School Work

New York's failure

The American creed values the individual. Indeed, the purpose of the nation—the purpose of the whole, or of the community—is to enable the individual to realize his/her full potential, what we call the “American dream”. Cities play a central role in that function of our republic. “The cities of our democracy are a strange paradox,” I write. “They elevate the individual by bringing him/her into contact with others. Individuals progress through the creation of a community—indeed, individual progression is virtually impossible outside this communal envelope. And as individuals progress, that community and our entire nation progress. This act of bringing individuals into a community to ensure their progression is the primary purpose of American cities.” Yet have they succeeded? A brief study of New York City, “America’s largest and, therefore, most physically and socially complex city,” informed by Ric Burns’s* New York: A Documentary Film, helps answer that question. And the answer is, they have succeeded in some ways, but failed in others. “As the most ultra-American city, New York City’s partial failure is perhaps a sign that American cities altogether have failed to some degree at performing their central role in our democracy,” I conclude. “And we, both as individuals and as a nation, are left the worse for it.” The second part of this document is in response to a query on which planning theories and normative ethical theories I find most congruent with and most antithetical to my own views and on the “liberal democratic notion of personhood”. You know, usual graduate-level, pencil-pushing garbage. University of Utah Salt Lake City, Utah, USA URBPL 5240 Planning Theory & Ethics (Spring 2005) 2 February 2005 * Note: While this document credits Ken Burns for New York: A Documentary Film, based on erroneous information from my professor, it was, in fact, his brother Ric Burns who directed the documentary.
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   M ODULE O  NE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   1 MODULE ONE QUERY ONE New York City: The Evolution of the Physical and Social City  I wanna wake up in a city that doesn’t sleep  And find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap …  If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere  It’s up to you, New York, New York F RANK S INATRA     THEME FROM  NEW YORK NEW YORK    HERE ARE AS MANY WAYS  to define the word  city  as there are cities and people living in them. But one definition that cannot be applied is that of “simple machine.” Rather, a city is a complex organism of many moving parts, acting together in a series of actions, interactions, and reactions, the actions of one part reverberating throughout the whole.  New York City, as America’s largest and, therefore, most physically and socially complex city, is our nation’s foremost example of an organic city of many moving, interdependent and interacting parts. Further, this city of George Washington’s first inauguration, this city of immigrants, this city of the Statue of Liberty—this city is a case study of the unique and important role that urbanism plays in our democracy. What makes the United States of America a democracy is that here, at least according to our most sacred creeds, each individual is recognized not only as unique, but recognized as something of immeasurable worth, and as such is to be given the opportunity to improve him-/herself and, in turn, improve the republic and the world at large. Cities are the mechanism by which this individual progression occurs. This idea is embodied in the  words of Frank Sinatra’s theme from  New York New York , an excerpt from which is found above. In New York City, the prototypical example of American cities, despite the city’s incredible success, there are many signs that this city has failed at even this most basic function.  No American city has seen such rapid growth in both population and commerce on such a scale as  New York nor so many of the accompanying changes in physical and social structure. According to Ken Burns’  New York: A Documentary Film , the city grew from a small town of only about 5,000 in 1776 to over 7,000,000 by the early twentieth century, with millions more at the city’s threshold. Much of this growth resulted from the wave of immigrants that began to arrive in the last half of the nineteenth century. Yet those immigrants, most of whom had given up everything they had in their homelands to benefit from and T By Dustin Tyler Joyce URBPL 5240 | WEDNESDAY, 2 FEBRUARY 2005   M ODULE O  NE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   2 contribute to the promise of American democracy, found themselves subject to the “sorting out” that would be a hallmark of this city and dozens of others across the continent throughout the twentieth century.  This sorting out was accomplished through major changes in the physical structure of the city. A unique urban form reflecting a unique social structure was developed. In turn, these physical changes led to further social changes in this urban organism. Ultimately, it becomes impossible to discuss changes of one type without discussing the accompanying changes of the other type—physical changes in the landscape of the city not only mirror social changes but can in many ways even cause those social changes. In New York City most of all do these changes go hand-in-hand with one another.  Throughout the period of our study, the years from 1931 to 1969, New York and its region physically changed in two primary ways: transportation and housing. In other words, the city changed not only in how you got from place to place, but also in what it was like once you got to where you were going. Under the hand of Robert Moses, the transportation infrastructure of the city and its suburbs changed to a degree unmatched except for perhaps the opening of the subway at the beginning of the century. Two prime examples of this change are the rapid expansion of suburban highways in the metropolitan region, especially on Long Island to the city’s east, and highway expansion within the city itself, most notably the construction of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The city’s housing structure changed first under the hand of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), a New Deal program whose effects were felt long after the end of the Great Depression, and subsequently under the guise of Urban Renewal. Robert Moses began his reign beyond the city’s borders, where new limited-access highways opened up land to a greater degree than trains had in the previous century. Enjoying the freedom of the personal automobile and the open road, urbanites—middle-class whites in particular—could leave the noise, crowding, crime, and grit of the city for the park-like habitations of the suburbs. And they did, doing so in greater numbers than they had previously with the construction of passenger rail. In the process, a further sorting out occurred, only this time not along lines of religion and nationality, but rather along economic and racial lines, and at that self-imposed.  Moses’s highway building program eventually worked its way into the city itself. His highways slashed huge swaths through the heart of every borough except Manhattan—and, if Moses had had his way, through Manhattan, too. Overnight, thousands were evicted from their homes and displaced, neighbors found themselves cut off from one another, and communities which had developed over generations were, if not destroyed outright, severely weakened with a sort of terminal illness. In no place were the physical and social changes wrought by the new highways more poignant than in The Bronx, the city’s northernmost borough. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, in response to increasing needs for transportation infrastructure and under the guidance of Robert Moses, thousands of apartment buildings were razed in a path wider than a football   M ODULE O  NE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   3 field through the center of the borough. Tens of thousands of residents were displaced, with no new housing constructed to replace the residences that were lost, and hundreds of businesses shut their doors forever. In their place was the Cross-Bronx Expressway. Previously among the most tightly-knit communities, The Bronx now found itself torn asunder by a virtually impenetrable ribbon of asphalt. Reacting to the burden of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the Federal Housing Authority in the 1930s as a means to bring the dream of home ownership to millions of middle- and lower-class Americans for the first time and in a New Deal effort to jump-start the nation’s failing economy. What the FHA and similar federal programs meant was that the old days of large down payments and short-term mortgages were gone; in their place were small down payments and long-term mortgages, extending for as many as twenty and even thirty years. Attached to this program were a lengthy series of conditions, among which were:    a preference for construction of new subdivisions by one primary developer, as opposed to the previous practice of having many developers and contractors create America’s new suburban neighborhoods.    recommendations that seclusion and privacy in new neighborhoods be assured through the use of winding, small-scale streets and dead-end cul-de-sacs—a virtual prescription for today’s automobile suburbs.    the suggestion that the most viable and secure neighborhoods—in other words, the areas where banks could feel most comfortable in taking the risk of making a home loan—were homogeneous, where residences were separated from other uses and where all inhabitants were of the same race and social class.  These conditions changed not only the physical characteristics of suburbs across America but also their social structure, a much greater consequence. And it was under the influence of the FHA that New York City’s suburbs were built from the 1930s on, perhaps the greatest change in the layout and social characteristics of the city and its region since its founding three centuries before. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, a new federal program appeared on the scene: Urban Renewal. Its purpose was to rid American cities of their dirty, run-down slums not through incremental improvement but by cataclysmic change. Urban Renewal promoted wholesale slum clearance—the demolition of entire neighborhoods and communities. A variety of things could be built in their place: parks, office buildings, civic centers, or, under another new federal program, public housing. America’s first federal public housing project  was Techwood Homes, built in Atlanta in the mid-1930s. But among the most extensive and destructive projects were those built throughout New York City in the decades following World War II. As was the case  with the Cross-Bronx Expressway and other highways built under the hand of Robert Moses, Urban Renewal and public housing meant the demolition of thousands of apartment buildings throughout the boroughs, the displacement of tens of thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of residents, the loss of the hundreds and thousands of businesses those residents frequented, and the overnight destruction of lives and   M ODULE O  NE |   D USTIN  T YLER  J OYCE |   4 communities. Rather than bringing hope to the lower classes, the prospect of urban renewal brought fear of imprisonment in perpetually poor neighborhoods, permanent separation from dear neighbors and friends and from the city at large, and the loss of many of the things residents held dear. In short, slum clearance was the clearance of dreams.  The economic and fiscal impacts of these physical and social changes are extensive. Among the major consequences are:     White flight  caused the loss of a huge segment of the middle-class tax and economic base to the suburbs.    Robert Moses and his highway building program  contributed the enormous civic expense of constructing and maintaining a greatly expanded—and in many cases unneeded or at least inefficient—highway system. Private citizens diverted income to pay for the purchase and maintenance of personal automobiles.    Urban Renewal and public housing  created new areas of perpetual impoverishment and the maintenance of pre-existing poor neighborhoods. These programs almost always targeted blacks and working-class  whites. Victims of the projects became entrapped in a cycle of poverty that was either created or reinforced by these housing policies. These victims were forced to take menial jobs with low pay and which no one else wanted. Those who eventually did climb out of poverty either moved out of their neighborhoods by choice or were forced out by income limits in public housing, a scenario that played itself out again and again and that resulted in neighborhoods sorted out by income and economic and social status and bereft of any means of improving quality of life and income level. Local, state, and federal government were left  with the huge burden of providing continuous public subsidies for the maintenance of public housing. At one point the City of New York was even on the verge of bankruptcy.    The demolition of entire neighborhoods and swaths of land,  either for highways or under the guise of Urban Renewal, took thousands of apartment buildings and individual residences off the market and forced the closure of hundreds, if not thousands, of small businesses. Most residences were not replaced; public expenditure paid for most that were. Most small businesses forced to close never reopened. The ultimate economic impact of these losses, which may last well into the future, is perhaps immeasurable.  While New York City remains the most prosperous American city to this day, and while some economic and fiscal benefits could be numbered (such as employment of large numbers of laborers to construct public housing or highways), for those trapped in the projects and their cycle of poverty such a dream of prosperity remains out of reach. The concurrent physical and social changes that occurred in the city during the twentieth century have caused New York to fail in its democratic mission to those to whom it is most obligated: its individual citizens. It is difficult to argue that New York City as a whole would be better off now economically and fiscally had the city’s course during the century been different, but it is obvious that for

Dream cities

Jul 23, 2017
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