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The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City--and Determined the Future of Cities

Overview

A revealing account of the first time computer modeling met City Hall — and the disaster that ensued

In 1968, New York City struck a deal with the RAND Corporation to use their computer models to establish more efficient public services and save millions of dollars, beginning their first civilian effort with the FDNY. Over the next decade a series of fires swept through New York, displacing more than 600,000 people, all thanks to the intentional withdrawal of fire protection ...

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The Fires: How a Computer Formula, Big Ideas, and the Best of Intentions Burned Down New York City--and Determined the Future of Cities

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Overview

A revealing account of the first time computer modeling met City Hall — and the disaster that ensued

In 1968, New York City struck a deal with the RAND Corporation to use their computer models to establish more efficient public services and save millions of dollars, beginning their first civilian effort with the FDNY. Over the next decade a series of fires swept through New York, displacing more than 600,000 people, all thanks to the intentional withdrawal of fire protection from the city's poorest neighborhoods — and all based on RAND's computer modeling systems.

In The Fires, journalist Joe Flood provides an X-ray of the inner workings of New York City in the 1970s and of all modern cities, using the dramatic story of a pair of mayors, an ambitious Fire Commissioner, and an even more ambitious think tank to illuminate the patterns and formulas that are now inextricably woven into the very fabric of the modern urban experience.
 

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Editorial Reviews

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Throughout the 1970s, fires lit up the skies of New York. Blazes sweeping through the South Bronx, the Lower East Side, Harlem, and Brooklyn, displaced more than 600,000 people; killed over 2,500 civilians and hundreds of firemen. There were whispered rumors of arson, but the truth was far more frightening: A RAND Corporation computer model designed to streamline public services was drawing fire protection from New York's poorest neighborhoods. (Hand-selling tip: Before you consign this book to old NYC history, consider this: RAND sold their computer models to cities across the country and the system remains in use in New York and numerous other locales.)

Kirkus Reviews
A Bronx-based journalist examines the epidemic of fires that swept New York City in the 1960s and '70s. Flood focuses on John O'Hagan, the fire commissioner who presided over the worst of "the Wars," as the era is known in FDNY lore. Ambitious and self-educated, O'Hagan came up from the ranks to become the youngest chief in the department's history. When reformer John Lindsay was elected mayor in 1966, O'Hagan, who strongly believed in the use of statistics and systems analysis to organize the department, became one of his leading allies. The new mayor sought the advice of the RAND Corporation, the legendary think tank that had made its reputation analyzing nuclear warfare for the Air Force. On the surface, it was a perfect alliance. RAND needed new clients, Lindsay needed a blueprint for rational government and O'Hagan needed support for his ideas for making firefighting a scientific discipline. But as Flood shows, the reformers' characteristic weakness was a lack of the local knowledge that had been the bread and butter of the machine politicians they had ousted. The author writes that harried fire captains, given stopwatches to time how long it took their men to reach a fire scene, often lost or broke them, then submitted figures they thought made them look good. RAND whiz kids used simplified formulas to analyze the flawed data they received. O'Hagan, eager to help Lindsay cut the city's bloated budget, used the RAND results to close down firehouses he already "knew" were underperforming-which often turned out to be the ones where union leaders were based. Flood casts a wide net, looking into New York machine politics, the development of systems analysis, the dynamics of urban growthand an array of unexpected byways of NYC history. While his conclusions perhaps go to far in generalizing from the excesses of Lindsay and RAND to condemn liberal reformers as a group, Flood provides a riveting look inside one of the most challenging eras of recent NYC history. Important reading for anyone who cares about cities and how they are governed.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594485060
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/5/2011
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 816,654
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a journalist who has spent the last seven years—since before he graduated from Harvard—researching the facts and implications of the epidemic of fires that swept through New York City in the 1970s. He has worked for DoubleTake Magazine, and The New York Sun, and is the co-editor of the "definitive" anthology Resistance: A Political History of the Lower East Side.

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Table of Contents

A Note on Sourcing and Phrasing xi

1 The War Years 1

2 The Fireman and the Reformer 29

3 The Hangman's Trap 59

4 Of Whiz Kids and Think Tanks 77

5 Enter the Poet 101

6 The Fire Next Door 115

7 How the Other Half Thinks 133

8 Red Lines and White Flight 161

9 Of Riots and Airmail 177

10 O'Hagan's Choice 187

11 Going Along to Get Along 203

12 Quantifying the Unquantifiable 215

13 A Disproportionate Share of the Economies 235

14 New Math 249

15 The Fiscal Crisis Kool-Aid Acid Test 267

16 Waldbaum's Revisited 279

Conclusion 287

Acknowledgments 303

Notes 305

Bibliography 337

Index 343

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    Posted March 29, 2012

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    Seerpaw finds a nest near the back and claims it.

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