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Look the negative in the face
March 29, 2014 10:27 AM   Subscribe

"In the early 1970s, arson became a spectacular growth industry. Buildings throughout the borough were burned intentionally in an effort to recoup much of their lost value. In 1976 Roger Starr, city housing commissioner, later New York Times urban affairs editor, proposed a plan he called “Planned Shrinkage.” The city, he said, is divided into neighborhoods that were “productive” and others that were “unproductive,” a drag on the tax base. We have to eliminate the unproductive. This meant to “stop the Puerto Ricans and rural blacks from living in the city.” If we turn off water, electricity, sanitation, and stop making repairs when systems break, we can drive the unproductive out. In the past, the urban system took “ the peasant . . . and [turned him] into an industrial worker.” But now “there are no industrial jobs,” and it is our task to “keep [this man] a peasant.” We must “reverse the role of the city” as a world-historical force. " -- Marxist philosopher and lifelong Bronx resident Marshall Berman, who sadly passed away last year talks about the attempted urbicide of the South Bronx and how it rose up again from it in his last public lecture at the City College of New York
posted by MartinWisse (30 comments total) 91 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been reading "Can't Stop Won't Stop" this past week, and it talks a lot about this deliberately engineered destruction in the early chapters. Grim stuff, appalling in its blatant disregard for any values that aren't economic.
posted by Ipsifendus at 11:09 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


Holy shit.

I sometimes think "there aren't genuinely evil people in this world, only people who make flawed decisions." Then I read articles like this.
posted by spiderskull at 11:13 AM on March 29 [9 favorites]


I first learned of Planned Shrinkage reading Seth Tobocman's You Don't Have To Fuck People Over To Survive. Enter lifelong distrust of politicians, police and civic planning.

The line between right and wrong is the line between communicating and managing; you relate to those with whom you will communicate, you manage those with whom you will not communicate. 'People reduced to renewable human resource' is something that should sicken anyone.
posted by Appropriate Username at 11:15 AM on March 29 [6 favorites]


I invented a word for this process: URBICIDE, the murder of a city. Did I really invent it? Once you said it, it seemed obvious enough.

Mike Davis' weird and harrowing book Dead Cities develops a whole theory (by turns steady and paranoid) about attempts to murder the American city at local, state, and Federal levels.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:26 AM on March 29 [6 favorites]


Was a lot of the same talk about doing the same to New Orleans post Katernia... As a way to discourage 'undesired' elements from reestabling themselves.
The racism is pretty poorly veiled in such policies.
posted by edgeways at 11:30 AM on March 29 [1 favorite]


All that of that is what gets boiled down into the encoded phrase "inner-city" that people like Paul Ryan (and my old racist boss) use.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:38 AM on March 29 [10 favorites]


Stories like this make me all the angrier at what passes for a left-wing America these days.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:50 AM on March 29 [6 favorites]


See also.
posted by evil otto at 12:05 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


This made me very curious about what the south bronx looked like back then. I found this facebook page full of old snaps. It's very sad, so many buildings, so many lives.
posted by dabitch at 12:07 PM on March 29


Oh damn, I guess I hadn't realized Marshall Berman had died. All that Is Solid Melts into Air still ranks as one of the most mind-blowing books I ever read.
posted by scody at 12:24 PM on March 29 [11 favorites]


All that Is Solid Melts into Air still ranks as one of the most mind-blowing books I ever read.

Seconded.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:48 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


So basically... Detroit.
posted by markkraft at 1:31 PM on March 29


So many well-meaning people of all political stripes see things like this as isolated instances, not as links in a chain, and it's just a few bad actors who ruin lives and cities. Discouraging.
posted by rtha at 2:05 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]


Will racism ever die its well-deserved death or will humanity be stuck with it, in one form or another, forever?
posted by double block and bleed at 3:00 PM on March 29 [1 favorite]


Does a bear repeat history in the woods?
posted by Behemoth at 3:21 PM on March 29 [12 favorites]


Anyone who can combine the Book of Lamentations and "The Message" had something real going on.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:43 PM on March 29 [5 favorites]


I learned about all this from The Assassination of New York, by the late Robert Fitch (see), who was brought to the blue by ennui.bz in this post a few years ago, which turned into such a shitty thread I hate to revisit it. But Fitch was (as I said there) one of the great social critics of our time, and I would encourage anyone interested in this stuff to read him.
posted by languagehat at 5:03 PM on March 29 [3 favorites]


Full lecture is here (starts at 10:10)
posted by stagewhisper at 5:11 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]


Any piece that starts out with a Hegel quote and a Springsteen quote is probably great. On reading: yup. Thanks for the post.
posted by wemayfreeze at 6:14 PM on March 29


I'm sure there are worse man-made environments than the Cross Bronx Expressway, but it's the worst I've ever encountered. An utterly anti-human place. And 175,000 vehicles use it every day.
posted by stargell at 8:46 PM on March 29


All that Is Solid Melts into Air still ranks as one of the most mind-blowing books I ever read.

Forgot about this book until now; thirded. I need to unpack my books and reread it.
posted by sfkiddo at 10:34 PM on March 29


I sometimes think "there aren't genuinely evil people in this world, only people who make flawed decisions." Then I read articles like this.

It's still happening, systematically, and has been for the last 40 years. The thing that makes this instance so shocking is the explicit statement of the policy. Now no one involved has to say it. There's simply an understanding.
posted by clarknova at 11:08 PM on March 29 [2 favorites]


I think of Robert Moses as lying awake at night, tortured by the idea that there are still neighborhoods with people living in them, with no freeways going through them.
posted by thelonius at 1:45 AM on March 30 [5 favorites]


Was a lot of the same talk about doing the same to New Orleans post Katernia...

Wasn't that weird? I would read or hear people in the media say, "well, maybe it's too much trouble to repair it," and do a double-take. It's a pernicious kind of toe-in-the-water rhetoric, given the history of this kind of sentiment.
posted by rhizome at 1:58 AM on March 30 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the Bronx, and the decline in the late 60s and 70s was shocking. My folks moved out. My neighborhood in the southeast Bronx - East Tremont towards Throggs Neck - didn't deteriorate as badly, mainly because it was off the path of the Cross Bronx Expressway, a Robert Moses monster project that cut a gash through the south Bronx neighborhoods and divided them into slums and deserted zones.

Today I visit the Bronx a lot, and it has bounced back. It is affordable for immigrant communities - particularly Albanian, Central American, and African - who have revived neighborhoods. You will never see the Bronx mentioned in a tourist guide book but it is worth checking out.
posted by zaelic at 2:17 AM on March 30 [4 favorites]


Yes, New Orleans is just like the Bronx—except New Orleans is, y'know, well below sea level and due to be bypassed by the Mississippi any day now.
posted by entropicamericana at 6:42 AM on March 30


The South Bronx was an early center for rap—”Old School,” my older son Eli told me. I felt that seeing the burning and reading the Bible made me more receptive to it. The massive ruins, the melodic sacrifice, the no-nonsense dead seriousness of it made it real for me.

This is important too. It would have been too easy to see rap and graffiti and other elements of SB culture in the 70s and 80s as elements of the borough's degeneration, adding to the destruction of the place as he knew as a kid. So many white new yorkers did at the time. But he could see it for what it was--a flower blooming through a crack.

Their capacity for soul-making in the midst of horror gave the city a new aura, a new tincture of bright lights.


What a fantastic, beautiful speech. Thank you for posting it.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:26 AM on March 30 [1 favorite]


I remember driving the Cross Bronx during the 70s on my way from school upstate to Long Island. If there was anything that could be described as Post-Apocalyptic, it was the Bronx in the 70s. There would be carcasses of abandoned cars sitting by the road, left there for who knows how long before the city got around to removing them. Above you the burned out shells of tenements. My car wasn't the newest or most reliable and I crossed my fingers I wouldn't break down.

It's simply incredible how much has changed since then.
posted by tommasz at 9:08 AM on March 30


> I think of Robert Moses as lying awake at night, tortured by the idea that there are still
> neighborhoods with people living in them, with no freeways going through them.

Judge Doom: A construction plan of epic proportions. We're calling it a freeway.
Eddie Valiant: Freeway? What the hell's a freeway?
Judge Doom: Eight lanes of shimmering cement running from here to Pasadena. Smooth, safe, fast. Traffic jams will be a thing of the past.

-- Who Framed Roger Rabbit

I thought of Moses at once and have always wondered whether RM was a model for the Judge.
posted by jfuller at 10:06 AM on March 30 [1 favorite]


My parents hated Robert Moses with a passion. We didn't live in the Bronx, but I got the impression that Robert Moses was responsible for every evil that happened in the NYC area during the 60s and 70s.
posted by maggiemaggie at 11:20 AM on March 30


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