July 05 2013

The Big Sort: Essential Reading for Aspiring Urbanists

The Big Sort Book cover

Sharing with contemporary masterpieces such as Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone or David’s Brook’s 2004 publication of On Paradise Drive, The Big Sort – written by Bill Bishop in 2009 – delivers a critical examination of the nature of contemporary American political culture.

The idea for the book originated in 2002 when Bishop became interested in researching why certain communities were able to become economically prosperous while others stagnated. Bishop, having worked as a Reporter at the Austin American Statesmen, began collaborating with Sociologist Robert Cushing, a now retired Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Their work would quickly attract other experts including Richard Florida, Kevin Stolarick and Gary Gates, who supported in an extraordinary find. As Bishop writes, “Everyone in our group found movements that were dizzying and profound. We could see that distinct migratory systems were reshaping regional economies.” In many ways, the correlation between these systems develops into a truly interesting read – supported through a sustained and well-developed argument in subsequent chapters.

Mr. Bishop provides readers with detailed evidence spanning back two centuries. The book is guided through journalistic excellence, which meritoriously illustrates countless events in American History. As readers will learn, this history has been motivated through simultaneous migrations of populations, ideas, culture and values, which in many ways have reshaped the American political consciousness to become ever more fragmented and reactionary.

1976 Politics Before the Sort

2004 Politics After the Sort

Perhaps most stimulating about the book is how it approaches American Democratic History. Through investigating intersections of Social Theory, Social Psychology, Economics and Culture, the book provides a stirring depiction of the current socio-economic division, which continues to grow in America. From the rise of Religious Conservatism to the growth of Tech Cities and Mega Churches, this book uncovers many significant consequences of thinking alike – and staying alike.

At 313 pages with four sections, The Big Sort is rich in its use of language, delivering detailed infographics and maps that share a unique perspective sure to entertain new and lifelong readers in Geography and Urban Planning.

Where can you find your place in The Big Sort? How is it evident within your personal social network and local social media?

Want a FREE copy of “The Big Sort” by Bill Bishop? The Grid is giving away two FREE books to two lucky winners. Follow the link to the giveaway for a chance to win your free copy.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Geoff Bliss

Geoff Bliss grew up in Woodstock, New York and will soon graduate from the Master of Community Planning program at the University of Cincinnati with a focus in Physical Planning. He holds a B.S. in Applied Arts & Science from the Rochester Institute of Technology where he studied Political Science & Archeology. With broad interests in Urban Planning, Geoff is interested finding relationships between Sustainable Development, Urban Archeology, Public Art, and DIY Urbanism. As a Grid blogger, Geoff reported on a wide range of Urban Planning & Urban Design topics in New York City and Cincinnati, OH.

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This entry was posted on Friday, July 5th, 2013 at 9:50 am and is filed under Branding, Content, Government/Politics, History/Preservation, Housing, Infrastructure, Internet Marketing, Land Use, Social/Demographics, Technology, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


3 Responses to “The Big Sort: Essential Reading for Aspiring Urbanists”

  1. Alison Says:

    How social movements shape space is a fascinating facet of current planning and design that is often overlooked. It is interesting how Bishop looks at past precedent to understand trends, but does he formulate any conclusions as to how to look toward the future?

    This ties to a lot of larger conversations about the movement towards urban living, cities as cultural centers, and the retrofitting of suburbia and, I would like to add, small town living.

    I personally just moved from downtown Denver to a small town in California and continue to be fascinated by the mentality of the ‘small town life’. The great thing about a small town is that big impacts can be made with a small gesture. However, this also means that ideas can spread quickly without having the ‘whole story’. In the city the spread of ideas seems more diluted with many people of differing thoughts and backgrounds. Social medias are fuel to the flame in this rapid spread of ideas, and can be both advantageous as well as controversial.

    Thanks for sharing Geoff!

  2. Geoff Bliss Says:

    Thank you so much for your comment, Alison. I’m very pleased to see that this blog caught your attention – and in California no less! You provide a very good point. I believe that Bishop essentially leaves conclusions up to the reader. One could speculate that the Big Sort is only going to continue, so we will have to see how it’s going to affect the both of us and our respective communities. Growing up in a small community myself, I completely understand how ideas can easily become assimilated into people and neighborhoods. This book has broadened my interest in understanding the social dynamics of how communities function, especially in regard to how they change politically over time. I spent several hours looking at census tracts in my hometown and was curious to discover how and why people choose sides – or more importantly why they allow themselves to remain politically polarized. Have you read the book? Let me know.

  3. Alison Says:

    I just put it on my Amazon Reading list, it sounded so interesting! GSP has been an excellent resource for me to stay current. Thank you for your contributions!

    On the topic of small town living, I am particularly interested how we can incorporate elements of city life; the ease of walkability & transit, neighborhoods & districts, and a sense of community. I believe these elements, originally inspired by smaller towns, have been brought back to the city in the last decade to create healthy communities. Ironically, these same elements have been fading away in the smaller town living over the past 50 years.

    I think the big sort is a natural human process of how we assimilate our environment and our identity. I am very curious to see what Bishop contributes to the eb and flow of life in cities vs. small towns. I think and understanding of the history of movement between urban and rural could lead to a conclusion of why people choose their environments as they do. An understanding of this allows planners and designers to make better decisions for communities at large.

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