The primary theme of this collection of essays is that the cities' basic problems are poverty and racism, and until these concerns are addressed by bringing about racial equality, creating jobs, and instituting other reforms, the generally low quality of urban life will persist. Gans argues that the individual must work to alter society. He believes that not only must parents have jobs to improve their children's school performance, but that the country needs a modernized New Deal, a more labor-intensive economy, and a thirty-two hour work week to achieve full employment. Other controversial ideas presented in this book include Gans's opposition to the whole notion of an underclass, which he feels is the latest way for the nonpoor to unjustly label the poor as undeserving. He also believes that poverty continues to plague society because it is often useful to the nonpoor. He is critical of architecture that aims above all to be aesthetic or to make philosophical statements, is doubtful that planners can or should try to reform our social or personal lives, and thinks we should concentrate on achieving individual public policies until we learn how to properly plan as a society.