Professor Miriam Greenberg, of the Pratt Institute in New York, delivered a stunning lecture on “Crisis and Contradiction: The Symbolic Politics of New York City in the 1970s” yesterday in the Scheur Room. Her talk focused on the near economic death and rebirth of “Gotham” post-baby boom. It turns out Eisenhower’s “Man in the Gray Flannel Suit” packed up the Manhattan office and moved to the suburbs by the Nixon administration.
Rising crime, debts, pollution, and traffic made city life near impossible by the end of the 1960s. Most industrial and white-collar jobs moved to the suburbs, taking with them valuable tax revenue. By the end of the 1970s, the city was “technically bankrupt” according to Greenberg.
Soon, even basic services such as the police and fire departments were subject to cost cutting. And while New York scrambled to increase investment, these same striking city employees began distributing “Fear City” pamphlets. “Stay away from New York City if you possibly can” advised these cheerful packets. A killing spree (Summer of Sam), blackout, and budget deficit made 1977 one of the worst years for New York City. Ever.
Enter advertising in 1977. Through the effort of famed journalist Milton Glaser and the tourism department, “I Love New York” became the devastated cityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s international catchphrase. And as Greenberg attests, it worked. Suddenly, the symbol, combining intimacy, strength, irony, and structure (all in four words) became a savior. Greenberg remarks that while the symbolism did not entirely end New YorkÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s economic rut, it turned around tourism.
And importantly, it gave the city a new image, far separated from “former industrial powerhouse,” to “cozy hotel room near Central Park and the convention.” This new slogan encompassed the grittiness of “Midnight Cowboy’s” “asphalt jungle” but also promised a good coffee if one did in fact decide to take the subway.
Miriam Greenberg received her bachelor’s degree at New York’s New School and a graduate degree at the City University of New York. Her book “Branding New York: The Rise of a New Strategy of Economic Development, 1968-2002” will be published by Routledge Press this year.