Bookchin Publishes Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Outspoken anarchist Murray Bookchin shocked Americans by detailing the many ways in which modern cities were becoming physical and psychological menaces to their inhabitants.

Summary of Event

Crisis in Our Cities (1965) was published at a time when U.S. cities were growing enormously as a result of the postwar boom United States;postwar economy and the accelerating change from an agrarian to an industrialized economy. The automobile was reshaping every city, creating new phenomena called “white flight,” “urban sprawl,” and “inner-city decay.” Land that had never been used for anything but crops, pastures, or orchards was being covered with tract houses, some of which were so cheaply constructed that they were called “instant slums.” Crisis in Our Cities (Bookchin) Cultural criticism Urbanization;social and psychological effects Urbanization;environmental impact Environmentalism Modernity [kw]Bo okchin Publishes Crisis in Our Cities (1965) [kw]Crisis in Our Cities, Bookchin Publishes (1965) Crisis in Our Cities (Bookchin) Cultural criticism Urbanization;social and psychological effects Urbanization;environmental impact Environmentalism Modernity [g]Nort h America;1965: Bookchin Publishes Crisis in Our Cities[08320] [g]United States;1965: Bookchin Publishes Crisis in Our Cities[08320] [c]Sociology;1965: Bookchin Publishes Crisis in Our Cities[08320] [c]Urban planning;1965: Bookchin Publishes Crisis in Our Cities[08320] [c]Environmental issues;1965: Bookchin Publishes Crisis in Our Cities[08320] Bookchin, Murray Mumford, Lewis Kropotkin, Peter

The government spurred home buying because the lumber industry and the building trades were an important source of employment. The G.I. Bill made it possible for veterans to buy homes with no money down, creating a demand for millions of new houses. The Federal Housing Administration made mortgage loans nearly as attractive to nonveterans. For many years, it was cheaper to own a home than to rent one.

Cities and towns tended to lose their unique identities because the tract houses, apartment buildings, schools, and shopping facilities looked so much alike. The main arteries were disfigured with business establishments built with no consideration of aesthetics or harmony with the landscape.

Murray Bookchin, writing under his pen name, Lewis Herber, shocked a portion of the American public into action with Crisis in Our Cities, in which he exposed the intricacies of the urban problem. In separate chapters, he discusses air pollution, water pollution, physical ailments attributable to lack of exercise, and psychological ailments caused by stresses such as noise, competition for recreational and living space, frustrations caused by vehicle and foot traffic, and feelings of anonymity, isolation, and powerlessness with the resultant anxiety and hostility.

Many urbanites suffer from depression, sleep disorders, and other psychological ailments. Bookchin emphasizes repressed anger caused by the frustrations of city living as responsible for physical and mental illness. He states that legislators can be pressured into taking action against the problems of air and water pollution but that individuals must find other means of coping with less-tangible psychological pressures. He cites evidence that one in ten Americans will be hospitalized for a mental disorder during his or her lifetime and blames much of this on runaway urbanization.

One of the biggest problems faced by cities is the phenomenon known as “white flight.” Since World War II, the predominantly white middle class has tended to move out of cities. Its taxes have paid for suburban improvements, such as sewers, streets, playgrounds, streetlights, and schools; inner cities have been deprived of important revenue, because the poorer people were left behind. Ironically, when people move from cities to escape air pollution, congestion, noise, and crime, they generally take these problems with them.

Every American city was affected by white flight. Central areas deteriorated. Landlords lacked incentive to maintain properties because they received low rent from tenants who either worked for minimum wages or were unemployed. Crime increased because of shortages of police protection and social services. Public schools in the inner cities were unable to cope with demands; their physical facilities deteriorated, and their staffs suffered from burnout and dissatisfaction with salaries that did not keep up with inflation.

As an anarchist, Anarchism Bookchin believes in a classless society and minimal government. In Crisis in Our Cities, he calls for neighborhood activism to bring about change. He proposes that human beings develop new ways of living that will foster strength of body, mind, and emotions. Creating cities that not only are habitable but also enriching is, for Bookchin, a step toward fulfillment of human potential.


Crisis in Our Cities exposed the major problems and concerns of U.S. cities and offered new solutions. Bookchin was one of the first to evoke the concept of the “quality of life” and to argue that felt values were as important as material values. He also argued that feelings of anger, anxiety, and frustration are not merely individual problems but social problems to be solved by social action. Crisis in Our Cities is not a utopian socialistic panacea; in fact, like many earlier thinkers, including Peter Kropotkin and Henry David Thoreau, Bookchin distrusts big government and encourages people to help themselves by working at the grassroots level.

Since the 1960’s, many of Bookchin’s recommendations have been put into practice. Noticeable improvements in urban lifestyles include antismoking ordinances, carpooling, voluntary recycling, the development of new rapid transit systems, recreation centers for young people and senior citizens, organized sports for boys and girls, volunteer hot lines offering emergency psychological counseling, volunteers working with urban gangs, “Take back the streets” campaigns, safe houses for battered women, block parents for latchkey children, havens for runaways, and countless other innovations. Many urban renewal projects, involving heavy corporate support, have restored many urban areas, attracting many people back into cities from the suburbs.

Bookchin has also recommended construction of malls to alleviate congestion and to provide havens for pedestrians. In 1965, malls were a rarity, but into the twenty-first century, they have become a striking architectural phenomenon in most U.S. cities. Bookchin has also advocated exercise as a part of urban living; a health-consciousness urban population has persisted since 1965.

Bookchin has called for clean alternatives to smog-producing fossil fuels. Since Crisis in Our Cities was published, there have been advances in the use of solar power, tidal power, wind power, and in the development of clean atomic energy. There has also been significant progress in the reduction of fossil fuel consumption through better insulation, more fuel-efficient automobile engines, improvement of public transportation, and carpooling, among other things.

Furthermore, Bookchin has proposed decentralization. He believed that gigantic cities were becoming unmanageable and that smaller cities should be created. This type of decentralization has occurred to a considerable extent outside the United States. Even in the United States, however, decentralization has occurred through a combination of socioeconomic, technological, and other factors. For example, millions of senior citizens continue to forsake the big cities to move to safer, smaller, cleaner, quieter, less-expensive communities in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Colorado, the Carolinas, Florida, and elsewhere. Crisis in Our Cities (Bookchin) Cultural criticism Urbanization;social and psychological effects Urbanization;environmental impact Environmentalism Modernity

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Biehl, Janet, ed. The Murray Bookchin Reader. Washington, D.C.: Cassell, 1997. A collection of Bookchin’s writings on environmentalism and human ecology. Includes a bibliography and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bookchin, Murray. Crisis in Our Cities. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1965. Bookchin’s classic work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Clark, John, ed. Renewing the Earth, the Promise of Social Ecology: A Celebration of the Work of Murray Bookchin. London: Green Print, 1990. A collection discussing various aspects of social ecology, the humanistic movement that Bookchin inspired. Each essay is followed by valuable reference notes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mumford, Lewis. The City in History. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961. A study of the five thousand-year history of cities throughout the world. Mumford, who wrote “The Sky Line” column for The New Yorker for thirty years, has been called the forefather of neighborhood activism and green politics.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Skinner, B. F. Walden Two. 1948. Reprint. New York: Macmillan, 1976. This utopian novel by a leading American behavioral psychologist describes a communal lifestyle, which is prescribed as a practical alternative to the stressful, competitive urban lifestyle evolving in post-World War II America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Civil Disobedience. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1960. Walden, originally published in 1854, and “Civil Disobedience,” originally published in 1844, are the two classic works of the great American philosopher-poet-naturalist who was an inspiration to Bookchin and the social ecology movement.

Mumford Warns of the Dangers of Growing Cities

Bookchin Warns of Health Hazards of Artificial Environments

Congress Passes the Motor Vehicle Air Pollution Control Act

Design for the Real World Calls for Industrial Design Reform

Categories: History