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?
My to-read list seems only to grow with each passing week. Here are a few recent or forthcoming books—many by fellow UHA members—that I’m particularly excited about: Paige Glotzer on the transnational roots of suburban development and segregation; Benjamin Holtzman on the market turn in post-fiscal crisis New York; Kwame Holmes’ upcoming book on diversity and displacement in Washington, D.C.; Chin Jou on fast food, obesity, and urban policy; Clayton Howard on sexuality and suburbanization; the new edited collection on transnational metropolitan history from Nancy Kwak and Andrew Sandoval-Strausz; Alison Isenberg’s rethinking of urban renewal in Designing San Francisco; Nick Juravich on working-class woman educators in New York; Andrew Deneer on the history of America’s urban food systems; Timothy Lombardo on Philadelphia and blue-collar urban conservatism; whatever comes out of Matthew Desmond’s new Eviction Lab; and finally—as someone who has written about the Walkman in 1980s New York—Andrew McKevitt’s Consuming Japan.
What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies?
Cities contain multitudes. So as urbanists, we need to read widely if we are going to write compelling histories of cities and the people who live there. I don’t think I could have arrived at my dissertation topic without reading lots of labor history (thanks, Margot Canaday and Tera Hunter!). And if you’re an Americanist, don’t confine yourself to the United States’ urban canon. Schorske on Vienna; Wright on Morocco; Prakash on Mumbai; Mitchell on Egypt; Rama on Latin America; Harvey on Paris; Schivelbusch on anything: there’s a whole world of great writing on cities.
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.