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City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics

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ISBN-13: 978-0814788172
ISBN-10: 0814788173
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Editorial Reviews


City of Disorder offers something bracing for liberal policy-makers in New York: a blueprint for the realization of their humanistic values through an array of more muscular, activist policies. They should study it and learn from it.-Robert Neuwirth,City Limits WEEKLY

"City of Disorder has added enormously to our understanding of the context in which the crime declines of the 1980s and 90s took place. Future discussions of what happened in New York City must take this book into account. A great read and a real contribution to our understanding of the era."
-—George Kelling,co-author of Fixing Broken Windows: Restoring Order And Reducing Crime In Our Communities

"In City of Disorder, Vitale provides a wise and balanced analysis of the preoccupation with social order in New York City that flowered under Giuliani's watch. On the one side, neoliberal housing and employment markets were increasing the numbers of people who were displaced and homeless. The failure of government on all levels to regulate the market forces driving this development, or to intervene to provide alternatives for the people affected, meant that people coped as they always have, by camping on the streets and panhandling, and by turning to drugs and drink. These behaviors in turn created popular political support for the coercive social controls that came to characterize city policy in the nineties. But neither the homeless nor the public were responsible for the limited alternatives which drove this mean result."
-—Frances Fox Piven,author of The War at Home: The Domestic Costs of Bush's Militarism

"Vitale presents an important critical analysis of "quality of life" and "zero tolerance" policing that have serious civil rights and civil liberties implications and are too often accepted, without careful scrutiny, as the solution to urban problems."
-—Donna Lieberman,Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union

"Vitale makes a powerful, and likely irrefutable, case that New York City mayors could have made major inroads in reducing homelessness had they adopted more progressive land use policies. This part of the book alone is a major contribution to the ongoing debate about homelessness. Readers across the nation will benefit from what is now clearly one of the best books ever written about urban homelessness."
-—Randy Shaw,

About the Author

Alex S. Vitale is Associate Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He has also worked for the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and the New York Civil Liberties Union.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814788173
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814788172
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,135,841 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By S. Sherman on October 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Seen from afar, the politics of New York City present a paradox. The city is a hotbed of liberalism, and votes heavily Democratic in national elections. Yet the Democrats have not won a mayoral election in almost twenty years (and, as of this writing, Mike Bloomberg is coasting to his third term). Why has liberalism been eclipsed as an electoral force in this liberal city? Alex Vitale goes some way to answering this question, in his misnamed book (a more accurate title might have been 'the roots of the turn to punitive approaches' or 'the collapse of corporate liberalism'--he has much more to say about how we arrived at quality of life campaigns than about how the campaigns themselves affected the city). He has a clear, forceful explanatory framework which he fills in with well-chosen details (what more can we ask for?). The basic framework is this: corporate liberals used to rule New York City. They prioritized government interventions to facilitate the growth of business in the city. In theory, this would help everyone, but it did not. It often produced unemployment, or low wages, or housing shortages. But corporate liberals did not support interventions in labor or housing markets to address these problems, since this would have frustrated the growth strategy. Rather, they favored ameliorative measures by funding social service agencies and occasional housing projects.
In the seventies and eighties, this all became unraveled. The businesses favored by the corporate liberal strategy--the finance and real estate sectors--tended to exacerbate these problems because apart from those on top, they are low wage industries. So the 'problem' portion of the population grew.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LEON L CZIKOWSKY on October 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This excellent book analyzes homeless policies. Mayor Frank Jordan of San Francisco in 1993 began a campaign to remove homeless people from the city. Thousands of homeless people were ticketed by policy for minor crimes, hundreds of homeless were jailed, and homeless people were removed from public areas. Vitale argues this created more danger and hurt to thousands of homeless people. Mayor Giuliani repeated a similar campaign afterwards in New York. These programs are designed to improve the "quality of life" for residents but does nothing, in fact they make things worse, for homeless people. Penalizing a homeless person for being homeless solves nothing.

A Federal court in Pottinger v. City of Miami rules in 1991 that Miami could not make it a crime to commit an act a homeless person must do as a homeless person when the city offers no alternative to being homeless. The court ruled Miami had to designate an area where homeless people could stay without public government harassment.

Santa Monica, Ca. in 1993 passed a law that made it very restrictive to give free food to the homeless.

A major problem is that social programs for the homeless are severely underfunded. This invokes a contradiction when compared to the billions of public dollars spent on economic development. Another irony is the high costs involved in incarcerating a homeless person. Budget restraints have limited the ability of local governments to properly fund and implement social programs.

There is an increase in homeless worldwide. It is a result of global market changes. Local residents are understandably distressed by the increased number of homeless in their communities. Many communities have decreased the amount of low income housing, which has made the homeless problem worse. The author calls for greater social tolerance, social cohesion, social services that work, and regulating globalization.
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Format: Paperback
In 1990, the author Alex Vitale was in San Francisco, part of Mayor Art Agnos’ program to deal with the homeless. Let’s be frank, the program failed, and the reasons were mostly economic. There wasn’t a lot of affordable housing, skid row had been gentrified, and the Tenderloin district was full. Even if it wasn’t full, a whole lot of homeless people weren’t desperate enough to live there. Agnos resorted to letting the police scare them off, and that didn’t win him any admirers.

In 1993, Vitale came to CUNY for his graduate studies, just as Mayor Giuliani was starting his “kick-em-out” campaign. Homeless men were being forced off the streets and into shelters, which were often less safe than the streets. The citizens, even the most liberal ones, weren’t interested in what the homeless were thinking. As the author stresses, they felt that they’d done their bit, and now they just wanted to live in peace. They were fed up with crime, fed up with aggressive panhandling, fed up with being bullied every time they walked down the street. They were fed up with Larry Hogue smashing windows on 96th street, fed up with Tompkins Square Park, and fed up with 42nd street. So what if Larry Hogue was a traumatized Vietnam veteran? So what if the men in Tompkins Square Park had nowhere to go? The taxpayers were fed up, and they’d lost patience.

I appreciate this book, because the author does not blame the so-called “NIMBY” ideology for the problem. He doesn’t fault people who say “not in my backyard,” because there were the same people who fought for integration and civil rights. He does, however, fault Giuliani’s clean-up effort, because the uptick in arrests for petty offenses led to increased incarceration.
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