Cities After Socialism by Gregory Andrusz, Michael Harloe, and Ivan Szelenyi

1557861641Nonfiction — print. Blackwell Publishers, 1996. 340 pgs. Borrowed from a professor.

I’m not very good at visiting my professors during office hours unless I’ve received a bad grade or I’m asking for a recommendation letter. Visit a professor for advice on a paper? Never! Yet this book has me completely rethinking my refusal.

I had hit a wall with my final paper for my social justice class because, while I did have an idea, it was so grandiose and broad that I had no clue if it was actually met the requirements for the final paper. My professor not only helped me refine my idea but he let me borrow this book from his personal library. I couldn’t not have written that paper without this book. Moral of the story? Go to office hours just to chat and not to complain and beg.

Subtitled “Urban and Regional Change and Conflict in Post-Socialist Societies”, this book is a collection of essays by different authors on the transition of socialist cities into capitalist ones, focusing largely on housing privatization in the former communist states of Easter Europe and the Soviet Union. Basically, the book argues that cities like East Berlin, Warsaw, and Saint Petersburg will decide the trajectory in which formerly socialist countries will take. The physical structure of the city was so vastly altered during socialism that undoing the construction of micro-regional housing complexes on the outskirts of the city and parade sites and monuments in the city center through the forces of capitalism will be a formidable task that will affect residents differently. (Or, you could be like Hungary, and dump all your old statues in one location and charge admission to Westerners to see them.) Furthermore, a lack of protection for the new urban underclass will doom these countries to cycles of violence and social unrest.

I was afraid the book would be a very dense read and inaccessible to someone not all that familiar with socialism/communism. Not true. It’s actually very informative and easy to understand. Why the authors didn’t explicit answer the questions I was formulating for my own paper on social justice and the socialist city, I learned so much background information that my paper was much better than had it been without reading this book.

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