Self, American Babylon; Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty; and Thompson, Whose Detroit?

(90.) David R. Colburn and Jeffrey Adler, eds., African-American Mayors: Race, Politics, and the American City. New ed. (Urbana: University of Illinois, 2005). For examples of accounts of specific figures, see Leonard N. Moore, Carl B. Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2002); and Gary Rivlin, Fire on the Prairie: Chicago’s Harold Washington and the Politics of Race (New York: Henry Holt, 1992). Wilbur C. Rich, Coleman Young and Detroit Politics: From Social Activist to Power Broker (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999).

(91.) Tamar Jacoby, Someone Else’s House: America’s Unfinished Struggle for Integration (New York: Basic Books, 1998).

(92.) See, for example, Raphael J. Sonenshein, Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993); and Rufus Browning, Dale Marshall, and David Tabb, Protest Is Not Enough: The Struggle of Blacks and Hispanics For Equality in Urban Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

(93.) For examinations of the longstanding roots of white antiliberalism and its impact on municipal politics, see Hirsch, Making a Second Ghetto; Sugrue, Origins of the Urban Crisis; Formisano, Boston against Busing; Kruse, White Flight; and Jonathan Rieder, Canarsie: The Jews and Italians of Brooklyn against Liberalism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985).

(94.) Osman, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn; Osman, “The Decade of the Neighborhood” in Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s, ed. Bruce J. Shulman and Julian E. Zelizer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008); see also Rebecca Marchiel, “Neighborhoods First: The Urban Reinvestment Movement in the Era of Financial Deregulation, 1966–1989” (PhD Diss., Northwestern University, 2014); Michael Scott Foley, Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s (New York: Hill and Wang, 2013); and Alexander Von Hoffman, House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003). For a contemporary account of this movement, see Harry C. Boyte, The Backyard Revolution: Understanding the New Citizen Movement (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1980).

(95.) Kurashige, The Shifting Grounds of Race; Mike Davis, Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the U.S. City (New York: Verso, 2000); Fernandez, Brown in the Windy City; and Jesse Hoffnung-Garskof, A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). See also Rufus Browning, Dale Marshall, and David Tabb, Racial Politics in American Cities, 3d ed. (New York: Pearson, 2002).

(96.) Shilts, The Mayor of Castro Street; Timothy Stewart-Winter, Queer Clout: Chicago and the Rise of Gay Politics (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016); Christina B. Hanhardt, Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2013); and Sides, Erotic City.

(97.) See Lassiter, The Silent Majority; Avila, Popular Culture in the Age of White Flight; Hirsch, The Making of the Second Ghetto; Kruse, White Flight; Osman, The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn; and Self, American Babylon.

(98.) For more on the fiscal crisis see Kim Phillips-Fein, “The Legacy of the 1970s Fiscal Crisis,” Nation (May 6, 2013), 24–27; Ester Fuchs, Mayors and Money: Fiscal Policy in New York and Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992); Martin Shefter, Political Crisis/Fiscal Crisis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992); Peter McClellan and Alan Magdowitz, Crisis in the Making: The Political Economy of New York State since 1945 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and Seymour P. Lachman and Robert Polner, The Man Who Saved New York: Hugh Carey and the Fiscal Crisis of 1975 (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010). For more on privatization particularly in New York City and Los Angeles, see, for example, Mollenkopf and Castells, Dual City; Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles (New York: Vintage Books, 1992); Arlene Dávila, Barrio Dreams: Puerto Ricans, Latinos, and the Neoliberal City (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2004); and Soffer, Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City.

(99.) Heather Ann Thompson, “Why Mass Incarceration Matters.” See also Journal of American History (June 2015), which is devoted to the topic of “Historians and the Carceral State.”