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. Author note: David M. Scobey is Associate Professor of Architecture and Director of the Arts of Citizenship Program at the University of Michigan.
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How did New York City come to represent the best and worst of urban life?From the Inside Flap:
"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
"Lucidly written, deeply researched and thought through, Empire City zooms to the front rank of books about nineteenth century New York. Scobey examines the way real estate boosters, visionary reformers, business elites and Tammany politicos reshaped Gotham's cityscape, for good and ill. His analytical approach both illuminates a particular era, and provides a powerful general model for examining other times, other places."
—Mike Wallace, co-author of Pulitzer-Prize winning Gotham: A History of New York
"What made New York? In David Scobey's deft and deeply meditated account, it is not the blind forces of modernization nor the overarching will of an Haussman, but the complex interplay of interests, values and ideas—and above all the grandiose city—and nation-building aspirations of the 'bourgeois urbanists' of the 1860s and 70s. Scobey's New York is both a supremely self-conscious project—a 'mission civilatrice,' as he writes—and the battleground for the conflicting political, economic and social ambitions of an emergent world-city. This is a book for anyone who cares about cities—their future as well as their past."
—James Traub, contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine and author of City On A Hill: Testing The America Dream At City College
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