s neoliberal urban entrepreneurialism continues to wreak damage on America’s rust belt cities, disinvestment and decline deepen. Tracing both historical and contemporary policies rooted in conservative and neoliberal thought, Jason Hackworth’s Manufacturing Decline: How Racism and the Conservative Movement Crush the American Rust Belt argues that race is a prominent factor in the shift towards neoliberal governance and its sustained traction since the 1970s. In the conservative view where public choice theory explains urban decline, white flight has been a rational class-based economic decision, economic restructuring has occurred because of unions and excessive regulation, and cities in the rust belt have been appropriately punished by their inability to provide services packages competitive with more prosperous cities. Hackworth rejects this view, arguing that the production and reproduction of organized deprivation policies (austerity, limiting local autonomy, disembedding the market, punishing unruly people) are supported by the interplay of racial threat, the conservative movement, and urban decline (Hackworth, 2019, p12). Focusing on this triad, Hackworth re-casts the role of race in explaining city decline, positing it as a fecund fear and omnipresent imagining that has guided especially institutional practices in the developing and redeveloping of cities in the post war years.

This book is comprised of two parts. Part I (chapters 1-4), titled “Racial Threat and Urban Decline,” explores how blackness constructed as threats to white residential and political power through carefully crafted imagery has created a rallying point for conservatives to pursue deprivation policies. Part II (chapters 5-7), titled “Depriving the Othered City,” illustrates the efforts that conservative politicians have pursued to weaken the powers of rust belt city governments to address neighborhood decline while promoting large-scale demolition in efforts to “right size” rust belt cities.

Chapter 1 makes a link between racialization and urban decline by detailing how a principal cause of urban decline since the 1960s is the construction of blackness as threats to white residential livelihood and political power. The chapter describes how five manifestations of racial threat are tied to urban decline including racism embedded in the legal system, white flight as a response motivated by race opposed to class, the systemic undermining of black elected leadership, excessive fines and fees imposed by white elected leadership, and the tolerance of private discrimination in housing and employment spheres.

Chapter 2 offers the notion “bonding capital” to discuss how deploying carefully constructed images of the “pathological inner city” has created a rallying point for policy alignment amongst conservatives. To Hackworth, conservatives have been able to effectively construct this image of pathological inner cities by deploying coded language that appeals to both racially resentful and racial anxious voters. Chapter 3 builds on the second chapter by showing how conservatives have rewritten the histories of places like Detroit using discourses of the “pathology of the inner city” as a unifier to create organized deprivation policies. As chronicled, conservative intellectuals, quasi-intellectuals, and think-tanks have promoted neoliberal policies by framing the past problems of Detroit as manifestations of excessive regulation and taxation that purportedly created an unfriendly business environment.

The actual state and federal policies that have limited social justice aims of cities and accelerated urban decline are discussed in Chapter 4. Since the 1970s, Hackworth shows, conservatives have limited the powers of democratic politicians by removing authority via preemption laws, limiting land acquisition powers, and making funding decisions at the state level that do not reflect cities’ desires for increased social welfare. The challenges city governments face to control abandoned land is the focus of Chapter 5. Land abandonment, Hackworth asserts, is a prominent feature of rust belt cities that have experienced depopulation. This chapter illustrates how land reuse policies advanced by conservatives attempt to unleash a land market through offering zoning flexibility, low taxes, and minimal regulations. These policies, Hackworth illustrates, miss the root causes of decline and exacerbate it further.

Chapter 6 provides a data-rich exploration of what happened to a variety of social and housing market indicators in neighborhoods that experienced extreme housing loss. A myth is taken on: that demolition policy eliminates blight that will spur revitalization by making spaces more attractive to investors while improving property values for existing residents. Surprisingly, Hackworth illustrates that far more housing units and land area have been demolished in the post urban renewal period (1970-2010) than during the Urban Renewal period (1949-1969) in cities like Cleveland, St. Louis and Detroit. Hackworth shows that there is not strong evidence that demolishing housing and creating a vacant lot actually improves the lives of existing neighborhood residents and can actually work to exacerbate decline. Chapter 7, the final chapter, reviews five cities’ downsizing plans that attempt to eliminate entire neighborhoods to purportedly make city infrastructure, servicing, and spending more manageable given falling city populations. As chronicled, race is not discussed in downsizing the proposals that disproportionately target poor black disinvested neighborhoods. In Hackworth’s words, the availability of funds for demolition to create green spaces while affordable housing and displacement are ignored is “just austerity with green packaging, and more recent plans don’t bother to hide this” (Hackworth, 2019, p. 211).

The book concludes with a foray into possibilities for progressive city futures. Hackworth concludes that the same tactics that have made the conservative movement so powerful - exploiting crises and developing viable alternatives that can be enacted through a set of institutions and laws - can be deployed against it to unplan decline. He suggests that the crises can be found all over the rust belt in the daily realities of the racially marginalized. The challenge is utilizing rhetoric to effectively frame and explain the ongoing crises in rust belt cities in a sustained political organizing effort that advances a viable alternative and accounts for race.

Hackworth’s challenge of conservative perspectives of rust belt decline and the contextualization of contemporarily dominant demolition policies make this book a significant contribution to the study of rust belt decline and the interpretation of contemporary rust belt city revitalization strategies. Hackworth points the way for a new interrogation of race in city process. Race, now is not discrete and peripheral to city realities, but rather a dynamic, interconnecting force whose material and discursive dimensions relentlessly lodge in the political economy of city processes. Race, in this sense, is simultaneously attitudinal, structural, flagrant, and nuanced in its reach and affects. Hackworth ultimately collapses the common distinctions between structuralism, poststructuralism, and post-colonial understandings to comprehend this dimension of city life and process.

Moreover, the book is much more than a political tome or a personal polemic. Rather, its ideas are firmly grounded in empiricism that relies on an impressive use of diverse methods. Case study research, longitudinal quantitative analysis of neighborhood and city changes, and content analysis of plans and policies function as multi-informing terrains of empirical analysis. Additionally, a diverse set of theories such as Tieboutian public choice theory, racial threat theory, and urban entrepreneurialism are brought together seamlessly as critical lenses to explain portions of a multi-faceted view of rust belt city decline. Hackworth does not stop his project at explaining the complex phenomenon of rust belt decline but concludes with thoughtful actionable ideas for challenging the conservative movement. There is core praxis here that needs serious consideration by critical urban analysts. Operating through the axiom that “[t]he resolution is political not technical” (Hackworth, 2019, p. 229), Hackworth provides us with a book that needs to be read by urbanists across the political spectrum and practicing planners facing challenges related to inequality and population decline.


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Hackworth, J., 2019. Manufacturing decline: How racism and the conservative movement crush the American Rust Belt. Columbia University Press.
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Matthew D. Wilson is a Ph.D. Student in City and Regional Planning at the University ofNorth Carolina at Chapel Hill.