The Making and Meaning of the New York City Landscape
Publication: Sep 03
7 x 10
2 tables 8 maps 73 halftones
How did New York City come to represent the best and worst of urban life?
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—Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, the downtown commercial center—within 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 the public was bound to fail; still, it grips the imagination.
"Exhaustively researched, beautifully written, and powerfully argued.... Empire City will influence the theories and histories of urban geographers, historians, sociologists, and cultural theorists alike."
—George Chauncey, University of Chicago, author of Gay New York
"Scobey has written a brilliant, evocative account of New York on the brink of economic and social chaos."
—Journal of American History
"It is best to treat (the book) not as a work of urban theory, but as a powerfully written (and very well illustrated) analysis of the specificities of class formation, class conflict and urban culture in the making of modern Manhattan."
"If there were any concern that Scobey might not fire the imagination like a feature film, I can assure you that Scobey does his best not to disappoint. The book is lavishly illustrated with sumptuous prints of the New York landscape (which) add to the atmosphere created by Scobey's warm and relaxed writing style."
— Environment and Planning
"Scobey's book appears as a timely and apt historical lesson.... this is an exhaustively researched, creatively argued, and beautifully written book that deserves to become an immediate standard for students and scholars of urban and cultural history as well as those of New York history... (His) argument is complex and multi-layered... Empire City is a densely packed, deeply thoughtful stuff of a city in the throes of change."
Table of Contents
Introduction: Can a City Be Planned?
City and Nation
1. Metropolis and Nation
Saint Olmsted and Frederick the Great
Allegories of the National Cityscape
The American Metropolis
The Class World of Bourgeois Urbanism
The Meanings of Empire
2. The Midcentury Boom
The American Museum
Overview of a Boom
Terminals and Tenements
The Eternal Building Up and Pulling Down
3. The Rule of Real Estate
Myth of Origins
The Landscape of Accumulation
The Discipline of Land Values
The March of Improvement
The Logic of the Grid
4. The Frictions of Space
Modernization and Its Discontents
Boundaries and Boundarilessness
The New Urbanism
5. Imagining the Imperial Metropolis
The Bridge Between Capital and Culture
Eros and Civilization
Disciplining the Streets
6. The Politics of City Building
The Emperor of New York
Best Men, Businessmen, and Boosters
City Building and State Building
The Politics of Stewardship
The Modern Prince
Overruling the Grid
Inside Out: The Paradoxes of Central Park
An Urbanism of the Periphery
Cheap Trains and Cottage Suburbs
The Uptown Prospect
8. The Failure of Bourgeois Urbanism
The Meanings of Reconstmction
The Legacies of Bourgeois Urbanism
The End of the Boom and the Politics of Retrenchment
The Battle for the Annexed District
The March of Improvement, 1890
Appendix: Statistical Tables Notes Index
About the Author(s)
In the Series
Critical Perspectives on the Past edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig
Critical Perspectives on the Past, edited by Susan Porter Benson, Stephen Brier, and Roy Rosenzweig, is concerned with the traditional and nontraditional ways in which historical ideas are formed. In its attentiveness to issues of race, class, and gender and to the role of human agency in shaping events, the series is as critical of traditional historical method as content. Emphasizing that history is itself an interpretation of material events, the series demonstrates that the historian's choices of subject, narrative technique, and documentation are politically as well as intellectually constructed.