Small, Gritty, and Green
America’s once-vibrant small-to-midsize cities—Syracuse, Worcester, Akron, Flint, Rockford, and others—increasingly resemble urban wastelands. Gutted by deindustrialization, outsourcing, and middle-class flight, disproportionately devastated by metro freeway systems that laid waste to the urban fabric and displaced the working poor, small industrial cities seem to be part of America’s past, not its future. And yet, Catherine Tumber argues in this provocative book, America’s gritty Rust Belt cities could play a central role in a greener, low-carbon, relocalized future.
As we wean ourselves from fossil fuels and realize the environmental costs of suburban sprawl, we will see that small cities offer many assets for sustainable living not shared by their big city or small town counterparts, including population density and nearby, fertile farmland available for new environmentally friendly uses.
Tumber traveled to twenty-five cities in the Northeast and Midwest—from Buffalo to Peoria to Detroit to Rochester—interviewing planners, city officials, and activists, and weaving their stories into this exploration of small-scale urbanism. Smaller cities can be a critical part of a sustainable future and a productive green economy. Small, Gritty, and Green will help us develop the moral and political imagination we need to realize this.
About the Author
Historian and journalist Catherine Tumber is a Visiting Scholar at Northeastern University’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, a Fellow of the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth's Gateway Cities Innovation Institute, and a former Research Affiliate with the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning’s Community Innovators Lab.
“[Tumber’s] excellent new book…finds potential in many busted and booming-again cities.” —Scott Carlson, Urbanite
"As the former mayor of a mid-sized, declining Northeastern city, I have long argued that the only attention which comes our way is when something negative happens: a major employer leaving town, a failed economic development venture, or a significant outbreak of violent crime. We were rarely seen as centers of innovation and ingenuity, or as having the assets to revitalize ourselves. Now Catherine Tumber has laid out a coherent path for recovery and revitalization of these small-to-medium-sized industrial cities. Hers is based not on academic theory but on observation of what is in place and what possibilities actually exist. Her prescriptions do not rely on pity but on how to play a winning hand."
—William A. Johnson, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Public Policy and Urban Studies, Rochester Institute of Technology, Mayor of Rochester, 1994-2005
"This is a clear and intelligent call for Americans to find the great value waiting in the many small cities across this land. At a time in history when everything has to get smaller, finer, and more local, these places occupy increasingly important geographic sites and need to be brought back to life. Catherine Tumber understands the dynamic completely and lays it out eloquently."
—James Howard Kunstler, author of the novels The Long Emergency and World Made by Hand
"Small, Gritty, and Green shows how small and mid-sized rust-belt cities can serve as models for sustainable urban living. Tumber’s thesis is presented in a fast-moving mix of history, original interviews, and assessment of received urban planning wisdom. Her compelling argument is that planners, politicians, and the general populace would be wise to try something completely different and that these cities, though largely invisible in past scholarship, represent an important pathway to the future."
—Peggy F. Barlett, Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology, Emory University, editor of Urban Place: Reconnecting with the Natural World