During the 2013 mayoral race, Bill de Blasio lamented the existence of “two New Yorks”: one made up of high-flying superstars, loaded with money; and the other consisting of all those struggling to get by in an ever-more-expensive city. Candidate de Blasio was vague about what was making the city so unaffordable for so many. But a major part of the problem, argues Steven Malanga in “The Cost of New York,” is New York City’s hyperactive government, which taxes and regulates with such a heavy hand that the cost of living and doing business in the city just goes up and up. (In its big-spending approach, the city mirrors the out-of-control federal government, which, as Myron Magnet shows in “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,” has been expanding its reach for much longer than most Americans realize.) New York City’s cost structure is a particularly heavy burden on middle-class families, who make too much money to qualify for government housing subsidies or other aid available to the poor but not enough to find $3,000 rents remotely affordable. No surprise that census data show the number of those families living in the city falling in recent years. All the worse, then, charges Malanga, is Mayor de Blasio’s liberal agenda, which will only make New York more costly, aggravating the very condition that the mayor condemns.
Let’s hope that the mayor’s redistributionist policies don’t cause wealthy New Yorkers to leave the city, says Nicole Gelinas in “What the Rich Give to New York.” That moneymakers still want to live in New York is a good thing, she argues—above all, for the aspirational poor, who can benefit from the city’s vast public wealth, from safe parks and public transport to world-class museums and libraries and free educational opportunities that the tax dollars and philanthropy of the wealthy disproportionately pay for.
Houston’s pro-growth urbanism is a marvel, enthuse Joel Kotkin and Tory Gattis in “America’s Opportunity City.” Houston’s business-friendly economy has been furiously adding jobs (lots of them well-paying energy or tech positions) over the last decade and a half—more than 600,000 since 2000 and an eye-popping 263,000 since the financial crisis dragged the national economy into the pit back in 2008. Factor in its low cost—housing, especially, is abundant and inexpensive, thanks to relaxed zoning—and the city now boasts the highest standard of living in the country, observe Kotkin and Gattis. That’s why Houston is also projected to have the highest growth in newcomers of any major American metropolitan area over the next few years, building up a thriving downtown for hipsters and pushing prosperity outward on a sprawling urban edge for growing families.
In “Prosecution Gets Smart,” Heather Mac Donald details a striking new development in crime-fighting, spearheaded by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance: intelligence-driven prosecution. Comparable with the data-based policing revolution that rescued cities from the thugs and miscreants who were destroying American urban life in the 1980s and early 1990s, intelligence-driven prosecution changes the perspectives and methods of law enforcement. Instead of focusing narrowly on the individual cases that the police bring them, prosecutors in Vance’s office develop extensive knowledge about the city’s crime networks—and then use that information proactively to go after crime. The new approach has already had a dramatic impact, disrupting the gang warfare plaguing Harlem housing projects. Prosecutors in other cities are keen to adopt the approach, Mac Donald shows.
Famed playwright Joseph Stein died a few years ago, at 98, still working nearly 50 years after his signal achievement, Fiddler on the Roof. In “My Father, Fiddler, and the Left,” Harry Stein assesses the legacy of his father and his comic circle, which included such giants as Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, and Carl Reiner—a galaxy of talent that transformed American popular culture. Stein’s loving portrait captures his father’s genius and that of his friends but also raises questions about their unflaggingly left-leaning politics, which became the unquestioned norm in popular culture—and a source of tension between a father and his increasingly conservative son.
—Brian C. Anderson