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Posts in Urban Decline & Fiscal Crisis
Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

Rough Paradise: Sex, Art, and Economic Crisis on the New York City Waterfront

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan and Jeffrey Escoffier

New York City was for many years one of the world’s leading ports. In the early 1950s, the docks in New York City, by far the country’s busiest, directly and indirectly supplied, according to the City’s Department of Marine and Aviation, livelihood for almost 10% of the city’s population. Nevertheless, even then there were signs of the port’s impending doom. Plagued with racketeering, traffic congestion, and outmoded facilities, the invention of container shipping was the final straw. Without adequate rail and road access and the space to operate cranes and stack containers, most of the port’s Manhattan-based business moved to New Jersey where new container facilities were being built.

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On the Hot Seat: An Interview with John Garvey of the Taxi Rank & File Coalition

On the Hot Seat: An Interview with John Garvey of the Taxi Rank & File Coalition

John Garvey is a Brooklyn native and lifelong New York City resident. During the 1970s, he was a leading activist in the Taxi Rank & File Coalition, a group of radical cab drivers determined to fight their bosses and a union leadership they perceived as corrupt and ineffective. Later in life, John worked as an educator in New York City jails and headed the Teacher Academy and Collaborative Programs at the City University of New York, where, among other things, he was instrumental in establishing the CUNY Prep program, which offers out-of-school youth a pathway to college. ​He is an editor of Insurgent Notes, of Hard Crackers: Chronicles of Everyday Life, and was an editor of Race Traitor, a journal that published between 1993 and 2005 whose motto was “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity.”

This interview, conducted by Gotham's Andy Battle, has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Contested City: An Interview with Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani

Contested City: An Interview with Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani

Today on Gotham, Prithi Kanakamedala interviews Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani about the process of community-engaged pedagogy, collaborative public history, and advocacy around the Lower East Side's SPURA.

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The Deuce Times Two

The Deuce Times Two

By Jeffrey Escoffier

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” The famous opening line of Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities certainly seems like an appropriate way sum up 1970s New York, but I cite it also because the novel itself comes up in The Deuce’s first season as a book that launches a young prostitute on the road to reading and going back to school. Objectively life in New York City during the 1970s and early 80s was pretty bad — high crime rates, rampant homelessness, loose trash everywhere, whole neighborhoods of abandoned buildings crumbling and burning — yet it was an incredibly creative time as well: in music, art, performance, theater and sexuality. This was brought home to me recently when a 70-year-old retired professor of history said to me: “I know everything was so terrible in that period, but it was also incredibly exciting.”

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Heidi Waleson's Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America

Heidi Waleson's Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America

Reviewed by Lily Kass

Heidi Waleson’s Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in Americatakes us behind the scenes at a long-beloved, and recently resurrected, New York cultural institution. The New York City Opera was founded in 1944 when the New York City Council and Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia inaugurated the City Center of Music and Drama. As one of the center’s constituent performance ensembles, the opera company’s original mission was to bring opera to the people through affordable ticket prices and popular repertoire. Waleson recounts the company’s struggle to survive through the decades as views changed about the importance of opera, both in New York City and around the country. Readers of the book are made constantly aware that City Opera, even from the start, was only barely cheating death and that its demise was preordained.

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Cutting Up the City in Crisis: Gordon Matta-Clark and the Urban Commons

Cutting Up the City in Crisis: Gordon Matta-Clark and the Urban Commons

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan and Jeffrey Escoffier

The traditional narrative of twentieth century urban living has often concerned itself only with the antipodal philosophies and practices of urban planner Robert Moses and critic Jane Jacobs. This binary conception of American urban life contrasted Moses’ radical projects that aimed to remake New York to suit the automobile with Jacobs’ admonishments that quality of life required small, organic neighborhoods of diverse inhabitants and independent businesses. These philosophies, however, were both time and space-specific. Moses’ vision of the ideal city was prompted by the ascent of the automobile and the crumbling infrastructure of immigrant, tenement neighborhoods; he acknowledged a fundamental change in the modes of production and consumption and sought to drastically reorient urban life accordingly. Jacobs’ ideal, alternatively, reacted against the raze and rebuild, top-down approach of Moses. Yet she depended upon historical continuity and assumed an element of permanence in the neighborhoods she studied and strove to protect.

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Relics of the Underground: The Afterlife of Cultural Spaces

Relics of the Underground: The Afterlife of Cultural Spaces

By Jeffrey Patrick Colgan & Jeffrey Escoffier

In early 1974, members of the punk band Television spotted a newly reopened yet unavoidably dingy lower Bowery bar on their way home from rehearsal. Returning soon after, they approached the owner Hilly Krystal and asked if he would host performances by bands that were playing a different kind of rock music. After an initial four-week residency by Television, CBGB & OMFUG (Country, Bluegrass, Blues & Other Music for Uplifting Gormandizers) continued to host countless bands and fostered the emerging punk and No-Wave music scenes of the 1970s and 1980s. Even after its role in any identifiable and burgeoning music scene came to an end in the 1990s, it still hosted performances until its ultimate demise in 2006 — its final sendoff facilitated by Blondie and Patti Smith. By 2008 the former venue was occupied by clothing designer John Varvatos, who kept some of the graffiti, stickers, and concert posters as accents to the calculated ‘subversiveness’ of the items on sale.

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The Problem We All Live With: An Interview with Sarita Daftary-Steel

The Problem We All Live With: An Interview with Sarita Daftary-Steel

Today on the blog, editor Molly Rosner speaks to Sarita Daftary-Steel, founder of the East New York Oral History Project, an interview project documenting the experiences of people who lived in East New York during a decade of rapid change from 1960-70.

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“Town Meetings by Television:" Regional Plan Association’s “CHOICES for ’76”

“Town Meetings by Television:" Regional Plan Association’s “CHOICES for ’76”

By Kristian Taketomo

Between Saturday, March 17 and Monday, March 19, 1973, every major television station in the New York urban region — ​from Hartford, Connecticut to Trenton, New Jersey — broadcast a one-hour, documentary-style program on housing in the tri-state region of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. “Housing — A Place to Live,” which aired at different times on eighteen channels, was the first of six “television town meetings” produced by Regional Plan Association, metropolitan New York’s private, citizen-led planning agency. Four other programs on transportation, the environment, poverty and urban growth followed the first, airing every other week. The sixth episode, on government, was slated for autumn.

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Days of Future Past: Dystopian Comics and the Privatized City

Days of Future Past: Dystopian Comics and the Privatized City

By Ryan Donovan Purcell

“The past: a New and uncertain world, a world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes. Countless choices define our fate — each choice, each moment, a ripple in the river of time — Enough ripples and you change the tide, for the future is never truly set.” This is the lesson Dr. Xavier learns at the end of the Marvel film, X-Men: Days of Future Past(2014). It’s a science-fiction alternative history in which the X-Men send Logan (Wolverine) back to the year 1973 to change their fate. In order to prevent the sequence of events that leads to mutant annihilation Logan must break into the Pentagon, prevent a landmark arms deal at the Paris Peace Accords, and save Richard Nixon from mutant radicals (as one might expect). The comic on which the film was based, however, is a far different story.

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