The Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society


Economic Theory

In this all-time classic, Thomas Sowell, explores how the opinions of the liberal elite have informed social policy over the last thirty years with disastrous consequences

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A fully revised and updated new edition of this popular title

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An exciting and pioneering book, it sketches out a provocative vision for cities based on civil cooperation and entrepreneurship.

Historically, the city was considered a centre of commerce, knowledge and culture, a haven for safety and a place of opportunity. Today, however, cities are widely viewed as centres for crime, homelessness, drug wars, business failure, impoverishment, transit gridlock, illiteracy, pollution, unemployment, and other social ills. In many cities, government increasingly dominates life. Decision-making has become intensely politicised, and largely unaccountable to the public.

The Voluntary City assembles a rich history and analysis of private, locally-based provision of social services, urban infrastructure, and community governance. Such systems have offered superior education, transportation, housing, crime control, recreation, health care, and employment by being more effective, innovative, and responsive than those provided through special-interest politics and bureaucracy. The book reveals how the process of providing local public goods through the dynamism of freely competitive, market-based entrepreneurship is unmatched in renewing communities and strengthening the bonds of civil society.

Peter Gordon’s research interests are in applied urban economics. He has recently written on the problems of the “sprawl†debate. He is the Co-Editor of Planning and Markets, an all-electronic refereed journal ( He and his colleagues have developed the Southern California Planning Model which they apply to the study of economic impacts at a detailed spatial and sectoral scale. Recent applications have included studies of the effects of major earthquakes.

He has published in most of the major urban planning, urban transportation and urban economics journals. His recent papers are at He has consulted for local, state and federal agencies, the World Bank, the United Nations and many private groups. Gordon received his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971.

Published by The Independent Institute and the University of Michigan Press