New Book: Claire Dunning, Nonprofit Neighborhoods An Urban History of Inequality and the American State (2022). Overview Below:
An exploration of how and why American city governments delegated the responsibility for solving urban inequality to the nonprofit sector.
American cities are rife with nonprofit organizations that provide services ranging from arts to parks, and health to housing. These organizations have become so ubiquitous, it can be difficult to envision a time when they were fewer, smaller, and more limited in their roles. Turning back the clock, however, uncovers both an eye-opening story of how the nonprofit sector became such a dominant force in American society, as well as a troubling one of why this growth occurred alongside persistent poverty and widening inequality. Claire Dunning’s book connects these two stories in histories of race, democracy, and capitalism, revealing an underexplored transformation in urban governance: how the federal government funded and deputized nonprofits to help individuals in need, and in so doing avoided addressing the structural inequities that necessitated such action in the first place.
Nonprofit Neighborhoods begins in the decades after World War II, when a mix of suburbanization, segregation, and deindustrialization spelled disaster for urban areas and inaugurated a new era of policymaking that aimed to solve public problems with private solutions. From deep archival research, Dunning introduces readers to the activists, corporate executives, and politicians who advocated addressing poverty and racial exclusion through local organizations, while also raising provocative questions about the politics and possibilities of social change. The lessons of Nonprofit Neighborhoods exceed the municipal bounds of Boston, where much of the story unfolds, providing a timely history of the shift from urban crisis to urban renaissance for anyone concerned about American inequality—past, present, or future.