We at The Metropole eagerly look forward to Thanksgiving break. One of us (who shall remain nameless) really loves cranberry sauce out of a can, stretchy pants, and falling asleep on the couch halfway through the evening festivities. In that spirit, we will be going dark here on the blog next week, but hope you will return to us refreshed and ready for the amazing content we’ll be rolling out the following week.
For those grad students who will finally get a breather over the holiday weekend, consider submitting to the Grad Student Blog Contest–we have extended the deadline until November 26.
2ha Magazine, devoted to interest in suburbs, just put out a new issue that “considers the physical, legal, economic and symbolic borders which bind our everyday definition of suburban life.” James O’Leary (Architect and Lecturer, UCL Bartlett) describes the origins of Belfast’s ‘Peace walls’, Therese Kenna (Lecturer, UCC) discusses the shifting methods of boundary-making since the emergence of the modern suburb, and Walter Greason (Dean of the Honors School, Monmouth University) highlights the conflagration of race, racism, urbanism, and economic development which persists in the United States’ ex-urban edge.
If you’re planning syllabi for next semester, check out the newly-released Routledge Handbook of Planning History edited by UHA Board Member Carola Hein. The texbook “offers a comprehensive interdisciplinary overview of planning history since its emergence in the late 19th century, investigating the history of the discipline, its core writings, key people, institutions, vehicles, education, and practice.”
The nomination period is now open for the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s 2018 Bishir Prize, “awarded annually to the scholarly article from a juried North American publication that has made the most significant contribution to the study of vernacular architecture and cultural landscapes.”
Our first entry in The Metropole/Urban History Association Graduate Student Blogging Contest considers “A New Season,” the contest theme, through an examination of New York City Mayor John Lindsey’s creative attempts to reshape the public sector. The city, in the midst “of social, economic, and political distress” during the 1970s, presented an opportunity for a new season of “wild experimentation.”
By Ryan Donovan Purcell
It was difficult to believe such a story at first. I rechecked my sources multiple times, and it was clear. In the summer of 1973 New York City Mayor John Lindsay announced a program to privatize the NYPD. I found the story strange not because of New York’s historically tenacious municipal unions. Transportation, sanitation and education disputes riddled Lindsay’s mayoral career. The police were no different. Nor was the weirdness of this story due to the fact that Lindsay himself was such an unusual politician. As the first Republican Mayor since Fiorello LaGuardia, John Lindsay was quite progressive—a social democrat in all but name.
What made this story so bizarre was that it read like a science fiction plot of that era. Films like Soylent Green (1973) presented New York as it might appear in the near future. Set in 2022, Soylent Green shows us a city that is falling apart. The city’s dilapidated infrastructure and housing have long since served its swollen population, now 40 million. Most New Yorkers live on the streets, homeless and unemployed. The lucky few with jobs survive on rations produced and distributed by the Soylent Corporation. Public services are virtually non-existent. The subways don’t run; the water doesn’t work. The NYPD barely hangs on as an impotent remnant of the city’s forgotten past. Detective Frank Thorn, the story’s central protagonist, has a two-year backlog of unsolved murders, which is characteristic of the public sector’s inefficiency more broadly. In this narrative, a private corporation supplants the role of the government in sustaining a population— in this case through food manufactured from the bodies of populace itself.
And it is hard to separate this depiction from the actual physical condition of New York in the 1970s. Housing literally disintegrated. Residents were denied basic public utilities. New York’s park system and roads were in ruins. To many, graffiti that began to mark subway trains in the early 1970s signaled the end of times.
Escape From New York (1981) envisions a slightly different urban history set in 1997. In this film, the U.S. government converts Manhattan Island into the country’s largest maximum-security prison following a 400% increase in crime during the 1980s. Here, New York’s municipal government is absent—conceivably relocated to the urban periphery. An organized criminal government has emerged in its place. The city, in this way, functions less like a prison than a separate country ruled by inmates. The city is in ruins, and as in Soylent Green, public services do not exist. When a terrorist attack aboard Air Force One forces the President of the United States to crash-land in Manhattan, the police commissioner hires a private contractor to perform the rescue, not the police or even the military.
Oddly enough, these films contextualize Mayor John Lindsay’s crime policy. From 1966 (the year that Lindsay took office) to 1974 (when Mayor Abe Beame assumed office) New York City’s crime index increased 49.5%–not quite the 400% imagined in Escape from New York. Struggling to manage a dwindling municipal budget, the Lindsay administration experimented with ways of improving public sector productivity while cutting operating costs. The 1973 proposal to privatize the police was one such experiment that nearly took hold. The initial phase would be implemented gradually. It called for a fifty-man private security force to supplement the municipal anticrime effort in Midtown. Armed with walkie-talkies, and some with guns, contractors were not authorized to make arrests, but would act as surveillance units with direct communication with the police, reporting trouble or suspicion. The plan also employed private building workers, superintendents, and doormen who would use code numbers to preserve their identities. At first the force would be assigned to follow police beats from 42nd to 59th Streets, between Second and Seventh Avenues, from 6pm to 1am. Upon successful implementation of the initial phase, the program would expand, and ultimately encompass all five boroughs. “This is a very important development,” Lindsay declared at the inaugural ceremony in front of the Time-Life building on 6th Avenue and 50th Street. A formation of armed security contractors stood behind him. “[T]he involvement of the public is essential in fighting crime,” he continued. “The worst thing that can happen is an apathetic public. Here we have proof of an aware public.”
The Association for a Better New York, a consortium of New York-based corporations, pledged an “open checkbook” to finance the program, according to chair Lewis Rudin. “We have come to realize that the proliferation of crime— specifically crime against persons—is what is hurting our city more than anything else,” Rudin explained at the ceremony. “We have decided than an all-out commitment of our resources to stop crime is mandatory if we want to make New York better.” It made sense to see the executive leadership of the Building Owners and Managers Association standing next to Rudin on the speaker’s platform. It must have been strange, however, to see Sanford Garelik, former NYPD chief inspector, and representatives from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “The fact that we are using the security guards in this fashion is not to be construed as criticism of the police,” Rubin qualified. “We worked with the police in setting this up and will continue to coordinate our activities with the police.”
Others were less reserved. To Alton G. Marshall, president of Rockefeller Center Inc. and former executive secretary to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Lindsay’s program signaled a turn toward more effective city governance. The blustery ex-Marine could hardly contain his excitement while talking to reporters after the ceremony: “This is the kind of attitude the city has wallowed in for years—let the government do.” His animated bushy brows punctuated his speech from behind his iconic thick wide-framed glasses. “There is no reason, for instance why 30,000 private security people can’t be organized to supplement the police,” he said, adding, “At Rockefeller Center we have our own security force.”
Lindsay’s plan to privatize the NYPD never fully materialized. That spring, after an unsuccessful presidential campaign, he announced that he would not run for a third term as Mayor. Democrat Abe Beame, who was elected mayor in November, did not renew Lindsay’s program. In October 1973, the Arab oil embargo began to shock the American economy, nudging New York City along a path of fiscal insolvency. By June 1975 the city had run out of cash and it nearly declared bankruptcy.
This story struck me as so unusual because it was like an urban dystopian fiction that could have become very real. And in some ways it did. The principal architect of the privatization program, Lindsay’s deputy administrator E.S. Savas, went on to found the Central Park Conservancy, a public-private partnership that continues to steward the park. By 1980, he was advocating privatization on a federal level as Assistant Secretary of HUD during President Reagan’s first term. Where else might we find the legacy of these initiatives?
“The seventies,” Kim Phillips-Fein suggests in Fear City, “marked the moment before the rise of neoliberal New York, the emergence of Donald Trump, the stock market’s climb—a time when New York (and America) still felt open, when one could dream of a different future in a way that no longer seems possible.” To make sense of Lindsay’s plan to privatize the NYPD we might say that it was a product of this feeling of “openness” and “possibility.” We might say that it emerged out of a particular cultural logic, of which the films Soylent Green, Escape from New York, and the advent of subway graffiti were part. Each was a product of wild experimentation during a time of social, economic, and political distress. The fabric of American culture was in flux, and New Yorkers struggled to recreate meaning through new ideas, cultural forms and ways of life—some of which remain with us, while others are forgotten. If nothing else, however, this story illustrates the fact that sometimes history can be just as strange as fiction.
Ryan Donovan Purcell is a history PhD candidate at Cornell University, where he studies 20th century American popular culture and urban history. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, College Art Association, and Hyperallergic, among other venues.
 For more discussion on 1970s New York and film see: Stanley Corkin, Starring New York: Filming the Grime and the Glamour of the Long 1970s (Oxford UP: 2011); Carlo Rotella, Good With Their Hands: Boxers, Bluesmen, and Other Characters from the Rust Belt (U. Cal. Press: 2002), chapter 3 particularly analyzes the depiction of New York’s “grittiness” in 1970s film.
 See David Rogers, “Management versus Bureaucracy,” and Charles R. Morris, “Of Budgets, Taxes, and the Rise of a New Plutocracy,” in Joseph P. Viteritti ed, Summer in the City: John Lindsay and the American Dream (John Hopkins U. Press, 2014)
 Murray Schumach, “Private Security Guards to Join Midtown Patrols,” NYT, June 8 1973
 Kim Phillips-Fein, Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and The Rise of Austerity Politics (NY: Metropolitan Books, 2017): p. 307
“The play’s the thing wherein I will catch the conscience of the king”
– Hamlet in Hamlet
I have to confess, I kind of dug William Shakespeare in high school and college (Measure Per Measure anyone?). Admittedly, it might have been because he was great at rhyming couplets and the like. Still, Hamlet’s decision to stage a performance simply to gauge the King’s alleged involvement with the poisoning of his late father always seemed like an incisive move by the Danish Prince, or a sign of his increasingly tenuous grip on reality. I suppose Hamlet’s motivation remains colored by whatever baggage the reader brings to the table.
Of course, the UHA, AHA, SACRPH and others don’t conduct conferences as a means to root out nefarious crimes or as means to determine the motivations of its participants, be they speakers or audience members. However, in the glowing radiance of #SACRPH17, which by all accounts appeared to be a great success, questions regarding the efficacy, organization, and goals of academic gatherings remain well-traveled topics of discussion; such questions persist as points of debate and worth consideration as we draw attention to the CFP for #UHA18 in Columbia, SC and consider its own meaning for conference goers and the larger field of urban history.
With this in mind, we would like to draw your attention to a recent comment submitted to the blog by Jim Wunsch of Empire State College (SUNY). Professor Wunsch raises some great questions and points of debate regarding how we organize, conduct, and process conferences, including: accepting fewer papers for presentation; rethinking how historians present research (and the context in which they are presented); and posting papers earlier to encourage greater engagement and debate. We’d love for UHA members to chime in with their thoughts on Wunsch’s comments (at the risk of redundancy, in the comments section itself) but also the larger topic more generally. After all, the conference might not capture the field’s conscience but it does embody its direction and thrust.
With SACRPH in Cleveland and the SSHA in Montreal concluded and with planning for UHA’s Columbia, SC conference under way, it might be appropriate to consider for a moment how conferences might be improved.
Although expensive, they continue to be reasonably well attended because making a conference presentation remains for many academics a still useful way to demonstrate your academic interest and activity to those making promotion and tenure decisions. The problem is that since the success or failure of a conference is largely determined by how many attend, all too many papers of questionable value are accepted. And with so many panels scheduled during any given time slot, attendance can be disappointing. Then too by clinging to the ancient convention of reading papers out loud, sessions often prove tedious beyond words.
A modest reform would give priority to papers posted in advance. The presentation would entail explaining the basic ideas and argument and how they might fit into the larger historical framework; you know what you are supposed to do in a decent class.
This blog could play an important role in sustaining and strengthening conferences not only by celebrating them as joyful convocations, but also by singling out a few worthy and perhaps exciting papers and exchanges in various sessions.
Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?
After living in New York, London, and Philadelphia, I became near-obsessed with the phenomenon of gentrification. I read all the classics: Zukin, Osman, Ley, Smith. But the pace and severity of the changes they discuss seemed to pale in comparison to what I was witnessing. Something had clearly changed between the 1970s and the late 1990s. But when? And why? How did New York, specifically, transform from a city in fiscal crisis in the mid-1970s into a booming—yet deeply unequal—metropolis by the end of the twentieth century?
I knew we needed to know more about the transformation in white-collar work, about the financialization of the economy, about the urban upper-middle class. So I decided to write about yuppies—young, urban, professionals—in New York from the mid-1970s through the end of the 1980s. From the deregulation of Wall Street, to banks’ recruitment of elite college graduates, to real estate speculation and the subsequent arson fires that displaced low-income tenants, to the emergence of upper-middle-class fitness and consumption culture, to the formation of new political coalitions by urban professionals, I show how an influx of highly-educated workers accelerated the transformation of postindustrial cities.
Describe what you are currently teaching or what public history projects you’re currently working on. How does it relate to your scholarship?
I’m not teaching this semester—I’m lucky enough to get to spend my days writing, trying to hit my Grafton line. But one exciting public history project that I’m involved is the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, an online resource based at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities at Rutgers-Camden. Writing concise, readable articles on capacious topics—gentrification, streetcar suburbs—has been one of the toughest things I’ve done in graduate school. But it’s been so gratifying to see Philly-area reporters and twitterati reference those essays in their own work.
What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?
One last thing for those of us who work on the U.S.: drop what you’re doing and check out Social Explorer. I used it to map NYC metro-area census data, which helped me to uncover a remarkable story of gentrification and arson-for-profit that I discuss in an upcoming journal article.
What defines the yuppie of 2017? And–just asking for a friend–if someone is a yuppie, should they be embarrassed about, or resigned to, this fact?
“Yuppie” is still used as a pejorative for those upwardly-mobile city-dwellers who are less concerned with cultural capital and more with actual capital. Stereotypically, they live in newly-renovated condos; they work in professional, financial, or managerial jobs; they crowd into expensive new restaurants; they turn their leisure into its own kind of work (see: crossfit). And they’re vilified—you can still find “die yuppie scum” graffiti scrawled on walls across Brooklyn. “Yuppie,” I think, works in contradistinction to “hipster”: both throw around their earned or inherited wealth, but unlike hipsters, yuppies are not driven by a ceaseless quest to consume and project authenticity.
And if you’re suspect you might be a yuppie yourself…it’s already too late. Give in.
Did you know there’s an entire world of professor-themed items on Etsy? I’m torn between the “Read the Syllabus” mug and the “Trust Me, I’m a Professor” fanny pack.
And we would be remiss to not feature the most delightful history event of the week:
How neighborly! a-ha fans, the American Historical Association has their annual meeting in January using the hashtag #aha18, so be sure to avoid using that unless you’re a historian headed to DC for their meeting 😉 We’ll be using #electricsummer for the upcoming summer ’18 tour! https://t.co/b7V6I3hpj2
We at The Metropole are still mourning the end of this last month’s excellent SACRPH conference, and so have eagerly begun to look ahead towards next year’s UHA Conference in Columbia, South Carolina. Jessica Elfenbein and Robin Waites of the Local Arrangements Committee and LaDale Winling and Elaine Lewinnik of the Program Committee assure us that we are not being premature in our enthusiasm–the deadline to submit paper proposals will be upon us sooner than we think! Check out the CFP below and leave a comment if you’re looking for urbanists to join a panel.
The Ninth Biennial Conference of the Urban History Association
The Urban History Association invites submissions for sessions and papers on all aspects of urban, suburban, and metropolitan history. We welcome proposals for panels, roundtable discussions, and individual papers.
The conference theme, “Cities at the Crossroads,” reflects the growing interdisciplinarity of the field of urban history, the role of cities as meeting places, and the contemporary challenges of urban political isolation and tension over issues such as climate change, immigration, segregation, and inequality.
We encourage submissions that explore the diversity of the study of cities, including contributions from other disciplines and from historians who interpret notions of “urban” broadly and synthetically, whether politically, geographically, socially, or culturally. The program committee welcomes proposals for innovative workshops or non-traditional sessions.Successful panel and paper proposals need not adhere strictly to the conference theme, and the program committee will pay special attention to panels marking the anniversaries of events in or profoundly affecting cities, such as the Kerner Commission Report, the Fair Housing Act, or the 1968 Paris uprising.
Each proposal should have the following format:
Individual paper submissions should include an abstract up to 150 words with up to four keywords, along with a one-page CV, including address and email. These should be submitted as a single PDF file.
Panel submissions should include a cover page indicating the lead contact, with telephone and email, and the names of the session Chair and Commentator; a one-paragraph overview of the session’s themes and significance, plus a description of the format (eg panel, roundtable, workshop); a 100-word abstract for each proposed paper; and a one-page CV for each participant, including address and e-mail, all submitted as a combined, single PDF file.
The submission deadline is February 15, 2018. The program committee also plans for a graduate student workshop and a poster session, which will have a separate proposal deadline of May 1, 2018, with details forthcoming.
Please direct inquiries to Program Committee co-chairs LaDale Winling at Virginia Tech and Elaine Lewinnek at California State University-Fullerton (Columbia2018UHA@gmail.com).
We at The Metropole recently realized that we have featured 26 Members of the Week since launching in April–half a year’s worth of spotlights on a diverse slice of the UHA’s membership. We have learned so much about the state of the field through these profiles, particularly what’s cutting edge in urban research and what books everyone has at the top of their reading piles (Kim Phillips-Fein’s Fear City has been the most frequently cited). Our Members of the Week have also been fonts of wisdom, sharing excellent advice for scholars at all stages of their careers.
The most common advice was to write frequently, share work widely, and attend the UHA conference with regularity. Some Members of the Week acknowledged, however, that this can sometimes be easier said than done. Our very first Member of the Week, Koji Hirata, drew a parallel between the unpredictable nature of urban formation and the process of writing history:
“I think studying a city shows us the complexity and contingency of history. In my own research I am fascinated by the contrast between the high modernist visions of city planners and the rather chaotic process of urban formation on the ground. This helped me feel better about the gap between my dissertation writing plan and its real process.”
Echoing Hirata’s point about “complexity and contingency,” John Fairfield pointed out that indeed this is one of the satisfying advantages of studying cities:
“History and especially historians can never have the whole urban story and so you must branch out into philosophy, sociology, political science, literary theory, economics, ecology, and so much more.”
For this reason, Timothy Lombardo’s number one piece of advice was to go with the flow:
“Be flexible. Be flexible with your research, with your reading, with your writing, and with your career path. Urban history/studies is a growing field with a lot of possibilities, but young scholars shouldn’t let it also be a limitation. I think the flexibility to read across specialties and disciplines, to publish in different forums, and to research beyond what we usually consider urban history are important parts of scholarly development and maturation. I didn’t start out doing urban history; my research took me in that direction. It also helps to be flexible in where young scholars think they can do urban history. I’m pretty sure there was never a point when I was growing up in Philly, or at any point thereafter, that I told myself that I wanted to end up in Mobile, Alabama. But I remained open to different possibilities and followed them when they opened up. Now I’m lucky to be forging a career at a good university, with great students, and excellent colleagues.”
“Urban historians and scholars often have broad interests. We are curious about everything that is happening, or has happened, in the city. Nevertheless, it is hard to do everything at once. Sometimes, we need to focus on the project at hand and be realistic about our working capacity.”
Alexia Yates offered some succinct advice for how to strike this balance:
“Be comparative, move across scales, but stay locally embedded and make sure there are people in your story. Every history takes (and makes) place.”
Expanding on Yates’s call to “move across scales,” Mauricio Castro urged colleagues to take a more global perspective on the city:
“As urbanists we tend to focus on the local histories and what they can tell us about national trends. I would tell young scholars to question whether these stories end at the city limits or even at the country’s border. While histories that deal with immigration and cities is most obvious, I would suggest that young scholars seek out other ways in which every city is a global city.”
Meanwhile, Scarlett Rebman recommended scholars pursue opportunities to work with local communities:
“Although it can be daunting when time is so precious, seize opportunities to share your work with community members outside of academia. Consider partnering with a community organization on a humanities project. The results will most likely be unexpected but exciting.”
On the topic of collegiality, Joe Merton and Betsey Schlabach both advised urbanists to consider and help more junior scholars. Merton wrote:
“… don’t forget where you have come from. You were once that irritating undergraduate determined to perfect their coursework or borrow that book. Likewise, you were once that sessional teaching assistant on a poorly-paid, fixed-term contract with little time for marking and teaching preparation, let alone research. Provide counsel and advice, lend support – especially to those new to the game or on short-term contracts – and be as giving of your time as others were to you.”
“if you find yourself in a place where you can take advantage of the benefits of tenure-track employment turn your focus to the tireless advocacy for contingent laborers in our field–the adjuncts, visiting assistant professors, and short-term contracts. There is no better place to focus our efforts.”
In conclusion, Michael Pante offered some wisdom that we imagine resonates with all UHA members:
“There’s no substitute to experiencing the city, seeing first-hand its unexplored corners, uncovering its faults, and especially interacting with the people who make its existence possible on an everyday basis. I don’t think scholars of urban studies who do so will ever run out of new stories and insights.”
Looking forward to gleaning more and more insight as we continue to spotlight our Members of the Week!
The Metropole is holding a blog contest for the UHA’s graduate student members to provide an opportunity for emerging scholars to gain experience working through the editorial process. We are excited to announce the panel of expert judges who will choose our winner, who will recieve a $100 prize and a certificate of recognition:
Judge 1: Pulitzer Prize Winner and UHA President-Elect Heather Ann Thompson
Professor Thompson of the University of Michigan may be best known for the prize-winning book, Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy, but she has also written extensively for publications as numerous and esteemed as The New York Times, Newsweek, Time, The Washington Post, Jacobin, The Atlantic, Salon, Dissent, NBC, New Labor Forum,The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post. Thompson is also a prolific #twitterstorian, and regularly comments and retweets on issues of mass incarceration.
Judge 2: Bancroft Prize Winner and Former UHA President, THE Tom Sugrue
Judge 3: Elder Statesman of Urban Geography and Current UHA President Richard Harris
The list of works published by Professor Harris of McMaster University stretches to 21 pages, and does not include the elegant addresses he has written of late for the UHA newsletter. In addition to his two most recent books–Creeping Conformity: How Canada became Suburbanand Building a Market: The Rise of the Home Improvement Industry, 1914-1960–Harris has contributed to Canada’s National Post and is regularly sought out for interviews in publications ranging from the CBC to The Globe and Mail. We are still working to convince him to join Twitter, where we think he would have much to contribute.
We hope grad students will take advantage of this great opportunity to collaborate with an ace team of editors and have their work read by three of urban history’s luminary scholars. Make sure to get in submissions by 11:59 PM on November 26 in order to be considered for the prize.
I have never been so sad to bid farewell to one of our Metropoles of the Month. Not only did the blog feature some incrediblehistoryandpersonalreflectionsonBelieveland in October, but the SACRPH Conference this past weekend took the utmost advantage of #CLE and showcased everything the city has to offer.