What does it mean to say that a city can “die”? As Brian Tochterman shows in this compelling intellectual and cultural history, motifs of...

What does it mean to say that a city can “die”? As Brian Tochterman shows in this compelling intellectual and cultural history, motifs of imminent death—of a “Necropolis” haunting the country’s great “Cosmopolis”—have been a persistent feature of discourse on the probable fate of New York City since the Second World War. The Dying City: Postwar New York and the Ideology of Fear (University of North Carolina Press, 2017) traces this “spatial narrative” across many domains of thought and cultural production: fiction and essays, planning theory and practice, humanistic and social-scientific criticism in the public square, and film in the age of Charles Bronson’s Death Wish. Throughout, Tochterman shows that New York intellectuals of diverse political inflections have made specters of urban “ungovernability” central to how America and the world look at New York—whether to compel remedies, to render the city’s very chaos alluring, or, especially, to argue for the futility of intervention. Tochterman sheds new light on such figures as E. B. White, Mickey Spillane, Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs, Daniel Bell, Irving Howe, Lionel Abel, Michael Harrington, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Nathan Glazer, and John Lindsay, among other compass points in the urbanism and intellectual life of postwar New York. Between “Fun City” and “Fear City,” a new image of the metropolitan past, present, and future comes into focus.


Peter Ekman teaches in the departments of geography at Sonoma State University and the University of California, Berkeley. He received the Ph.D. from Berkeley in 2016, and is at work on two book projects on the cultural and historical geography of urban America across the long twentieth century. He can be reached at [email protected].

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