A new year in New York City and a new mayor. Good riddance to the Giuliani / Bloomberg era! Like two ravenous vampires, they both managed to suck out the personality of New York City. Vibrant nightlife is gone. And while the drugs and prostitution in Times Square was cleaned up, the corporate mindset that has taken over that area has spread to other parts of the city: Starbucks, banks and other corporations continue to devour real estate while concurrently killing local and ethnic flavors ( http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/08/farewell-to-big-nicks-burger-joint/?_r=0 ). Manhattan, and any area surrounding it, has essentially become a gated community for the rich. I am fairly certain that if Bloomberg had decided to serve another term or two, he would have gotten to “work” on the public housing that occupies some of the most expensive real estate in the borough. Eyes open—that can still happen!
Perhaps the greatest causalities of the Giuliani / Bloomberg era has been the working class, the poor and people of color. The constant “reforms” to education, which were, in part, veiled attempts at union busting and budget cutting, resulted in nothing but an overuse of standardized tests that kill critical thinking and gave rise to the charter school. Charter schools appear to work because students are hand picked; what happens to poor children who need extensive help with academics? Giuliani was very critical of remediation in CUNY, but never mentioned that the students who needed remediation came from a public school system that has been hemorrhaging for decades. There is always money to give tax cuts to businesses that barely pay living wage, but never enough to fund education.
The worst legacy of this era has been the stop and frisk policy: it mirrors the failure of the national war on drugs. Quite simply, the numbers don’t add up. It is a fiasco. See for yourself here: http://stopandfriskinfo.org/ . I would also recommend watching this: http://www.pbs.org/kenburns/centralparkfive/ .
I was inspired to write this because the Rupert Murdoch “news “outlets in New York City are already drumming up the fear and selling the idea that New York City will revert to the way it was in the 1970’s. Let’s be clear on why New York got to that point. Individuals like Robert Moses siphoned monetary resources out of the City to build up the surrounding suburbs. The Cross-Bronx does not benefit the Bronx—it destroyed the Bronx! People once lived there. Industry fled for various reasons. The middle and working classes / tax base left the city and the poor and people of color moved into their former neighborhoods, which were subsequently red-lined. Harlem had been red lined since the 1920’s. The media has portrayed people of color as gun totting, drug-using savages who burn and vandalize their neighborhoods. They are portrayed as bad for real estate. The fact is that landlords of these redlined areas paid arsons so that they could collect insurance.
The New York City of today is in better financial shape. Yes, Giuliani and Bloomberg were instrumental in fostering business, but have the returns benefited everyone? If they did, our public schools would be in better shape, public transportation would be cheaper and there would be more real estate for the middle and working classes as well as the poor. I have high hopes that Mayor DiBlasio can bring some balance.
Some additional resources and reading:
– The chapter from Robert Caro’s Pulitzer winning book, The Power Broker, that explores the Cross Bronx: http://dcrit.sva.edu/view/readingroom/the-power-broker-one-mile/
– A PBS documentary on Robert Moses. This part looks at the Cross Bronx and is an excellent companion to the above chapter from The Power Broker. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko3DQiioGos
– The 7th episode of Ric Burn’s masterpiece documentary on New York City explores a lot of what I discussed up above including the hired arsons in the Bronx: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ko3DQiioGos
– A 1980 article from The Village Voice on the arsons of the Bronx. http://www.villagevoice.com/2005-10-18/specials/arson-for-hire/
This is a good companion to what I discussed in this posting: http://gothamist.com/2014/01/05/6926_years_of_nyc_history_disappear.php
This article illustrates what I am talking about in this blog entry. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/23/nyregion/they-kept-a-lower-east-side-lot-vacant-for-decades.html?emc=edit_ur_20140323&nl=nyregion&nlid=55058713&_r=0