“Progressive cities” can claim a modern chronology extending from the 1960s to the present. In the 1960s, cities and neighborhoods experienced and contributed to a set of social movements typically in protest of the effects of many urban programs of the time like urban renewal and the urban parts of the interstate highway program.
What happened after about 1970 was the transformation of social movement energy to the attempt to capture real institutions and operate them in service of similar causes: social justice, equality, and neighborhood “rights” not to have their communities destroyed. Prominent examples were the takeovers of city governments by movement activists, now typically calling themselves “progressives,” and the creation of neighborhood-based based initiatives ranging from grassroots-based protests to community development corporations.
“Progressive cities” were cases of the larger scale capture of city government. Examples include Hartford, Cleveland, Madison, Berkeley, Santa Monica, Santa Cruz, Burlington (Vermont), San Francisco, Boston, and Chicago where progressives held mayoralties or council majorities for periods ranging from two years to several decades. There were examples in other countries as well: London, Sheffield, Bologna, and several other cities in Canada, Europe and Latin America. By the 1970s, activists were pouring into many of these cities. They had or were affected by recent experience in civil rights, anti-war, and student movements. When some of them found a more permanent base in the neighborhoods and began to run for and then capture political leadership of city halls, there was the potential for a new kind of city government.