Jumpstarting the Politics of Progress in New York City
Summary: I’ll be teaching The Foundations of New York, a new six-week class to give New Yorkers the history, political theory, and political practice they need to conduct the politics of progress. Applications for Cohort 1 are closed, but you can SIGN UP to be notified when Cohort 2 applications open. Read on for more information.
New York City and the Politics of Progress
The vast majority of New York City’s governing institutions have, and have been, stalled. The result is a city of missed opportunity that pays massive opportunity costs: no new housing, no new subway lines, trash on the street forever, etc. One principal cause of this, upstream of all the rest, is the profoundly small pool of minds available to work on the governance of the city. Imagine if only five people knew how to code, and the resultant state of technological sophistication. Now consider that governance is, directionally, in this very state.
The solution is tripartite: (1) bring more minds online to work on the problems of New York governance, (2) unite them, as a networked group, with the politics of progress, and (3) grow this group from the foundation up, supplying it with the integrated knowledge it needs to act.
More minds: Most people in New York City, even the most brilliant, are totally ignorant of its governing systems. Without realizing it, they avoid learning the first thing about them. It’s tragic that many of these people actually want the city to succeed, but (incorrectly) consider themselves politically helpless, despite the wealth and intelligence they often have. The city cannot solve its longstanding issues while this status quo remains unmoved. It is the first order of business.
The politics of progress falls under the broader science of progress, if you’re familiar with that corner of the internet. If you’re not, here are some policies of Maximum New York’s politics of progress:
The city needs to add at least one million housing units in the near term (decade or less). Housing is at the heart of everything, and New York needs massive housing production to bring down the cost of rent, improve quality of life for residents, save the environment, and stuff the city’s coffers full of money to fund all kinds of great programs.
Become immigrant friendly, to both domestic and foreign immigrants. New York is to America as America is to the world—where aspirants come in quest of new lives. We need millions more of them, for all our sakes. They’ll make the city radically wealthier on an absolute and per capita basis, not to mention the cultural explosion. But only if we can build enough housing, of course.
Expand Manhattan into New York Harbor.
Fully prioritize pedestrian space, bikes, buses, and trains to move people around the city. This means more and better of all of them, and far fewer cars. All over the city we need more park, less avenue. There are huge opportunities to convert liabilities to assets in transit and public space.
Get the damn trash off the sidewalks.
From the foundation up: if you’re like most people in New York, you don’t know anything about its politics, and the idea of trying to influence them is overwhelming. Well, it doesn’t have to be. I’m offering The Foundations of New York, a new class that provides you with the history, political theory, political practice, and community you need to conduct the politics of progress. You’ll learn with a cohort of others who are working toward the same goals, and together we’ll all achieve a brighter future for the city. It doesn’t matter if you want to run for office, be an informed, private citizen, or anything in between. We need all the minds we can get, in every station of life, and The Foundations of New York serves as the nucleation site for their new political community.
The Foundations of New York: Class Structure and Information
Applications are open from March 12 until March 21 (5pm EST), and sooner is better.
I’ll inform all applicants of their status, successful or not, by March 23.
The first cohort of The Foundations of New York will begin on March 27, and will last six weeks.
SIGN UP to be notified when Cohort 2 applications open
Meeting time: class will meet in person once a week, in NYC, for two hours. Each week there will also be optional office hours and an optional meetup/field trip. You don’t have to come to all of them, but I’d encourage you to come to at least a few.
The class will meet on Sunday afternoon. I might potentially run two class sections at different times, which would open up a time during the weekday evening.
Structure: class will be structured as a seminar, each with an introductory presentation followed by discussion.
Class preparation: There will be readings for each class, small class projects, and a final exam (written and oral) that is graded pass/fail. Plan to allocate at least 2-4 hours a week for this work. Final exams will be scheduled at the class’s convenience.
There will be a graduation ceremony at the end of the class, and you must pass the final exam to graduate. You can take the exam multiple times if you need to—the point is that you have the relevant knowledge to think about governance, not that you jump through a hoop. The class content will prepare you to pass the exam, no cramming necessary.
Class participants will be added to a Maximum New York Discord server, which will be our primary mode of communication for coursework, office hours, and general discussion.
The class will have several price tiers based on your self-determined ability to pay: $0, $35, $70, and $100.
And after the course, the real fun of politics begins. It’s an open world.
About Your Instructor
Hello, my name is Daniel Golliher (gol- as in golf, yer- as in yurt. Gol-yer). I’ve lived in New York City for three years. Besides my writing on this website, you can learn more about me on Twitter, and my personal website. I’ve written a few books, play the piano and sax, enjoy all manner of physical fitness, and can’t wait to meet you.
I graduated from Harvard College in 2014 with a degree in Government, and since then I’ve worked in the legal industry, a coffee shop, higher ed, the legal industry again, and now I dedicate my time to Maximum New York.
The Foundations of New York will focus on three broad domains of NYC: history, political theory, and political practice. They’ll all be addressed in an integrated fashion, rather than in sequence or isolation.
History is vital, because it reveals why New York is the way it is. Cities are the product of path dependency and lock-in effects, and you shouldn’t govern if you don’t take these into account, because you’ll be producing them no matter what you do.
Political theory is necessary to inspire and motivate. It examines how government has been formed and revised in the past, and gives us the knowledge about how we might do it again now and in the future.
Political practice, otherwise called political strategy, is the study of how to connect political means to political ends. How to do things, not vaguely bullshit with your friends about what someone should do. Some vital components of this field are knowledge of the governing structures of the city themselves, and the political players within them.
The American Revolutionary period, 1776—1789
The Continental Congress and wartime diplomacy
The Articles of Confederation
The Constitutional Convention of 1787
The Federalist Papers
The consolidation of New York City in 1898
Why consolidate? Topics from the post-Civil War to 1898 (the case of the Brooklyn Bridge)
Effects of consolidation and the last Mayor of Brooklyn
The consolidated government and the Board of Estimate
Consolidation to WW2: it’s time to build
The Bronx: an instant city
1916 Zoning Resolution
Urban renewal and the Progressive Era
The Port of New York and New Jersey, 1921
New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), 1934
1960s: turning points
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, 1961
1961 Zoning Resolution (!!)
Along comes the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), 1965
Preservationism: the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the Landmarks Law, historic districts, the fight to save Carnegie Hall, and the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1961-1965
Urban renewal continues: the demolition of Lincoln Square, the rise of Lincoln Center (with a cameo from President Eisenhower), 1955—1969
The 1970s: change and turmoil
The twin towers completed in 1973
The Power Broker in 1974 and the end of Robert Moses
City bankruptcy of 1975, the intervention of Albany
The charter revisions of 1975, Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and Community Boards
The near-demolition of Grand Central Station (1975-1978); compare to the preservation fights of the previous decade
The blackout of 1977: literal and spiritual
The charter commission of 1989 and Board of Estimate of City of New York v. Morris
The ghosts of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, how they haunt the city, and whether to exorcize them
Case studies of creation and revision:
1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia
1898 consolidation of NYC and the first city charter
NYC charter revisions of 1975 and 1989
Maximum New York’s political philosophy
The means: social technology to develop and knowledge to acquire
The ends: actualizing higher expectations for New York City, why and how (more wealth, population, and well-being)
Outcompeting the anti-politics meme
What does it look like to “get involved in politics”? Beyond the stereotypically narrow, often incorrect view
The NYC government
Charter, Local Laws, Home Rule Act, Administrative Code
Branches: Mayor, City Council, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Executive Agencies, Borough Presidents, Community Boards/Districts
Budget: Executive and Adopted; Expense, Capital, Contract, and Revenue; dependence on Albany and DC
The boroughs: what do they do?
ULURP: case study on the nature of governmental review and public comment
The city’s external dependencies
The NYS government
The Federal government
Public benefit corporations
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Various topics in city politics:
The players and their stage
Housing: NYCHA, markets, LPC, and zoning
Transit: why is it the way that it is?
Law enforcement, Rikers, and the NYPD
Balaji, accelerationism, CityCoin, and the ever weirder future
Organizations that are already doing good work, and what you can do to help them
Other topics that surface during the course
Good follows, reads, and resources
This is a severely abridged list for illustrative purposes, and doesn’t include things like energy, policing, education, homelessness, water, political reform, and more.