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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reading Stories of Crisis and Recovery: What Next for the American City?


Economic crisis makes for compelling stories: coming back from lunch to find the office emptied out, planting backyard vegetable gardens, walking away from their foreclosed homes. The crisis thus becomes a series of tales of individual suffering, resilience, hard luck and fresh starts.

Such narratives of crisis permit certain kinds of discourse to become normalized: discourses about the need for wholesale change, for desperate measures, for painful adjustment, for facing reality. As their plots reveal conventional ideas about the roots of the crisis, they also become stories about particular forms of recovery. Such stories help to justify, frame, and naturalize arguments about what the future holds and what responses are necessary. As a planner, I find myself wondering which pieces of this conventional wisdom will be quoted in urban plans and development pitches. How will these stories shape discourse about what’s necessary for American cities to “win”?

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