University of Chicago Press, 2012.
Chicago is a great city for its distinctive neighborhoods, many based on variation in ethnicity, national origin, wealth, and social class. My first teaching position was at Loyola University of Chicago, and for a couple of years I sent students out to do research on modern material culture in Chicago. The students did the kind of research archaeologists normally do, but addressed at modern Chicago, not at ancient sites.
For example, archaeologists often compare different contexts (neighborhoods, or houses, or settlements) in terms of the kinds of material objects each had. These could be portable artifacts, or buildings or architectural spaces. We use the differences in artifacts between contexts to make inferences about social differences in the past. But do wealthy and poor neighborhoods really differ in their material remains? Archaeologists rely on knowledge of modern and recent contexts to generate analogies (formal comparisons) to interpret the past. We study these issues in modern contexts where we know both the material remains and their social significance, and then we apply that knowledge to the past. While it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that rich and poor neighborhoods look different in their housing, their streets, and innumerable material measures, it is still useful to have firm data about how these relationships between artifacts and society work today, so that we can make better inferences about the distant past.
It turns out that the number of ornaments had nothing to do with ethnicity (in this neighborhood, at least). There was a hot spot on one street -- two houses, diagonally across from one another, had far more ornaments than anybody else. These two homeowners were in competition with one another, and they both went bonkers with more than 100 things in their front yards. But they clearly had an effect on their neighbors, because most yards on that one street had far more ornaments than elsewhere in the area. In fact, the map showed a steady decline in the frequency of ornaments as one moved away from the two top houses (a nice distance decay distribution, to be technical). So, in this one Chicago neighborhood, ethnicity had nothing to do with the frequency (or type) of lawn ornaments. Instead, two homeowners went nuts competing with one another for the gaudiest yard, and their neighbors joined in and put lots of things in their yards too.
So in this case, archaeological methods of studying the spatial and quantitative distributions of artifacts yielded information about modern society in Chicago. While archaeologists more commonly use insights from modern cities to interpret ancient cities, in this case archaeological methods from ancient cities contributed to our knowledge of modern cities. Research on past and present cities can be a two-way street.