The mayor needs bet­ter plans to counter New York City’s big­gest threat

New York Daily News - - OPINION -

New York City is in a cri­sis of over­suc­cess. Af­ter the so-called “bad old days” of the 1970s and 80s, it is now one of the safest and most pop­u­lar cities in the world. It is also one of the most un­equal, with an in­come gap as vast as Swazi­land’s.

Over the past few decades, the rich have got­ten much richer while other New York­ers have stag­nated — or fallen back. Old-fash­ioned gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has become state-spon­sored hy­per-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, a run­away bull­dozer that dis­places the lower and mid­dle classes as it racially re­seg­re­gates the city and the sub­urbs, fills the streets with cookie-cut­ter glass tow­ers, de­stroys count­less small busi­nesses and gives rise to high-rent blight, those blocks and blocks of empty store­fronts that are killing the vi­brancy of our neigh­bor­hoods.

While Mayor Bill de Bla­sio promised to take aim at this “tale of two cities,” in­equal­ity is only get­ting worse. And while he now reg­u­larly rails against gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, there’s much more he can do to stem what might seem like an in­ex­orable tide. If he’s go­ing to a se­cond term, it’s time to get bold.

Of course, the prob­lem of in­equal­ity is not unique to New York. The story is sim­i­lar in glob­al­ized cities around the world. We’ve all been in­fected by the same virus — but New York was pa­tient zero, the Typhoid Mary of a de­struc­tive pan­demic with symp­toms that go far be­yond city life.

In my book “Van­ish­ing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul,” as I memo­ri­al­ize the lost city, I trace the ori­gins of to­day’s hy­per-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion to a pro­found shift in the 1970s when a be­lea­guered City Hall was for­saken by an anti-ur­ban fed­eral gov­ern­ment and taken over by fi­nan­cial elites who forced New York to pivot from Key­ne­sian eco­nom­ics to the ne­olib­eral project, that rad­i­cal brand of free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism that in­sists on dereg­u­la­tion, pri­va­ti­za­tion, aus­ter­ity, and trickle-down eco­nom­ics. It was this shift that brought us to to­day’s New Gilded Age of in­equal­ity.

Af­ter World War I, New York’s fi­nan­cial elites watched their longheld power and wealth di­min­ish as pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics re­dis­tributed re­sources through high taxes on the wealthy and rent reg­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing com­mer­cial rent con­trol.

By the 1970s, the city was be­com­ing a so­cial democracy. It was also slid­ing into bank­ruptcy, a cri­sis fre­quently blamed on the Key­ne­sian wel­fare state and its pro­grams to help the most vul­ner­a­ble New York­ers.

These were “mis­takes…of the heart,” Mayor Ed Koch said in his in­au­gu­ra­tion speech in 1978, launch­ing an agenda to reroute wel­fare to cor­po­ra­tions and real-es­tate de­vel­op­ers, at­tract more tourism, and en­cour­age gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in neigh­bor­hoods that had long been pun­ished and ne­glected by the gov­ern­ment.

New York had taken on too much debt to pay for its gen­er­ous pub­lic ser­vices, but it was not the wel­fare state that started the city’s fi­nan­cial prob­lems. It was a multi-de­ter­mined prob­lem that in­cluded decades of racist and clas­sist pol­icy. To un­der­stand why fis­cal cri­sis New York was so vul­ner­a­ble

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