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Articles by Henry Grabar

Henry Grabar is a fellow at The Atlantic Cities.

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This story was originally published by Slate and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Trains and buses are running half-empty, abandoned by frightened commuters. Fortune 500 companies are fleeing downtown, saying they don’t want expensive, centrally located office space anymore. And their workers are moving to the suburbs or the Sun Belt, sapping school enrollment, emptying apartments, and leaving huge holes in the tax base.

Excuse me, I’ve been reading up on the American city at midcentury. What have I missed?

American cities are turning back the clock. Today, it’s the ’50s, when a sudden shift from transit to car traffic threatened to make cities unusable. Streets were jammed. Parking was a nightmare.

You know what happened next: American cities demolished neighborhoods in a fit of concrete and racism from which many never recovered. It was a time when urban leadership was defined by desperate groveling to retain the very people who had abandoned cities. Project after project, from downtown renewal to highways, was supposed to appeal to suburbanites. If they wouldn’t live here, could we at least make it easier for them to dr... Read more

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