Kenneth Jackson Award for Best Book in North American Urban History

Professor Destin Jenkins

The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City
(University of Chicago Press, 2021)

Jenkins relocates the heart of the urban crisis by focusing on the lifeblood of cities: money. Through a deep and sophisticated dive into the history of the municipal bond market, he offers new insights on San Francisco’s urban development and politics, as well as on urban manifestations of neoliberalism more broadly. While the constraints that creditors placed on city budgets in the 1970s and 1980s are well known, Jenkins reveals how a small fraternity of bankers came to play such a major role in urban governance in the first place, ingraining their particular biases and political preferences. From the Great Depression through the 1960s, a reliance on municipal bonds created cities built to benefit white, middle class office workers and consumers, while simultaneously fostering disinvestment in African American communities. With late 1960s urban uprisings and the rise of Black political power, credit rating agencies made it more expensive for cities to borrow, and California voters rejected taxation and bond issues amid rising 1970s interest rates.

Bonds of Inequality is a Visible Hand for future scholars, exposing the role of racial capitalism in shaping the built environment. For Jenkins, bond markets, credit ratings, insurance, and banking are not boring but rather were crucial tools used to defang and defund radical politics based in intersecting LGBTQ+, Black, Asian, and feminist communities of activism that elected Harvey Milk, Gordan J. Lau, and Diane Feinstein to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and Ron Dellums to office at the state level. We owe Jenkins a debt of gratitude for bringing this history to light, and for making connections between factors that urban historians have previously considered in isolation, if at all.