How States Shaped Postwar America: State Government and Urban Power. Nicholas Dagen Bloom, (2019), The University of Chicago Press, 367 pp., $35.00 (cloth).
Reviewed by: Elizabeth M. Marcello, Columbia University
Nicholas Dagen Bloom’s How States Shaped Postwar America provides an important — and he claims, overlooked — history of the impact of state governments on cities with a focus on the late 1940s to the early 1970s. The book is organized around five crucial aspects of American urban form: urban planning and redevelopment, transportation, higher education, metropolitan housing, and the environment. Bloom examines these themes mainly using examples from New York State under the leadership of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Bloom also draws on examples from other states including California, Oregon, and Ohio.
Although Bloom focuses on what he believes to be the underappreciated level of state aid to city regions, he credits the federal government as well, noting that state initiatives often responded to or were closely followed by a federal program or subsidy. Indeed, partnerships between state and federal governments enhanced the ability of state governments to act. At the same time, states’ pioneering efforts often galvanized federal action on the national scale.
Central to Bloom’s history — although he does not highlight this — is the statewide public authority. Throughout the country, public authorities enabled states to undertake innovative financing schemes, secure bonds, and clear land for redevelopment. Their numbers ballooned during the Great Depression and following World War II. As state and local governments faced budget shortfalls and increased demands for infrastructure and services, state governments created more public authorities to circumvent financing constraints to fund sewage plants, housing, or other capital needs.
While the critical role of these important institutions do not receive enough attention in Bloom’s story, his emphasis on governors and state policy offers a new lens to urban history and development. How States Shaped Postwar America is an important read for anyone wishing to expand their understanding of the relationship between cities and state governments.
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