""Life in the city, for the millions who lived it, was once something less than the sum of their lifestyle choices: they woke up, they ate, they shoveled coal, loved, hated, prayed, mated, reproduced, died. For most, the home was not a display object but a place to keep the few things they had managed to hold on to from the surpluses produced by their labor. Their material life was made of the things they didn't have to eat, wear, or burn right this minute. A concertina maybe? A family Bible? A hunting rifle?""
This life in "the old neighborhood," so lyrically captured by Ray Suarez, was once lived by a huge number of Americans. One in seven of us can directly connect our lineage through just one city, Brooklyn. In 1950, except for Los Angeles, the top ten American cities were all in the Northeast or Midwest, and all had populations over 800,000. Since then, especially since the mid-60s, a way of life has simply vanished.
Ray Suarez, veteran interviewer and host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation(R)," is a child of Brooklyn who has long been fascinated with the stories behind the largest of our once-great cities. He has talked to longtime residents, recent arrivals, and recent departures; community organizers, priests, cops, and politicians; and scholars who have studied neighborhoods, demographic trends, and social networks. The result is a rich tapestry of voices and history. "The Old Neighborhood" captures a crucial chapter in the experience of postwar America. It is a book not just for first- and second-generation Americans, but for anyone who remembers the prewar cities or wonders how we could have gotten to where we are. It is a book about "old neighborhoods" that were once cherished, and are now lost.
Clarence E. Page columnist, Chicago Tribune What makes us Americans move so much? Why has so much "black flight" followed so much "white flight"? Who's next? And what have we lost when we leave "the old neighborhood" behind? In exploring provocative questions like these, Ray Suarez offers us Americans a lively, authoritative, and unsentimental journey into the interior of our restless national soul. With a hard-edged reporter's insight and humor, The Old Neighborhood takes a top-down and bottom-up look at the perceptions and realities of urban and suburban American life and points the way to the threshold of a new century. I have been waiting years for a book like this to come along. It was worth the wait. Robert B. Reich University Professor of social and economic policy, Brandeis University, and former U.S. Secretary of Labor No one hears more clearly than Ray Suarez the hollow echoes of America's cities, or records more compassionately the stories of those who have abandoned them and those who have been left behind. Roberto Suro author of Strangers Among Us: How Latino Immigration Is Transforming America Ray Suarez has added an important new chapter to the history of the American city with this revealing portrayal of the flight away from the urban center. Millions of listeners already know of his great skills as an interviewer, and with this book we discover that Suarez is also a graceful writer and an incisive observer of modern America. Witold Rybczynski author of City Life: Urban Expectations in a New World Ray Suarez understands that there are no easy answers to the problems of America's declining cities. What he does in this provocative book is to record the voices of urban dwellers -- those who stayed and those who left. Bruce Katz The Brookings Institution Ray Suarez has written a tough and passionate account of the fate of America's older cities over the past three decades. By talking to urban and suburban families, he draws out the real motivations behind the flight from cities: perceptions and realities about schools and crime and the persistence of racial and ethnic tensions. Suarez offers a stark picture of the costs of declining cities -- to the nation, to communities, to individuals -- and counters the notion that these cities have experienced a substantial revival in the 1990s.