Book Prizes!

I am thrilled to announce that Insuring the City has received two book prizes:  the Kenneth Jackson Prize for Best Book in Urban History (North American topic); and the Lewis Mumford Award for Best Book from the Society of American City and Regional Planning History.

Here is the citation from the UHA:

UHA Kenneth Jackson Prize, 2012

 Elihu Rubin, Insuring the City: The Prudential Center and the Postwar Urban Landscape (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).

In his fascinating case study of the Prudential Center in Boston, architectural historian Elihu Rubin offers a surprisingly broad reinterpretation of urban renewal in the automobile age.   Rubin moves beyond the politics of renewal and treats corporate decision makers seriously as shapers of the postwar city.  In his keen analysis of architectural designs and site plans, Rubin offers a convincing case that “the Pru” is a “culturally significant landscape that exemplifies the production of urban space in postwar America.”   Rubin uses extensive archival research to trace the history of this iconic skyscraper and the surrounding city-within-a-city development, which accommodated the Boston Extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike.  The centrality of “the Pike” to the redevelopment of what had been the Boston and Albany rail yard, allows Rubin to examine the accommodation of automobiles in the vision of a reinvented and revived city.  In the process, Rubin reflects on the larger trends in Americans’ thinking about urban life in the mid twentieth century – the real fear of decline and hopes for renewal through massive investment in auto-friendly infrastructure, especially freeways and garages.  Prudential’s decision to build a number of central city skyscrapers in the 1950s and 1960s was just part of the insurance industry’s investment in urban America, a reminder of the critical role these “mighty pumps” of capital played in the creation of the service city.  Some observers have decried the massive intrusion of powerful corporations – and their sterile modern skyscrapers – in urban renewal politics and city skylines.  While casting Prudential as neither savior nor villain, Rubin concludes, however, that “we should remember that at a time when American cities were struggling Prudential took a gamble and made a decisive investment in its new home.”


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