A New Deal for New York


Mike Wallace
A New Deal for New York
Bell & Weiland Publishers/Gotham Center Books

Written with the same verve and gusto that helped win the Pulitzer Prize in History for his and Edwin G. Burrow's book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, A New Deal for New York is a call-to-arms from the distinguished historian Mike Wallace. According to Wallace, the city over its four hundred year history has repeatedly rebounded, indeed improved, in response to crisis.


In A New Deal for New York he says that the plans advanced so far for rebuilding the city do not approach the scale and scope of our prior accomplishments in the face of adversity. He calls for tackling a host of civic problems, starting at Ground Zero and radiating outward to embrace the entire city, drawing for inspiration and concrete ideas on one of the most dramatic initiatives in our civic tradition, the mammoth and path-breaking transformations wrought by the New Deal in the 1930s.

In this short, visionary, yet wholly viable primer for reinvigorating New York, Wallace suggests we look not "outside the box," but "inside the box," of our traditions and values and mighty achievements. In particular his ambitious, multi-pronged plan seeks to revitalize our long-standing approach, dating back to the Erie Canal, of using public resources to promote the common weal. Arguing against our recent excessive reliance on the "free market," Wallace reminds us that "the things we most wish for can't be provided through the market," noting that "you can't buy public health, or mass transit, or a clean environment, or a competent military at the nearest Wal-Mart."

In three sections entitled "The Resilient City," "Beyond the Financial Center," and "The New New Deal," Wallace draws on his sense of the city's history, and on the work of many civic analysts and activists, to offer suggestions for improving the city including a revitalized port, improved mass transit, and more affordable housing.

The model for this series of unified initiatives is the New Deal of the 1930s. The New Deal was hugely ambitious, was deeply rooted in New York City's history, and showed a brilliant understanding of the interconnectedness of issues - qualities Wallace hopes to see in today's rebuilding of New York. New Deal programs employed millions in building the Triborough Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, LaGuardia Airport, the FDR Drive, and establishing or repairing innumerable health clinics, libraries, educational facilities, homeless shelters, courthouses, firehouses, police stations, and the list goes on. The original New Deal was far from perfect — its practices were inherently racist among other serous problems — but Wallace argues that its efforts were "inspirational" and "eminently worthy of revisiting as we chart our course in the years ahead."

September 11th, Wallace writes, has provided us an "opening, as a city, to make our own course corrections on the river of history — if we have the desire, if we can summon the will. It won't be the end of an era unless we decide to make it one. Happily, there are substantial grounds for believing that, under the press of hard blows and hard times, our audacious metropolis will again lead the nation in recalling our history, reimagining our future, and seizing hold of our collective destiny."

Chosen by the New York Times as one of the best books on NYC in 2002
Mike Wallace sets forth a bracingly optimistic program for regenerating not just Ground Zero but the whole metropolitan region. This mini-manifesto of fewer than 100 5-by-7-inch pages calls for an all-out government-supported program modeled after the sweeping initiatives of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. — New York Times Book Review


Bloomberg News, Jan. 16, 2003
By Joe Mysak

I couldn't remember the last time I read a sentence with the term "municipal bonds'' in a book sold anywhere but the business section of a bookstore, let alone one that advocates the creation of a new bond-issuing authority. I asked Wallace if he had gotten any reaction to his proposal from bankers. Putting together a new bond authority and underwriting a $10 billion issue would mean a payday of at least $50 million. He said he hadn't. Maybe that's because the bankers who put together municipal bond issues haven't read A New Deal for New York. Or maybe it's because they picked it up but didn't make it to page 56, where Wallace outlines his proposal. Maybe they didn't hear about his proposal, or his book, at all. Maybe now they have....
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The Nation, Jan. 6, 2003
by Mary Campbell Gallagher

Now, in A New Deal for New York, Mike Wallace gives us a high-spirited, old-style broadside, published just a year after the September 11 attack and chock full of ideas and inspiration for re-invigorating New York City. By making New York's chronic economic conditions acute, Wallace says,the tragedy helped us galvanize the will to confront them. In fewer than 100 pages, Wallace stirringly argues for his vision of a renewed New York City.
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VICE Magazine, Jan. 2003
by Lisa Phillips

The author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 is one of the few people from whom I want to hear anything about September 11th. The whole idea in his new book is that times of crisis in America can bring amazing opportunities for renewal — economically, socially, and creatively. After a lively history of the downtown area in the first section of this short and easily read book, Wallace proposes a few different ideas. His strategies take so much into account, covering everything from new job opportunities, a revitalized port, affordable housing, business real estate, and recreational public spaces. And to silence any naysayers, Wallace also shows us exactly how and where to spend exactly what money to make it all happen. Mr. Governor, Mr. Mayor — even Mr. President — please read this book NOW.

The New York Times, Jan. 4, 2003
by Frank Rich
The beautiful plans for ground zero similarly help us avoid dwelling on the reality that no grand renewal is likely to happen there for years (short of a federal-government-sponsored New Deal for New York, like the one proposed by the historian Mike Wallace in his book of that title). As one downtown landlord told Charles Bagli of The Times: "You can't build that stuff. Ultimately, the market is going to dictate what's needed and when it's needed." You can't build the tallest building in the world downtown when Lower Manhattan already has 17 million square feet of vacant office space. The plans on view at the Winter Garden are placebos. They're more compelling as an exercise in group therapy than as a window into the future.

The Berkshire Eagle
by Leonard Quart
Since I'm writing about city politics I wanted to recommend a short book, A New Deal for New York, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Mike Wallace, author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898. The new book offers a plethora of proposals for how to rebuild downtown Manhattan, and, more importantly, how to revive the city as a whole. Many of the proposals are imaginative, others are commonsensical, but what's most interesting is Wallace's linking up his vision of the future city with FDR's New Deal.
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District Council 37
by Ken Nash

But while New York City is in crisis, the rest of the country is also suffering, and federal action is needed. Mr. Wallace argues that the country needs a new New Deal, building on the best of the 1930s efforts. The place to begin is here in New York City, where so many of the ideas of the original New Deal bubbled up and were implemented. This is a program and an agenda that could excite not only Democrats but even some moderate Republicans in other states that are also hurting from the recession. Mr. Wallace is a fountain of new ideas based on the best of the progressive tradition.
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The New York Review of Books, Dec. 19, 2002
by Jason Epstein

This exhilarating, great-hearted book of a mere 99 pages, written by Mike Wallace, coauthor of the magisterial Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, is described with excessive modesty by its author as compendium of ideas mostly floated by others for reconstructing Lower Manhattan and energizing the city as a whole. But the synthesis of these ideas, whatever their origin, and thus the force of the argument, belongs entirely to Wallace, who also claims that he wrote in haste and under pressure. But this is not evident in his spare, conversational and vigorous prose.
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The New York Times, Dec. 8, 2002
In A New Deal for New York, the urbanologist Mike Wallace — who with Edwin G. Burrows wrote Gotham, the best general history of New York City to date — sets forth a bracingly optimistic program for regenerating not just Ground Zero but the whole metropolitan region. This mini-manifesto of fewer than 100 5-by-7-inch pages calls for an all-out government-supported program modeled after the sweeping initiatives of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Acutely attuned to the economic and political realities that determine the architecture of cities, Wallace nonetheless sees no need to stifle the humanitarian impulses that pulled America out of the Great Depression. Here he urges that however conservative the electorate may seem to have become in recent decades, a similar spirit of shared purpose can prevail against the very different perils we face today.

Gotham Gazette, Dec. 11, 2002
The book is Wallace's view of how to rebuild downtown Manhattan after September 11th, as well as revive the city as a whole, and indeed the entire nation.A few of the opinions in Wallace's book are not widely held: He would like all 16 acres of the World Trade Center to "lie fallow, at least for a suitable interim period." But many of the ideas in A New Deal For New York are pulled together largely from those being put forth by such "in-the-trenches experts" (in Wallace's phrase) as the coalition of post-9/11 rebuilding groups, which recently issued nine principles or rebuilding.
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Read an interview with Mike Wallace in Gotham Gazette

Listen to an interview on WNYC's
Leonard Lopate Show

The New York Sun, Nov. 13, 2002
In A New Deal for New York, Mike Wallace... has written an extended essay dedicated to seeing our current condition through 1930s lenses. For most of America, the statism of the New Deal was the exception; in New York, for much of the political class, at least, it’s still the norm.
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The New Republic, Sept. 9, 2002
by Martin Filler

By far the most cogent set of recommendations advanced in the past year of intense debate over the fate of Ground Zero is contained in a small book by Mike Wallace called A New Deal for New York... Wallace places the project within its larger regional and national context, delineated with a breadth of historical learning and socio-political insight not seen since Lewis Mumford... This is just what we need now, and Wallace has risen to the occasion splendidly.
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New York Observer, Sept. 11, 2002
Tom McGeveran

Mike Wallace, the Pulitzer Prize–winning co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, and arguably the city’s foremost public intellectual on the subject of New York history, is making the case for redevelopment on a human, rather than a monumental, scale. Mr. Wallace’s new book links downtown redevelopment to a call for a reinvigorated, activist government — that is, the kind of government that was born in New York in the 1920’s and 30’s.
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Time Out New York, Oct. 3-10, 2002
Billie Cohen
In A New Deal for New York, Mike Wallace, the Pulitzer Prize winning co-author of Gotham, fleshes out the issues surrounding the rebuilding of Ground Zero and what they mean for the rebirth of the city as a whole. Wallace doesn't just focus on pie-in-the-sky visions: he offers historical examples and a recipe for rallying the political and financial resources needed to get the job done. There's only one problem: Such a specific book will feel very dated very soon. Still, as a freeze-frame of a memorable moment, it has timeless values.

The Washington Post, Oct. 27, 2002
Michael Tomasky
A New Deal for New York is Wallace's prescription for what to do now. It is part analysis and part polemic; and while it is more successful as the former than as the latter, it serves as a valuable guide to what the city can be if its political leaders can summon the will — and find the money — to undertake the kind of great public acts that New York, in its heyday, accomplished with such stunning regularity. Read the whole article.

City Limits, November 2002
Much of what's in this slender prospectus has been argued before, but no previous effort has matched Wallace's sheer eloquence. Deftly and succinctly, he identifies lower Manhattan's reconstruction as an historic opportunity to transform the city's development strategy, away from sucking up to financial conglomerates and towards embracing an array of job-creating sectors. A bonus: in reviewing the first New Deal,Wallace provides a sneak preview of his next book on New York, coming in a few years when he finishes his 20th-century follow-up to the awesome Gotham.

Publishers Weekly, October 28, 2002
The co-author of of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Gotham: A History of New York to 1898 here uses his extensive knowledge of the city to guide a new vision of New York after September 11. Wallace was in the public library preparing a follow-up to Gotham when the city was attacked. After following the many different proposals for renewal, Wallace decided to lay them against lessons from history. His premise is that New York digests crisis to make itself stronger and has done so repeatedly over its 400 year history. In this essay-like monograph, published in conjunction with the Gotham Center for New York City History, Wallace sees a revitalized port, improved mass transit, and more affordable housing as essential goals, and points out that previous accomplishments of urban planning were on a much greater scale than will be necessary to rebuild downtown: the 1930s New Deal, for example, was responsible for building innumerable health clinics, libraries, educational facilities, homeless shelters, courthouses, firehouses, police stations, LaGaurdia Airport, the FDR Drive, and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. Because the present budget crisis is no worse than the depression, Wallace sees no reason why the renewal in this century should not be as progressive as it was in the last, since New York history has always shown that "the opposite side of disaster is opportunity.”


Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
A New Deal for New York is lively, acute, and packed with usable information. Everyone interested in the future of our town should read Mike Wallace's book.

James K. Galbraith, Lloyd M. Bentsen Jr. Chair in Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas at Austin
A New Deal for New York is a glorious effort — rich, imaginative, sensible, and necessary. Above all it is sane. It deserves a huge audience.

Thomas Kessner, author of Fiorello LaGuardia and the Making of Modern New York
A fantastic ride! A New Deal for New York is inspiring, thought-provoking and always a joy to read.


A New Deal for New York
November 22, 2002

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The New Deal Network, November 23, 2002
by Stirling Newberry

"... a conference whose guests, quality of presentations and quality of discussion remained high through the entire day — far higher, in fact, than most conferences held in large hotel ballrooms in Washington DC which are given far more attention."
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The Nation, Dec. 12, 2002
by Kim Phillips-Fein

"At the Graduate Center, historians, urban planners, politicians, city activists, social scientists and labor leaders met to imagine a new New York City. Representative Jerrold Nadler spoke, as did Bruce Raynor, the president of UNITE. Even Bill Clinton had hoped to attend (he didn’t, which seemed to sum up his rocky relationship with the New Deal)..."
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