When one thinks of New York City, the image the commonly comes to mind is prosperity and wealth. Considering that New York is the financial and media capital of the world, it is no wonder that it has such an image. However, such prosperity was not always the case and a comprehensive public works system was required in order to save the city from economic devastation. Prior to the Great Depression, New York City was controlled by the corrupt political machine Tammany Hall.
With the advent of the Great Depression, new York City’s population exploded. Unfortunately, the economy of New York City was negatively affected in the same manner that the rest of the nation and extreme change was required. As such, Tammany Hall was finally ‘thrown out of office’ and the Mayor Fiorella La Guardia was elected. In order to deal with the problem of economic chaos, La Guardia opted to institute a number of public works programs in order to reverse the negative spiral the city was caught.
With many major American cities collapsing under the financial strain caused by the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt provided a significant volume of federal funds to cities in order to aid the economic re-development of the cities. La Guardia jumped on the opportunity for federal funds and used those federal funds to stimulate a number of jobs for the unemployed. This greatly saved New York City from financial collapse and, ultimately, made Fiorella La Guardia and icon in New York City’s history.
Additionally, La Guardia used public works money to develop a system of public housing and urban renewal. Since much of New York City was poor, many of the neighborhoods had devolved into slums. The aggressive urban renewal campaign was somewhat successful, but not as successful as the job stimulation program that La Guardia instituted. Of course, there will always be negatives on the flipside of any positive venture.
With a great deal of public, federal money coming into the city, many individuals became overly reliant upon the federal government for prosperity. When the federal government reached its limits in terms of what it could provide, the prosperity of segments of the population stagnated. This ultimately led to a rollback of many of the public works policies during the 1990’s Regardless of the success that the public works system may have had in the past, in order for progress to be made in any endeavor, one must move forward.
There were a great number of factors that made the public works system a positive benefit for the city of New York from the New Deal era to the 1970s. This does not, however, mean that duplicating the past system would equate to a duplication of success. Sometimes, a radically different approach is required. Former Mayor Gulliani, for example, promoted a system of city governance that was far removed from the public works system of city maintenance and management and his system of governing is widely considered a success.
Again, different time periods and factors will require different solutions to problems. No concept is so strong that it can last forever and thrive amidst radically changing social and political landscapes. As such, La Guardia’s usage of Public Works money for the stimulation of the stagnant economy of New York was the right decision at the right time. While not perfect, it did serve its primary purpose: saving New York City from economic collapse.