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Economy

From Broken Cities, a Plea for Grassroots Fixes

In “The Fight to Save the Town,” legal scholar Michelle Wilde Anderson shows how four poverty-struck communities fought back against austerity measures. 

Stockton, California, in 2012, when the beleaguered city declared bankruptcy. Its road back to fiscal health has been challenging. 

Stockton, California, in 2012, when the beleaguered city declared bankruptcy. Its road back to fiscal health has been challenging. 

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

When Stockton, California, declared bankruptcy in 2012, it was the largest municipal failure in American history. But it wasn’t exactly a surprise: By the late 20th century, the city had already become a symbol of urban decline. Once a hub of canning, farming and manufacturing jobs, Stockton saw its major employers begin to leave the region; the city’s tax base evaporated and housing values plummeted.

As Michelle Wilde Anderson recounts in her new book, “The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America,” Stockton’s economic woes deepened in the wake of the Great Recession: Between 2007 and 2011, the city was saddled with 20% unemployment and suffered a higher foreclosure rate than any city in the nation apart from Detroit.