In 1890 historian Frederick Jackson Turner declared the American frontier closed: Pioneers no longer needed. A half century ago John F. Kennedy declared, “We stand today on the edge of a New Frontier … of unfilled hopes and unfilled dreams.”
His successor, Lyndon Johnson, proclaimed at the University of Michigan in 1964, “Our society will never be great until our cities are great,” so he would “assemble the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world” to build in those cities and elsewhere “the Great Society.”
Some 30 miles from where Johnson spoke, Christians and others are struggling for survival in a new frontier, the Brightmoor neighborhood on the northwest side of Detroit. No great society here: As the Motor City lurches toward likely bankruptcy, residents increasingly go without city services.
The result is fear among some but a sense of freedom for others. Ask city officials for permission to put in a composting toilet? Why bother—it will be months or years before they respond, so just do it. Board up a vacant house and start a farm? Get some nails, get dirt under your fingernails. Raise chickens? Cluck, cluck.
This special section begins with a look at life on the Brightmoor frontier. We then look at developments in New Orleans during the four years since our 2009 cover story on that post-Katrina frontier, head west to churches growing in downtown Los Angeles, and circle to entrepreneurial pioneers in three great cities of the former Soviet Union: Tallinn, Vilnius, and Kiev.