Broke: Hardship and Resilience in a City of Broken Promises

St. Martin’s. Nov. 2019. 368p. notes. index. ISBN 9781250220639. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250237125. SOC SCI
In her study of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy, Kirshner (research professor, New York Univ.) observes the experience of seven individuals, including residents, aspiring homeowners, and speculators. They include young single mother Lola, educated and motivated but unable to find an accessible job; lifelong resident Cindy, who, in her 60s, tries her hand at neighborhood activism; and underemployed construction worker Miles, for whom an outstanding warrant mishandled by authorities 14 years ago becomes a present-day nightmare. In a city plagued by blight and lack of opportunity, social and economic policies disregard and hurt people already on the margins. Detroit’s turnaround is by many measures a resounding success, but federal, state, and private efforts largely bypass the neighborhoods where homeowners, renters, and squatters alike try to stay safe and make do in barely inhabitable houses surrounded by vacant lots or decrepit board-ups. Kirshner’s humane focus on individual stories illuminates underreported problems with housing, employment, and transportation. She calls for job creation, improvements to education and public transit, and support for entrepreneurs—reforms that could be paid for by reducing tax subsidies to private businesses whose building projects and job creation generally don’t benefit city residents.
VERDICT With a foreword by Michael Eric Dyson, this book is an important read for policymakers and urban dwellers, locally and nationally.

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