Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

The Gilded City

Politically left magazine The Nation just published a special issue devoted to New York City called “The Gilded City – Bloomberg’s New York.” As you can guess from the title, they aren’t necessarily great fans. There are a ton of articles and perspectives in there that are worth reading no matter what your take on Bloomberg or New York (or left wing politics for that matter). Here are some samples.

What Happened to Working Class New York? “But scratch a little and things do not look so good. During the recession, the city had big job losses in relatively well-paid sectors, including government, construction, manufacturing, finance and insurance, and wholesale trade. The biggest gains since then have been in low-paid industries: restaurants, retail trade and home healthcare. Between July 2008 and July 2012, New York City had a net loss of nearly 60,000 jobs paying $45,000 a year or more, while gaining more than 130,000 jobs paying less than $45,000 [see chart, page 18]. The changing mix contributed to a nearly 8 percent drop in real median wage earnings between 2008 and 2011. An analysis by Hofstra University economists Gregory DeFreitas and Bhaswati Sengupta suggests that many newly created jobs have gone to commuters, exacerbating the difficulty city dwellers face in getting good jobs. For residents of the five boroughs, the official unemployment rate in February was 9.1 percent, well over the national level of 7.7 percent. Though New York is festooned with displays of luxury, its median household income is below the national median and falling. In 2011, 21 percent of New Yorkers lived in poverty, compared with 16 percent nationally.”

The Legacy of the 1970’s Fiscal Crisis. “Today, the fiscal crisis in New York may seem a distant memory, like the graffiti-covered subway cars of the era or the fires that once blazed through Bushwick, a neighborhood now dotted with artisanal chocolate shops and pizza places that win raves from The New York Times. But the diminished expectations we have for the public sector and the increasing difficulty of living a middle-class life in the city suggest the legacy of the fiscal crisis even now. City governments today—including New York’s—seem primarily to be vehicles to attract and maintain private investment. Business improvement districts and public-private partnerships involve companies directly in paying for the services they receive, while the city sweeps away community challenges to business-oriented development. This is supposed to lead to improved services for all; yet over the same years that have seen the rise of this business culture in city government, New York has become the most unequal city in the country—the gulf between rich and poor widening in ways that would have been hard to imagine even in the early ’70s.”

The Education of Michael Bloomberg. “The notion that there had been a great improvement in the public schools, leading to sharp increases in achievement among minority children—the majority of the city’s public school students—was echoed in the mainstream media. It helped Bloomberg retain mayoral control of the public schools, which the state legislature had granted him shortly after his election in 2002, and to win a third term in 2009 (a campaign in which he spent a record $108 million). Unfortunately, his claims of closing the achievement gap proved misleading. On the reliable national assessment known as the NAEP, there had been no significant increase in scores or narrowing of the gap since 2003, when the mayor’s policies were first imposed. In 2010, the state Education Department finally admitted what observers had long suspected: that the state exams had become overly predictable and that scoring well had grown easier over time.”

Dreams Built and Broken: On Ada Louise Huxtable. “The role of the critic is to tangle with reality—its politics, players, construction, destruction—to remain skeptical but not cynical, to have strong opinions but be open to being wrong. The reason Huxtable’s criticism continues to resonate is that she never let her opinions grow stale. One can disagree with her conclusions, but rarely with her identification of the central question. As history brought highlights (Lever House) and lowlights (Lincoln Center) back around, she gave them, as with the Barnes, more than a second glance. Huxtable ended her Beaux-Arts essay looking out her window across 42nd Street: ‘I raise my eyes for an architecture-break in a city that is as heartbreaking in its beauty as it is in its poverty and decay. It is still a city of dreams—promised, built, and broken.'”

Topics: Architecture and Design, Economic Development, Education, Public Policy, Strategic Planning
Cities: New York

5 Responses to “The Gilded City”

  1. wkg_in_bham says:

    Article in the Village Voice has poverty rate of 46%. Based on I/C of $46,400 for a family of four.

    I don’t see how a family of one can make it on $46,400 with NYC prices/rents.

  2. George V says:

    The rise of the middle class is threatening to become a short-term phenomenon in America. Workers demanded better pay and rights throughout the ’20s & ’30s and made great strides. However, as early the ’50s, companies began decentralizing in effort to divide and conquer workers. First, production was moved out of the big cities and scattered across the suburban hinterlands and into rural areas to break up the unity of the unions and diminish the reach of advocates for workers rights. Then, as technology progressed, production gradually shifted to other countries where earlier exploitative labor practices could be reinstituted, and we were too scattered and distracted as a public to put up fight. The final result was globalization, wherein companies could now pit countries and municipalities against each other to get desired labor and tax concessions, and the average person in America is poorer for it.

    As we saw with the sudden and dramatic disintegration of urban America in the ’60s and ’70s, by the time we realize the ramifications of what has happened, it will be too little too late. The collapse of suburbia as we know it will be inevitable and predictably shocking.

    The funny part about all this is that this scenario plays out well for urbanization in America. As wealth inequality and poverty grows, people will be forced back into cramped cities where they can get by with less – as we see in any industrialized society with such problems. Intellectual proponents of urbanization love to tout the sustainability and resource efficiency of urban cities. The dark side of that view is that sustainability and resource efficiency are only sought after by the broader public when we are forced to make do with less, something intellectuals generally only tackle as an abstract concept (“one day fuel will be more expensive) as opposed to a difficult reality. When there is prosperity, we tend to try to maximize the amount of property we own and goods we consume. First it’s a bigger apartment, maybe a duplex. Then it’s a home in the suburbs. Eventually, it’s a McMansion. And so on. You have your outliers that generally remain committed to a specific sort of lifestyle no matter what, but they remain the outliers.

  3. Racaille says:

    It’s nothing more than the europeanization of major city centers.

    You can see it in New York, Chicago, Boston, D.C, etc…

    And it should come as no surprise.

  4. Derek Rutherford says:

    We should be careful about over-generalizing what happens in New York. Compared to other US cities, New York is an outlier in almost every respect. While interesting in its own right, New York’s condition (whether good or bad) is not representative of what is going on in other cities.

  5. Vin says:


    Plenty of “families of one” make it just fine in NYC on $46,400 per year. You have roommates and probably don’t live in Manhattan. That’s a perfectly normal salary for a young, single, person around these parts, and most young, single New Yorkers aren’t eating ramen noodles every night. Aside from rent, NYC prices aren’t really that out of synch with everywhere else. Groceries are usually more expensive, but not outrageously so. Transportation is cheaper, because you don’t need a car. Contrary to popular belief, you can entertain yourself in NYC for very cheap.

    $46,400 for a family of four is another matter entirely…

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