New York City in the 1970s

J. Pod has a lovely little essay about growing up in the Upper West Side during the 1970s. The politics is a la carte, so I think everyone will like it.

I live in a small city in the midst of a great city. It is the same one
in which I grew up four decades ago, and its buildings and landmarks
and topography are almost entirely unchanged. Usually the small cities
in America that never change are the ones whose best days came half a
century or more ago and are now literally rotting away before your
eyes, their once-handsome houses mottling, their fences akimbo, their
storefronts boarded, their grass untended, their gas stations abandoned
on windblown corners. My small city could have been one of those
static, increasingly impoverished, blighted places. Indeed, everything
suggested it would be.

About that time, my dad was mugged while walking to his car on 135th Street. He managed to talk the guy out of taking his wedding ring. His car battery was routinely stolen, while he was teaching class, and then he would have to walk down the block to an autobody joint and buy his old battery back.


9 thoughts on “New York City in the 1970s

  1. Given that the same sort of crime reduction happened all over the US, including cities that followed quite different programs than the one Giuliani put in place (and payed less out in law suits over civil rights violations because of this), I don’t think that it’s obvious that Giuliani deserves all that much credit. That said, there was a reason that movies like “Deathwish” and “Dirty Harry” came out when (and where) they did.


  2. I know that, MH. My point was that SF in the 70’s was in the same sort of decline as NYC was. I knew it was a bit ambiguous how I wrote it but was assuming that I’d get some charity of interpretation so as to not have to spell it out.


  3. I wasn’t trying to be uncharitable. I was confused. I never thought of SF as having declined to where it got the same reputation for violence as NYC in the 70s.


  4. Not violence as much as NYC, but my impression (I was a toddler- this is a retrospective account) is that there was a wide-spread view that SF had become a largely ungovernable place over-run with hippies, drug-addicts, homosexuals, etc. that was unsuitable for decent people and needed someone to clean it up. The fantasy was the Dirty Harry films. The real life version was the Harvey Milk/Dan White tragedy, leading to Diane Feinstien’s time as mayor. Obviously, the hippies, drug-addicts, and homosexuals didn’t leave SF, but the idea that it was dangerous and ungovernable did, largely without the excess of Giuliani.


  5. Both the actually high crime rates and the perception that cities had become ungovernable of the 1970s probably have more than a little something to do with the racial upheavals of the 1960s, not to mention the economic crises and slow death of urban manufacturing.
    How much of what happened in New York and San Francisco can be attributed to the finance and software revolutions of the 1980s?
    I lived in DC in the late 1980s, and there were neighborhoods filled with buildings burned out by the riots in 1968. How the hell does that happen?


  6. (I was a toddler- this is a retrospective account)
    Me also. But I can remember visiting NYC in about 1985 or so. I was watching for muggers and serial killers, despite seeing nothing more out of the ordinary (to me) than people living in a park. I didn’t have similar fears when we were in L.A., Chicago, D.C., or other cities. (I never did get to San Francisco until very recently.)
    Maybe excepting people on the west coast, NYC seems to occupy the mental slot most non-urban people have for ‘city’. I was (and am) much more aware of NYC than the whole state of California. As a kid, I had no idea who Milk was, or the Zodiac Killer, or that “gay” was anything but an insult more serious than “jerk” and less serious than “asshole.”
    But, I knew about Son of Sam and Bernie Goetz and that everybody in NYC was only waiting for the power to go out before they started looting.


  7. I grew up in NYC in the 70s, and am not convinced it was ever as dangerous as the reputation. Yes, it was DIRTY — I watched Dog Day Afternoon a few months ago and was reminded of that. And there were lots of people selling pot in Washignton Square Park. But I walked home from school myself starting in 3rd or 4th grade.
    I do think things got worse in the 1980s, when the crack epidemic hit. But even so, the Central Park Jogger was front page news because it was everyone’s worst nightmare come to life — if things like that happened all the time, it wouldn’t have been so memorable.


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