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Building Gotham

Civic Culture and Public Policy in New York City, 1898–1938

In 1898, the New York state legislature created Greater New York, a metropolis of three and a half million people, the second largest city in the world, and arguably the most diverse and complex urban environment in history. In this far-ranging study, Keith D. Revell shows how experts in engineering, law, architecture, public health, public finance, and planning learned to cope with the daunting challenges of collective living on this new scale. Engineers applied new technologies to build railroad tunnels under the Hudson River and construct aqueducts to quench the thirst of a city on the verge of water famine. Sanitarians attempted to clean up a harbor choked by millions of gallons of raw sewage. Economists experimented with new approaches to financing urban infrastructure. Architects and planners wrestled with the problems of skyscraper regulation and regional growth. These issues of city-building and institutional change involved more than the familiar push and pull of interest groups or battles between bosses, reformers, immigrants, and natives. Revell details the ways that technical values—distinctive civic culture of expertise—helped reshape ideas of community, generate new centers of public authority, and change the physical landscape of New York City.

Building Gotham thus demonstrates how a group of ambitious professionals overcame the limits of traditional means of decision-making and developed the city-building practices that enabled New York to become America's first mega-city.

About the Author

Keith D. Revell is an associate professor of public administration in the School of Policy and Management at Florida International University.


"Absolutely essential reading for anyone trying to appreciate the achievements of Progressive reform—and its inadvertent consequences . . . A richly insightful book that will be read by anyone concerned about New York, public life, and the present state of American liberalism."—Joel Schwartz, Journal of American History

"An enjoyable, highly readable, and very detailed account . . . An excellent text for students and researchers to better understand the often unique and always complex set of issues and actors that initiated, implemented, or thwarted urban planning efforts in New York City."—Susan Turner Meiklejohn, Journal of Planning Education and Research

"Building Gotham documents with an insightful and unbiased eye the roles played by businesses and government in erecting the modern city's buildings, tunnels, sewers, transportation system, and the like."—Harry Siegel, New York Sun

"This well informed book . . . examines the origins of the various forms of planning New York City . . . [A] very exciting technical account . . . thorough and interesting."—Peter Eley, Urban Design Quarterly

"Revell, a professor of public administration, pays particular attention to the army of experts—from engineers and architects to lawyers and financiers—who solved the enormous problems that initially had the 'ambitious experiment in collective living' teetering on the brink of disaster . . . the message distilled by Revell from his study of bygone New York—that 'outdated notions of individualism and local autonomy' can be detrimental to solving shared problems—is sure to strike a responsive chord."—Civil Engineering

"Deeply researched, clearly written and argued . . . required reading for scholars of early twentieth-century New York City."—Angela M. Blake, Urban History

"This fresh look at the origin of various forms of planning in New York City at the start of the twentieth century represents the 'new institutionalism' in history at its best. Revell's realism, balance, and sanity offer an antidote to recent scholarly nihilism about public action without romanticizing the roles of corporations, experts or elected officials. Building Gotham is powerful, nicely and imaginatively researched, and very well written."—Robin L. Einhorn, University of California, Berkeley

9780801870736 : building-gotham-revell
344 Pages
$52.00 USD
9780801882067 : building-gotham-revell
Paperback / softback
344 Pages
$34.00 USD

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