Building Gotham: Civic Culture and Public Policy in New York City, 1898-1938

Overview

In 1898, the New York state legislature created Greater New York, a metropolis of three and a half million people, the second largest city in the world, and arguably the most diverse and complex urban environment in history. In this far-ranging study, Keith D. Revell shows how experts in engineering, law, architecture, public health, public finance, and planning learned to cope with the daunting challenges of collective living on this new scale. Engineers applied new technologies to build railroad tunnels under ...

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Overview

In 1898, the New York state legislature created Greater New York, a metropolis of three and a half million people, the second largest city in the world, and arguably the most diverse and complex urban environment in history. In this far-ranging study, Keith D. Revell shows how experts in engineering, law, architecture, public health, public finance, and planning learned to cope with the daunting challenges of collective living on this new scale. Engineers applied new technologies to build railroad tunnels under the Hudson River and construct aqueducts to quench the thirst of a city on the verge of water famine. Sanitarians attempted to clean up a harbor choked by millions of gallons of raw sewage. Economists experimented with new approaches to financing urban infrastructure. Architects and planners wrestled with the problems of skyscraper regulation and regional growth. These issues of city-building and institutional change involved more than the familiar push and pull of interest groups or battles between bosses, reformers, immigrants, and natives. Revell details the ways that technical values—distinctive civic culture of expertise—helped reshape ideas of community, generate new centers of public authority, and change the physical landscape of New York City.

Building Gotham thus demonstrates how a group of ambitious professionals overcame the limits of traditional means of decision-making and developed the city-building practices that enabled New York to become America's first mega-city.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Urban History - Angela M. Blake

Deeply researched, clearly written and argued... required reading for scholars of early twentieth-century New York City.

Journal of Planning Education and Research
An enjoyable, highly readable, and very detailed account... An excellent text for students and researchers to better understand the often unique and always complex set of issues and actors that initiated, implemented, or thwarted urban planning efforts in New York City.

— Susan Turner Meiklejohn

Journal of American History
Absolutely essential reading for anyone trying to appreciate the achievements of Progressive reform—and its inadvertent consequences... A richly insightful book that will be read by anyone concerned about New York, public life, and the present state of American liberalism.

— Joel Schwartz

Urban Design Quarterly
This well informed book... examines the origins of the various forms of planning New York City... [A] very exciting technical account... thorough and interesting.

— Peter Eley

Urban History
Deeply researched, clearly written and argued... required reading for scholars of early twentieth-century New York City.

— Angela M. Blake

Civil Engineering

Revell, a professor of public administration, pays particular attention to the army of experts—from engineers and architects to lawyers and financiers—who solved the enormous problems that initially had the 'ambitious experiment in collective living' teetering on the brink of disaster... the message distilled by Revell from his study of bygone New York—that 'outdated notions of individualism and local autonomy' can be detrimental to solving shared problems—is sure to strike a responsive chord.

New York Sun
Building Gotham documents with an insightful and unbiased eye the roles played by businesses and government in erecting the modern city's buildings, tunnels, sewers, transportation system, and the like.

— Harry Siegel

Journal of American History - Joel Schwartz

Absolutely essential reading for anyone trying to appreciate the achievements of Progressive reform—and its inadvertent consequences... A richly insightful book that will be read by anyone concerned about New York, public life, and the present state of American liberalism.

Journal of Planning Education and Research - Susan Turner Meiklejohn

An enjoyable, highly readable, and very detailed account... An excellent text for students and researchers to better understand the often unique and always complex set of issues and actors that initiated, implemented, or thwarted urban planning efforts in New York City.

New York Sun - Harry Siegel

Building Gotham documents with an insightful and unbiased eye the roles played by businesses and government in erecting the modern city's buildings, tunnels, sewers, transportation system, and the like.

Urban Design Quarterly - Peter Eley

This well informed book... examines the origins of the various forms of planning New York City... [A] very exciting technical account... thorough and interesting.

Robin L. Einhorn
This fresh look at the origin of various forms of planning in New York City at the start of the twentieth century represents the 'new institutionalism' in history at its best. Revell's realism, balance, and sanity offer an antidote to recent scholarly nihilism about public action without romanticizing the roles of corporations, experts or elected officials. Building Gotham is powerful, nicely and imaginatively researched, and very well written.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801870736
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2002
  • Pages: 344
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.14 (d)

Meet the Author

Keith D. Revell is an associate professor of public administration in the School of Policy and Management at Florida International University.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Contents:

Preface and Acknowledgements

Introduction: Conceiving the New Metropolis: Expertise, Public Policy, and the Problem of Civis Culture in New York CityPART 1: Private Infrastructure and Public Policy

1 "The Public Be Pleased": Railroad Planning, Engineering Culture, and the Promise of Quasi-scientific Voluntarism

2 Beyond Voluntarism: The Interstate Commerce Commission, the Railroads, and Freight Planning for New York Harbor

PART 2: Public Infrastructure, Local Autonomy, and Private Wealth3 Buccaneer Bureaucrats, Physical Interdependence, and Free Riders: Building the Underground City

4 Taxing, Spending, and Borrowing: Expanding Public Claims on Private Wealth

PART 3: Urban Planning, Private Rights, and Public Power

5 City Planning versus the Law: Zoning the New Metropolis

6 "They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets' hair": Regional Planning and the Metropolitan DilemmaConclusion: "An almost mystical unity": Interdependence and the Public Interest in the Modern Metropolis

Appendix

Notes

Index

Johns Hopkins University Press

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