Empire City: The Making and Meaning of the New York City Landscape

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Overview

For generations, New Yorkers have joked about "The City's" interminable tearing down and building up. The city that the whole world watches seems to be endlessly remaking itself. When the locals and the rest of the world say "New York," they mean Manhattan, a crowded island of commercial districts and residential neighborhoods, skyscrapers and tenements, fabulously rich and abjectly poor cheek by jowl. Of course, it was not always so; New York's metamorphosis from compact port to modern metropolis occurred during the mid-nineteenth century. Empire City tells the story of the dreams that inspired the changes in the landscape and the problems that eluded solution.

Author David Scobey paints a remarkable panorama of New York's uneven development, a city-building process careening between obsessive calculation and speculative excess. Envisioning a new kind of national civilization, "bourgeois urbanists" attempted to make New York the nation's pre-eminent city. Ultimately, they created a mosaic of grand improvements, dynamic change, and environmental disorder. Empire City sets the stories of the city's most celebrated landmarks&#151Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the downtown commercial center&#151within the context of this new ideal of landscape design and a politics of planned city building. Perhaps such an ambitious project for guiding growth, overcoming spatial problems, and uplifting public was bound to fail; still, it grips the imagination.

Author Biography: David M. Scobey is Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Arts of Citizenship Program at the University of Michigan.

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Editorial Reviews

George Chauncey
Exhaustively researched, beautifully written, and powerfully argued.... Empire City will influence the theories and histories of urban geographers, historians, sociologists, and cultural theorists alike.
Mike Wallace
Lucidly written, deeply researched and thought through, Empire City zooms to the front rank of books about nineteenth century New York. Scobey examines the way real estate boosters, visionary reformers, business elites and Tammany politicos reshaped Gotham's cityscape, for good and ill. His analytical approach both illuminates a particular era, and provides a powerful general model for examining other times, other places.
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Product Details

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction: Can a City be Planned? 1
1 Metropolis and Nation 15
2 The Midcentury Boom 55
3 The Rule of Real Estate 89
4 The Frictions of Space 134
5 Imagining the Imperial Metropolis 158
6 The Politics of City Building 189
7 Uptown Utopia 217
8 The Failure of Bourgeois Urbanism 251
App.: Statistical Tables 269
Notes 275
Index 331
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