• 352 pages
  • 7 x 10
  • 2 tables, 8 maps, 73 halftones
  • Price: $45.95
  • EAN: 9781592132355
  • Publication: Sep 2003

Empire City

The Making and Meaning of the New York City Landscape

David M. Scobey

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."
Cultural Geographies

"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."
Urban History

About the Author(s)

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

In the Series

Critical Perspectives on the Past

No longer active. 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.