Urban Planning Development

After America's Midlife Crisis (Boston Review Books) by Michael Gecan

By Michael Gecan

An established neighborhood organizer outlines the way to opposite the fifty-year decline in social mobility and fiscal growth.

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David Dinkins secured the funds to hire additional cops. Rudy Giuliani made public safety the hallmark of his administration and hired Bill Bratton to revolutionize police work in the city. And Michael Bloomberg both institutionalized and improved on Giuliani’s work, making New York one of the safest big cites and a challenge for the Hollywood crowd looking for edgy street scenes. In 2008 the city recorded 522 homicides—down from 2,250 little more than a decade ago. These three major improvements—in housing, transportation, and crime—are so large in scale that they are hard to see, absorb, or interpret.

The leaders involved in these efforts were by no means in sync, cooperative, or even civil to one another. On the contrary, each effort was accompanied by disputes, rivalries, jealousies, and open warfare at times. There was no centralized “meeting of all the stakeholders” in some lavish foundation conference room or elegant university hall. What to make of this? Even today, the conventional wisdom is that New York is out of control, dangerous, dirty; a nice place to play, but a terrible place to live.

Relentless advocacy by Gene Russianoff and the Straphangers Campaign kept the problems and potential of the transit system on the radar screens of the press and politicians. Able management by Robert Kiley meant that the funds raised and saved were put to good use. A workforce of 40,000 transit employees, most of them city dwellers, kept the trains and buses running. Today, breakdowns are rare and crime is remichael gecan  markably low. Predictably, riders jam the trains and buses at all hours of the day and night.

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