A New Deal For New York
The last book Mike Wallace wrote, Gotham: A History Of New York City to 1898, took him and his co-author Edwin Burrows 20 years to complete, ran to more than 1,000 pages, and won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History. Wallace's latest book, A New Deal For New York (128 pgs., Gotham Center Books/Bell & Weiland, $18.95), took a few months to write, takes a few hours to read, and is unlikely to win any history prizes.
For one thing, it is not a history book -- though Wallace, the director of the Gotham Center for New York City History at the City University of New York Graduate Center, sprinkles some New York City history throughout in order to make his points. The book is Wallace's view of how to rebuild downtown Manhattan after September 11th, as well as revive the city as a whole, and indeed the entire nation.
A few of the opinions in Wallace's book are not widely held: He would like all 16 acres of the World Trade Center to "lie fallow, at least for a suitable interim period." But many of the ideas in A New Deal For New York are pulled together largely from those being put forth by such "in-the-trenches experts" (in Wallace's phrase) as the coalition of post-9/11 rebuilding groups, which recently issued nine principles or rebuilding. The specific ideas, and the facts to support them, are familiar to people who have been following the rebuilding debate, argued by such civic mainstays in the city as the Municipal Art Society, the Center for an Urban Future, and the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development. (Some dozen articles from Gotham Gazette are also cited in the book's bibliography).
Like many others, Wallace would like Lower Manhattan to be a community that has residences for New Yorkers of all incomes, above-ground retail, a transportation hub similar to Grand Central Terminal, and, yes, commercial buildings too, but "green" ones (energy efficient). Wallace advocates aneconomic policy that, instead of giving tax breaks to companies to keep them from leaving, uses the money for long-term economic development, and instead of focusing only on downtown Manhattan, considers the entire city.
New York, Wallace says, is too reliant on the financial industry. One reason that this is a problem is "the tremendous volatility of the money business...Hollywood and Washington have one dominant industry, but neither the film biz nor big government undergo such spectacular swings in earnings."
We should be helping manufacturers to stay, he says, and nurturing new kinds of manufacturing using the same kind of targeted analyses that helped reduce crime -- "we've done Compstat," Wallace writes, "let's do Jobstat."
The prescriptions for a healthier New York City come at an intense pace: Bring shipping back to Brooklyn, invest in affordable housing, bring back the commuter tax, restore the stock transfer tax
It is in the third and final chapter that Wallace launches into the argument that gives this brief book its title. In alliance with other cities, he would like New Yorkers to be pushing the federal government to institute policies similar to those of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal of the1930's: "Not a revival," he writes, "but a twenty-first century version -bolder, smarter, more inclusive." He argues for a massive, government-assisted effort to create alternative sources of energy (which he labels a Prometheus Project); institute universal health care; bring back train travel; toughen governmental oversight and extend it to the energy, accounting and stock analysis professions; devise a new public works program that puts the unemployed to work for the public good.
A New Deal For New York is about to garner considerable attention. On Wednesday, November 13th Wallace will be discussing the book at the Urban Center of the Municipal Art Society, and on Friday, November 22nd, the Gotham Center for New York City History will offer a day-long conference that is billed as "building upon" the book. Scheduled panelists include such disparate figures as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and former Bronx Democratic Party boss Roberto Ramirez, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Dan Doctoroff and New York Immigration Coalition Executive Director Margie McHugh.