Such an urban canon could prove helpful to New York’s next mayor, Bill de Blasio. There are many obvious choices, like “The Power Broker,” “Gotham,” “The Encyclopedia of New York City,” “To Be Mayor of New York” and “A Phoenix From the Ashes.” These Mr. de Blasio may well be familiar with. With only two weeks left before he takes office, here are a few new and recent candidates to make an even 10 for Mr. de Blasio’s Christmas reading (or rereading) list:
“The Undeserving Poor: America’s Enduring Confrontation With Poverty” (Oxford University Press). This revised edition by Michael B. Katz, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, explores Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s antipoverty initiatives. Professor Katz’s finding: “Poverty has been allowed to grow once again, not, it must be emphasized, as the inevitable consequence of government impotence or economic scarcity, but of political will.”
“Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Bliss is not a condition ordinarily associated with cities, but Charles Montgomery was determined to uncover the secret of urban happiness. Like Jane Jacobs and William H. Whyte, he finds some answers in the exhilarating East Village and the mom-and-pop stores of the Upper West Side.
“The Accidental Playground: Brooklyn Waterfront Narratives of the Undesigned and Unplanned” (Fordham University Press). Daniel Campo, a former New York City planner, considers the serendipitous development of Williamsburg and concludes: “In contrast to urban space produced through conventional planning and design, the accidental playground that evolved on the North Brooklyn waterfront generated vitality through immediate and largely unmeditated action. The waterfront was there for the claiming, and people went out and did just that without asking for permission, holding meetings or making plans.”
“Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt” (Basic Books). The historian Edward P. Kohn returns with a primer that corrects the “Western image” of the Manhattan-born former police commissioner and governor. “He was an urban progressive, concerned with such issues as civil service, municipal reform and political machines,” Professor Kohn writes, and quotes Roosevelt: “The most important lesson taught by the history of New York City is the lesson of Americanism — the lesson that he among us who wishes to win honor in our life, and to play his part honestly and manfully, must be indeed an American in spirit and purpose, in heart and thought and deed.”
“The Art of the Watchdog: Fighting Fraud, Waste, Abuse and Corruption in Government” (State University of New York Press). This wonky volume by Daniel L. Feldman and David R. Eichenthal ought to be required reading for any government executive. It’s a timely reminder of the necessity for holding appointed and elected officials accountable and for making sure, too, that watchdogs bite as vigorously as they bark.