City on the Edge

Hard Choices in the American Rust Belt

By Michael Streissguth

Subjects: New York/regional, Sociology, African American Studies
Series: Excelsior Editions
Imprint: Excelsior Editions
Paperback : 9781438479903, 281 pages, September 2020

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents


Introduction: City of Moments

1. A Tragic Father's Day

2. Reimagining a City

3. Coming to Syracuse

4. Refuge in the City

5. No Place More Vital

6. Barriers Everywhere

7. Welcome to America

8. Proceed to Go

9. Temptation

10. Crashing

11. A Glittering Night

12. The Trial

13. Burning Down

14. Redemption

15. At Home

Epilogue: Still on the Edge

Selected Bibliography

Explores why people stay in vulnerable cities by looking at Syracuse, New York, through the contemporary experiences of five citizens.


Why do people stay in a struggling city? City on the Edge explores this question through the lives of five people in Syracuse, New York, a quintessential rust-belt metropolis. Once a booming industrial center with a dynamic civic life and prominence on the world stage, Syracuse has endured decades of crime, drugs, economic depression, absent-minded political leadership, and population decline. Michael Streissguth spent more than three years interviewing a young survivor of the streets, a refugee from Cuba, an urban farmer, a community activist, and a city elder, who shared their stories as they found ways to make life work against sometimes formidable odds. He also contextualizes their extended commentary and storytelling with secondary characters and various episodes, such as a tragic Father's Day riot and the trial that followed. The result is an eye-opening look at life in America in the twenty-first century, where people strive to turn their ideas, frustrations, and disadvantages into new hope for themselves and the city where they live.

A journalist, filmmaker, and longtime resident of Syracuse, Michael Streissguth is a professor at Le Moyne College. His work has been published in the Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Rolling Stone, the Irish Times, and many other publications. He has written eight books, including Johnny Cash: The Biography.


"The strength of the book is without a doubt the personal, complex stories of the Syracuse Five. Streissguth regularly steps back and allows them to speak for themselves with great, poignant quotes throughout the book … City on the Edge tells the intricate story of a complex city with real, complex people where hard choices need to be made. And it is a story worth reading." — Journal of Urban Affairs

"[Streissguth's] engaging book … joins a burgeoning list of narrative nonfiction that weaves together a broad sense of place and time with personal histories and experiences … Highly recommended." — CHOICE

"Streissguth's portrait of Syracuse is beautifully cinematic; it's bearing witness to the hope and tenacity that are fundamental ingredients for urban revitalization. Readers will see their own living environments through the lively description of the fabric of this city. The voice Streissguth evokes with his central characters makes this an essential documentary commentary on the struggles people face daily in the remaking of their 'sense of place.'" — Bestor Cram, director, Cleveland: Confronting Decline in an American City

"Very interesting and compelling, City on the Edge offers an entry into the larger policy discussions about infrastructure, racism, immigration, and other issues that we need to be having as a nation. It doesn't present solutions, but it does provide a clear picture of the problems and thus will change the terms of the conversation in Syracuse and other similar cities." — Rob Spirko, University of Tennessee, Knoxville