Faculty Writing: On the Rationalization of New York City

In a special two-part series for Spectre journal, Andy Battle takes a look back at the long rationalization process that transformed New York City from a hustling, improvisational, and heterogeneous industrial hub to the post-industrial “suburb in the city” that it is for many today. 

In part 1, Battle tracks the many transformations of the New York cityscape, in both infrastructure and its attendant affects, through the postwar “fabrication of progress” (pace Robert Moses) to the playground of the wealthy whose “assets work like a stent, effortlessly clearing the capillaries of everyday life.” And yet, “to the degree that anyone still loves New York,” he argues, “it is because the city resists the relentless erosion of the sense of locality, of place, that elsewhere disintegrates under the waves of abstraction” that suburbanization sets in motion: “In this sense, New York is untimely.”

In part 2, Battle surveys the “new kinds of people” that consumer, and perhaps especially car, culture necessarily generated: if the automobile “enabled and embodied the suburban dispensation” and “transformed body and spirit in service of isolated consumption,” then car culture “erased the space of encounter…substituting for it the isolation and domination, the taking of space, inherent in the automobile as a technology.” “If capital produces places and people in its own image,” Battle asks, what would it take to recreate that image: “What principles might guide dissident imaginations? What acts might realize them?”

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