Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Benjamin Holtzman's "The Long Crisis"

Benjamin Holtzman is an Assistant Professor of History at Lehman College. He studies the intersection of political and social history in the United States, with particular focus on politics, capitalism, race and class, cities, and social movements.

Holtzman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Long Crisis: New York City and the Path to Neoliberalism, and reported the following:
A daring reader who tosses caution aside and begins The Long Crisis on page 99 would find themselves thrust into a discussion about the condition of parks across twentieth-century New York City. The page comes early in the book’s third chapter, “Remaking Public Parks,” which is about the transformation of the municipal park system in the late twentieth century. On page 99, I describe how throughout the history of the park system, New Yorkers “had reason to grumble about park maintenance.” By the time John Lindsay was elected mayor in 1965, “‘dissatisfaction with maintenance and supervision of parks’ had become near universal.” Lindsay and several spirited Parks Department Commissioners pledged to improve park conditions and to reverse the decline in park usage. These officials, I note, began to encourage non-traditional uses – hippie ‘be ins,’ puppet shows, large musical performances – as they attempted to bring New Yorkers back into parks.

Because 99 is among the initial few pages of the chapter, it largely serves to set the stage for the narrative that follows: how over the 1970s and 1980s the park system became reliant on private organizations to run city parks. The page 99 test therefore receives a passing, though not stellar, mark. On the one hand, this page would give readers a sense of the dissatisfaction residents had long felt about a critical municipal service like the park system – a frustration that heightened as decreased municipal budgets over Lindsay’s terms resulted in worsening park conditions. It was in part this dissatisfaction that spurred city residents to begin to look beyond government and to private sources in order to improve public services like parks. On the other hand, page 99 does not show this process in motion. It does not, for example, discuss how working-class residents began to form community groups to care for their neighborhood parks or how more affluent New Yorkers began to fundraise for – and then demand a greater say over the management of – parks in more wealthy areas and business districts.

Ultimately, the heart of the book lies in tracing how urban dwellers responded to the tumultuous conditions of 1970s and 1980s New York and illustrating how their actions transformed the city toward one more reliant on private sector and market-based solutions. Though I hope page 99 provides an enticing glimpse of The Long Crisis, readers would be more likely to gain a better picture of how these processes unfolded on other pages of the book.
Visit Benjamin Holtzman's website.

--Marshal Zeringue