I have to first admit that I found this book, The Transatlantic Collapse of Urban Development: Postwar Urbanism from New York to Berlin, very difficult to read, on many levels. Christopher Klemek seemed to be very comfortable with jumping around from place to place, going from Philadelphia to Oxford to Berlin to Boston, all within the same chapter, without much in the way of transition between places and people that he was discussing. That was very distracting and hard to follow, because it was often difficult to place the people and ideas within a specific city or country or school of thought about urban renewal. The book was also very dense with ideas while also being filled with a multitude of very specific events, and those two historical approaches did not seem to fit together very well, in my opinion. It seemed to be at once a history of specific people as well as a history of ideas, while also giving histories of certain cities which he was interested in (New York, Berlin, Philadelphia, ect). My biggest criticism with this text, however, is its claim to be transatlantic in scope. While Klemek does seem to succeed in that assertion in the first half of the book, the discussion of what was going on across the pond dropped off considerably in the second half of the text, especially when there was greater discussion of the backlash to urban planning moving into the 1960s. The discussions of Berlin and London, and the rebuilding effort that was vitally necessary in these cities which were actually destroyed by the second world war, faced drastically different issues than cities in the United States, where urban planning was more a matter of city revitalization in the wake of an economic boom. It felt that they were really separate issues, which were handled together in the first half of the book, and then the discussion of Europe seems to drop off. Overall, there was just a lot going on in this text, and that really made it a difficult read.

However, all of that being said, it has been really interesting to see the ways which elected officials and intellectuals have worked to impose order in the post-war period as well as the specific ways which these policies of order have faced different types of backlash as they’ve been imposed. It was very interesting the way which Klemek explained the idea of urban renewal, as a reimagining of the city and reutilization of space (the idea that in the United States it was seen as revitalization while in the UK it was referred to as regeneration) but it was also very interesting how Klemek carefully skirted around the concept and idea of gentrification being closely associated with urban renewal projects. While he does discuss it in many different settings, from London, to Philadelphia, to Brooklyn, it is only in a few discussions of the West End (page 149 specifically) where he really discusses what the current residents, mostly Irish immigrants, were thinking about the process of having their neighborhoods stolen from them by their wealthy new neighbors. That felt like an interesting choice to me, by Klemek. Clearly attempts “impose new order” and reimagine cities with a certain modernist vision could seem, on the surface, to be a noble pursuit, so long as one disregards the human element to the story and the actual motives of many of the people involved. Jane Jacobs was probably the most interesting figure that Klemek discussed, partially because of her particular background as a mother without a college education and her stance on the urban renewal process (pro-Urban renewal, just as a slower process) and because she was probably the character which he spent the most time discussing.

Finally, I think, for me, the strongest part of the discussion of urban renewal lay in the contrast that Klemek provided in the case of what was going on in Canada, because it really was an interesting case study of seemingly a middle ground between the United States and Western Europe. Much in the same way that government-level approaches to urban renewal were met with resistance, much in the same way as West Germany, civic involvement in community development in the post-war era, really catapulted attempts to improve city space in dense urban areas, in a way that was less about gentrification and more about real attempts at improving urban life. Moreover, it worked in Canada in a way that it could not work in the United States because of the way in which different ideologies were able to work together in their opposition and ultimately in bringing their own visions of a changing urban landscape to fruition.