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Mike Wallace
Bell & Weiland Publishers/Gotham Center Books
October 2002
Hardcover, 128 pages, 5" x7", $18.95
ISBN 0-9723155-1-9
Available at good bookstores nationwide or click here to buy online
Read the full text of A NEW DEAL FOR NEW YORK online

Written with the same verve and gusto that helped win the Pulitzer Prize in History for his and Edwin G. Burrow's book Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, A New Deal for New York is a call-to-arms from the distinguished historian Mike Wallace. According to Wallace, the city over its four hundred year history has repeatedly rebounded, indeed improved, in response to crisis.

In A New Deal for New York he says that the plans advanced so far for rebuilding the city do not approach the scale and scope of our prior accomplishments in the face of adversity. He calls for tackling a host of civic problems, starting at Ground Zero and radiating outward to embrace the entire city, drawing for inspiration and concrete ideas on one of the most dramatic initiatives in our civic tradition, the mammoth and path-breaking transformations wrought by the New Deal in the 1930s.

In this short, visionary, yet wholly viable primer for reinvigorating New York, Wallace suggests we look not "outside the box," but "inside the box," of our traditions and values and mighty achievements. In particular his ambitious, multi-pronged plan seeks to revitalize our long-standing approach, dating back to the Erie Canal, of using public resources to promote the common weal. Arguing against our recent excessive reliance on the "free market," Wallace reminds us that "the things we most wish for can't be provided through the market," noting that "you can't buy public health, or mass transit, or a clean environment, or a competent military at the nearest Wal-Mart."

In three sections entitled "The Resilient City," "Beyond the Financial Center," and "The New New Deal," Wallace draws on his sense of the city's history, and on the work of many civic analysts and activists, to offer suggestions for improving the city including a revitalized port, improved mass transit, and more affordable housing.

The model for this series of unified initiatives is the New Deal of the 1930s.The New Deal was hugely ambitious, was deeply rooted in New York City's history, and showed a brilliant understanding of the interconnectedness of issues - qualities Wallace hopes to see in today's rebuilding of New York. New Deal programs employed millions in building the Triborough Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, LaGuardia Airport, the FDR Drive, and establishing or repairing innumerable health clinics, libraries, educational facilities, homeless shelters, courthouses, firehouses, police stations, and the list goes on. The original New Deal was far from perfect - its practices were inherently racist among other serous problems - but Wallace argues that its efforts were "inspirational" and "eminently worthy of revisiting as we chart our course in the years ahead."

September 11th, Wallace writes, has provided us an "opening, as a city, to make our own course corrections on the river of history--if we have the desire, if we can summon the will. It won't be the end of an era unless we decide to make it one. Happily, there are substantial grounds for believing that, under the press of hard blows and hard times, our audacious metropolis will again lead the nation in recalling our history, reimagining our future, and seizing hold of our collective destiny."