Twenty years ago, the renaissance of New York City seemed unlikely -- to put it mildly. The city was reeling from a crack epidemic, a crime explosion, spiraling rates of welfare use, worsening schools, menacing vagrants eating up sidewalk space and governance by a political class whose only answer to the social pathologies tearing the metropolis asunder was more -- more money, more taxes, more public employees, more public dependence.
That year, in 1990, a little magazine came into being. It was called NY, and in its inaugural issue, it offered a vision of a better future that seemed delusional. “This is a labor of love,” the editor's note in that first issue said. “Like all labors, it begins in pain and ends, we hope, in the rebirth of Americas greatest city.”
That little magazine was soon rechristened City Journal. It celebrates its 20th anniversary tonight at a party in a New York City whose “rebirth” is now so taken for granted that its easy to forget how close the city actually came to irreversible decline.
Changing New Yorks trajectory required a new way of thinking about how to manage, govern and live in a gigantic, complex, aging city. That new way of thinking had to look back to the past -- to what a functional New York was like and how to recapture that. It also had to look to the future, to ways in which the city could be more hospitable to new kinds of employers.
More than any other enterprise in New York, City Journal was the vehicle for this new way of thinking -- making intimate use of the scholarly resources at work at the Manhattan Institute, the think tank that publishes the magazine.
What made City Journal revolutionary was the deep understanding informing every beautifully laid-out page of every quarterly issue (now edited by the estimable Brian Anderson) that the key problem was not political, not economic, but social and spiritual.
New York felt uncivilized. The challenge for those seeking its recovery was to make it a civilized place again. That meant reclaiming public spaces from the forces of disorder and decay -- the subways, the parks and, most important, the streets.
Criminologist George Kelling, whose “broken windows” theory would play such a crucial role in the Giuliani administrations revolutionary redesign of the citys policing, said in the Winter 1994 issue, “In the minds of citizens, the crime problem is, first and foremost, things like disorder, prostitution, panhandling, graffiti and drunken youths taking over parks. However tough the neighborhood is, these are the problems that people notice.”
City Journal sought to describe the concrete steps that could be taken to make citizens feel at home in the places they lived. In doing so, it gave a platform to a remarkable number of productive and imaginative writers and critics -- Fred Siegel, Heather Mac Donald, Steven Malanga, Nicole Gelinas and many others familiar to readers of this page -- who did extraordinary work in helping to diagnose problems and find solutions.
An early example: In the Spring 1992 issue, Siegel noted the successful role of such nongovernment institutions as the Central Parks Conservancy and various Business Improvement Districts in cleaning up streets and common green spaces.
“In the midst of the current cutbacks and almost all-pervasive gloom,” he wrote, “it is all the more important to tell the story of the Parks Department and the BIDs -- examples of how government can be made to work. They demonstrate what might be possible if the rethinking and restructuring they represent is carried out on a wider scale.”
As Siegel prophesied, the BIDs were expanded (despite much resistance even from the Giuliani City Hall) because they showed extraordinary results. The aggressive Parks Department efforts to reclaim as many green spaces as possible and beautify the cityscape has borne amazing fruit over the 20 years since the City Journal first began talking about how important such things were.
New Yorks spiritual decay was arrested, and its spiritual reclamation commenced. We saw the fruits of that reclamation in the weeks following 9/11. That strong civic culture has only deepened and taken root throughout this decade, such that even the difficult financial reversals of the last two years havent turned the citys residents on each other as previous crises did.
Now, the problem is more one of a new form of over-intrusive government -- one that, with the wave of a billionaires finger, closes down streets in the center of the action, swallows up public acreage for bicycle lanes used by a tiny fraction of a fraction of the population and bans foodstuffs deemed inadequately wholesome.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/renaissance_mag_N5tOe6vQDzQvhVvqc8uBRO