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2023 Zócalo Book Prize: How Does a Community Save Itself?


America’s high-poverty cities and counties have suffered for decades, enduring skyrocketing inequality, the opioid epidemic, rising housing costs, and widespread disinvestment. Governments have offered a variety of failed solutions, from luring wealthy outsiders to slashing public services. But four communities are turning inward instead: Stockton, California; rural Josephine County, Oregon; Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Detroit, Michigan. In these diverse places—all of which went broke in the wake of the Great Recession—locals are building networks and trust in one another and their institutions, to promote health, wealth, and opportunity. In Stockton, this meant designing organizations to help residents cope with trauma. In Josephine County, people convinced freedom-loving, government-averse voters to increase taxes. Lawrence is building a new model to secure living wages. Detroit is battling to stabilize low-income housing.

What did these strategies look and feel like on the ground? How can other struggling places borrow from their playbooks? And what can the rest of the country do to support towns as they try to help themselves? Stanford Law School’s Michelle Wilde Anderson, winner of the 2023 Zócalo Book Prize for The Fight to Save the Town: Reimagining Discarded America, visits Zócalo to talk with Alberto Retana, president and CEO of South L.A.’s Community Coalition, about how a place with the odds against it can draw on historic strengths and resilient residents to thrive.

The first 20 in-person attendees checking in June 15 will receive a free, signed copy of The Fight to Save the Town.

The 2023 Zócalo Book and Poetry Prizes are generously sponsored by Tim Disney.

Zócalo invites the in-person audience to continue the conversation with speakers and each other at a post-event reception with complimentary drinks and small bites.


Photo of Michelle Wilde Anderson by Scott MacDonald. Illustration by Nick Yang.