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Few books deal honestly with the taboo subjects of urban decline and "white flight." The following two titles, however, are well worth reading.


THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD
What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration: 1966-1999
The Free Press, 1999 by Ray Suarez

The title and subtitle say it all. Written by NPR's longtime host of the radio show "Talk of the Nation," this is an excellent book that gets to the heart of the matter on how millions of Americans have abandoned life in our big cities since 1950. Loaded with facts and figures, along with some poignant vignettes from former city dwellers who have moved onto supposedly greener pastures, Suarez painstakingly documents what happened, and how we arrived at this sad state of affairs in which we find our cities today.

As an added bonus, Chapter Four features a late 90s tour through crime-ridden and decaying West and Southwest Philadelphia, including the former "Morris Family" neighborhood depicted in ROW HOUSE DAYS.

Suarez captures a crucial but often forgotten page from the experience of postwar America. It is a book for everyone who remembers the prewar cities or wonders how we could have gotten to where we are. It is a book about "old neighborhoods" such as the not-so-ficticious Kings Cross, the 1960s setting for ROW HOUSE DAYS. Neighborhoods that were once cherished, and are now lost. It is about a way of life that has, mainly since the 1960s, simply vanished.


THE SLAUGHTER OF CITIES
Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing
St. Augustine's Press, 2004 by E. Michael Jones

Once again, the title and subtitle say it all. This controversial book, written by former Philadelphia resident Dr. Jones, explores the sinister political reasons behind the destruction of the American city. Jones proposes the theory that the country's power structure, threatened by the rise of Catholic influence in Northern cities, attempted to diffuse the situation through the behind-closed-doors-planning of "urban renewal." The result? Catholics were forced to flee their power base in the urban areas. They were dispersed and absorbed into the surrounding suburbs, while being "ethnically cleansed" and replaced by migrating rural black Southerners, who today find themselves more segregated, concentrated, and isolated than ever before in the new wasteland of America's "inner cities."

Though shocking, Dr. Jones' assertions are well supported by his extensive research and meticulous citations to supporting materials. Has Jones indeed found the smoking gun in the crime of urban collapse? Until his theory is refuted and disproven, it is far too big to be ignored. Makes a person wonder as to why The Philadelphia Inquirer refuses to review THE SLAUGHTER OF CITIES.

Of special interest to residents and former residents of Southwest Philly are Jones' essays "The Ethnic Cleansing of Most Blessed Sacrament Parish" and "The Dirty Annies and Gang Warfare in Most Blessed Sacrament Parish." These articles explain how the priests at MBS were made to feel powerless to prevent the destruction of their parish, and were largely in denial that their neighborhood had in fact become a war zone. Dr. Jones' take on the rise of the Dirty Annies, the infamous, mostly Irish-Catholic street gang that battled the newly arriving black gangs in MBS, is somewhat more sanguine than mine. Of course, my opinion of the Dirty Annies may be biased due to an incident in which they busted my head open with a rock in retaliation for a fistfight with one of their members.

Ah yes, them were the good ol' row house days. What fond memories!

Look for The Dirty Annies to reappear as "The Bloody Marys" in ROW HOUSE BLUES, Part Two of the "Kings Cross" saga. I recently met a former Dirty Annies associate who confided to me, "It's a wonder any of us made it to our 21st birthday."

Yes, Dr. Jones, I expect you may soon find you'll be having a bit of company in the controversy department.

For more information about E. Michael Jones and his many "Catholic perspective" books and publications, visit his www.CultureWars.com web site.