Camilo José Vergara, Children in the south Bronx (1970)

Crisis and the City: New York in the 1970s (In-Person)

Instructor: Andy Battle
BISR Central
68 Jay Street, #425
Brooklyn, NY 11201

In the years just before and following World War II, New York City built and maintained a municipal social democracy the likes of which had never been seen in the United States. Mid-century New York made the projects that underpin human life—housing, health care, transport, education, recreation—more available than ever to a working class whose political strength was reflected in the city’s labor organizations, municipal government, and cultural sensibility. This moment turned out to be remarkably brief. In 1975, when a recession and declining local revenues placed the city on the brink of bankruptcy (and after president Gerald Ford told it, in so many words, to “drop dead”), a clique of local and national elites worked with bewildering speed to suspend democratic self-government, place the city in the hands of a commission, and exact a series of major cuts to public services. Yet, far from being a merely local affair, New York City’s “fiscal crisis” served as a kind of dry run for a new, and global, politics of neoliberal austerity. How can we understand New York City’s crisis of social democracyas a defeat for working-class politics; as a product of industrial, demographic, and infrastructural transformation; as a harbinger of neoliberal reform; and as a landmark moment in urban and national cultural history? 

In this course, we will examine the preconditions, chain of events, and consequences of New York City’s near-bankruptcyfrom local, national, and global points of view. What caused the crisis? Who bore the brunt? What were the alternatives? Along the way, we will explore deindustrialization, demographic change, New York City’s unique municipal social democracy, urban social movements, the city’s place in an evolving global economy, the effects of the crisis on education, housing, transit, policing, city politics, and art, as well as gentrification, the rise of the “real estate state,” and the limits of municipal power in the US political system and a capitalist world economy. And, with New York, and the country as a whole, confronting renewed crisis, we will ask: Is a rerun of the 1970s possible? What form might future urban crises—and their resolutionstake? Readings include Joshua Freeman, Kim Phillips-Fein, Neil Smith, Amy Starecheski, Samuel Stein, David Harvey, Thomas Sugrue, Stuart Hall, Owen Hatherley, Robert Caro, Robert Fitch, William Tabb, Tim Lawrence, Legs McNeil, Felicia Kornbluh, Frances Fox Piven, the Zerowork collective, and more.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
September 11 — October 02, 2023
4 weeks


Registration Closed

Please email us to be placed on the waiting list.

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