"From the Cracks in the Sidewalks of N.Y.C.": The Embodied Production of Urban Decline, Survival, and Renewal in New York's Fiscal-Crisis-Era Streets, 1977-1983 Open Access
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This dissertation argues that New York City's 1970s fiscal crisis was not only an economic crisis, but was also a spatial and embodied one. During the crisis era, the news media, residents, and public officials fought to define who could inhabit certain types of spaces and what kinds of practices were permissible within them. Specifically, I argue that ideas about urban decline, survival, and renewal during the crisis era were produced through acts of walking, strutting, roaming, running, and cleaning in the city's streets. Moreover, these acts not only produced crisis discourse but also helped produce the lived and perceived landscapes in which they occurred; street practices and their representations altered the ways in which New Yorkers thought about and inhabited these spaces, and resulted in concrete changes to the built environment. I consider the iconic walks of John Travolta in the opening of Saturday Night Fever and President Carter through the South Bronx, residents' movements along the Brooklyn–Queens border during the 1977 blackout, the “Son of Sam” serial killer's navigation of white ethnic outer–borough neighborhoods, and Mayor Ed Koch's promotion of walking during the 1980 transit strike. This dissertation combines performance studies and cultural geography optics to question how ideas about space are produced, maintained, and negotiated through practice, discourse, and emotion. By valuing New Yorkers' inhabitations of the streets, my study uncovers the more tacit ways in which ideas about space are produced and probes how certain among these ideas gain the power to become accepted as “commonsense.” This project contributes to a newly emerging body of scholarship that examines the political and cultural shifts during the 1970s, and the relationship of these transformations to the nation's urban areas. By examining spatial practices during this pivotal moment in both the city and the country's history, I consider how these political and cultural shifts were also grounded in particular places and everyday acts.