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Customer Review

TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 27 August 2012
THis book is definitely worth a skim. The basic thesis of the author, who is a kind of radical populist, is that the Rockefellers pursued a certain urban policy for New York because they wanted to enhance the real estate value of that great albatros, the Rockefeller Center. According to Fitch, it was a bad investment that tied them all down financially, so they used the political system - all the while posing as Republican champions of the free market - to boost the price of their holdings. This involved, he argues, the collusion of Wall Street financiers, the Insurance companies, and real estate moguls. Amazingly, with the sale to Mitsubishi in the late 1980s for $3 billion, they succeeded in a multi-generational conspiracy to do so.

According to FItch, the Rockefeller Center was a bad idea: without good transport, it was hard to fill the office space created, hence there was over-capacity; the timing (1928) couldn't have been worse; it was on the wrong side of the city, i.e. the west, which the rich avoided; they didn't own the ground, which was what appreciated much more than the buildings. To overcome this, they plotted to raise the real estate values of the island, essentially making it a kind of elite haven for rich string pullers and getting rid of the working class and manufacturing. While bad for the city - it was an unsustainable model that kept the tax base too low - it did help them to get rid of the Center. To conclude, he says they were trying to make an elite city like Babylon (governing provinces on the outside, getting tribute, and keeping workers like peasants down or outside), that this "post-industrial" model has nothing new to it whatsoever. He thinks that a more balanced approach to the city is needed, with attention to and respect for the working class in order to make it a more balanced community with a sustainable base.

To be honest, I do not know enough about urban policies to evaluate his ideas, but I found them intriguing and will explore them further. The book is not always easy to follow: Fitch makes many asides that can be very personal, throws in acronyms constantly, and refers to many things of which I was ignorant. It is also 20 years old, so out of date. That being said, I lived in NYC at the tail end of the time he describes and, if he is correct, it explains an awful lot about what I observed then.

REcommended. But it is only a start.
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