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michaelskis

Urban History

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I have noticed quite a few threads and posts on this forum board dealing with Urban Exploration and Urban History, additionally some of the photos and stories of experiences is truly phenomenal. Being a Urban Planner, I have always been fascinated with how older cities work and operate, and what makes them tick.

However, recently (Since moving into the Heritage Hill Historic District in Grand Rapids) I have noticed a continuing and growing interest in the fourth dimension... time and history, specifically urban history. The mid west has some of the best opportunities for Urban History and exploration because of the age of it dense urban areas and because of it

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I'd recommend picking up a copy of Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon. It lays out a good foundation for understanding the economic and environmental history of the midwest from about the time of the Civil War forward. Its focus is on the relationship and interdependence between the rise of Chicago and the rise of agriculture and manufacturing though-out the midwest. This book just knocked me out when I first read it. It gave me a whole different way of looking at history. It is a little on the academic side with footnotes and all but is still very readable.

An interesting little book about life in early Grand Rapids would be Yesterday's of Grand Rapids by Charles Belknap. It might be pretty hard to find a copy. You might need to try the library on this one. Belknap had a long and interesting life. When he was an old man he wrote a series of newspaper columns about growing up in Grand Rapids before and after the Civil War. The columns were collected and published as a book in 1922. The copy I have is a reprint from I think about 1958. In an interesting way his personal reminiscences correspond to many of things that Cronin writes about even though Cronin is never specifically writing about Grand Rapids.

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If you want history of the urban decline with a Michigan twist try Origins of the Urban Crisis. Its all about the many factors which brought about the downfall of Detroit. I had to read it in my Michigan History class at college. Beware though, it tends to take a left leaning biased heavily playing the race card at time. Of course there are alternative theories and points of view. I know there is a book of the same subject but a little more conservative in philosophy unfortunately I can't remember the name of it. Our professor only mentioned it once.

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If you want history of the urban decline with a Michigan twist try Origins of the Urban Crisis. Its all about the many factors which brought about the downfall of Detroit. I had to read it in my Michigan History class at college. Beware though, it tends to take a left leaning biased heavily playing the race card at time. Of course there are alternative theories and points of view. I know there is a book of the same subject but a little more conservative in philosophy unfortunately I can't remember the name of it. Our professor only mentioned it once.

I think that other book might be American Odyssey by Robert Conot. Odyssey isn't exactly a conservative tract either but Conot's thesis is not about racism but is more about the relationship between the technology changes brought about by the rise of the Detroit auto industry and changes in society particularly the working class. I thought this was a pretty good book. Conot makes some mention of the Detroit experience as a metaphor for other midwestern cities. While this is somewhat true, I think the Detroit story is pretty much uniquely the Detroit story.

I haven't read the book you mention but its full title is The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, so the bias you mention might be expected.

Here is a tale of two cities. When I lived in Detroit around 1980 I tried to get a copy of American Odyssey at the main branch of the Detroit library. Supposedly they had several copies but none were on the shelf so I put in a reservation for the next returned copy. For the next year or so while I lived in Detroit no copies were returned. Periodically I'd check the shelves myself to make sure there hadn't been a clerical error. When I moved back to Grand Rapids I checked out the only copy at the Grand Rapids library with no problem. But even though the book had been at the GR library for several years, I was the first person to ever check it out. This little story probably says something about both Detroit and Grand Rapids.

(I didn't just buy a copy because it was out of print at the time. Since then it has been republished.)

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