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Record: 1
Title: Planning and history.
Authors: Bianco, Martha J.
Source: Journal of the American Planning Association; Winter95, Vol. 61 Issue 1, p122, 2p
Document Type: Book Review
Subject Terms: *BOOKS
Reviews & Products: 722 Miles (Book)
Abstract: Reviews the book `722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How they Transformed New York,' by Clifton Hood.
Full Text Word Count: 790
ISSN: 0194-4363
Accession Number: 9502102081
Persistent link to this record:
Cut and Paste: <A href="">Planning and history.</A>
Database: Academic Search Premier


722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How they Transformed New York

Clifton Hood. Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993.335 pp. $25.00.

When I think of New York City, I think, of course, of Manhattan's skyline, Wall Street, Central Park, and thousands of yellow taxicabs. But I also think of Queens, where I can get Greek oregano at tiny grocery stores in dozens of working class neighborhoods, and of Brooklyn, where I can get the best Italian sausage I've ever had. Once, maybe twice, I made the trip from Manhattan to the boroughs by car. But generally, like millions of others, I take the subway.

Clifton Hood's book, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How they Transformed New York, is not just about New York's subways. It's about the city and its metamorphosis from a highly concentrated urban center in lower Manhattan to a dispersed urban megalopolis reaching not only the northern tip of the island, but across the East River to the outer boroughs. This dispersal was characterized primarily by an outward shift of the working class population, changing the cultural and economic features of New York's urban landscape. It also changed the character of the subway system itself, from an upper class novelty to a conveyor of the working class, who rode the subways from their suburban residences in the boroughs to their jobs in Manhattan.

This working class dispersal was in part the Progressives' answer to rationalizing Manhattan's unmanageable and miserable congestion which was a threat to its economic competitiveness with other world-class cities in the United States. But it was also a real estate investor's dream. Hood illustrates how real estate speculators promoted the first subways in New York and provided much of the impetus for their construction. He also explains how real estate investors opposed construction of the municipally owned and operated Independent Subway System (IND) in the mid-1920s, which Mayor John F. Hylan promoted in an attempt to weaken the private companies' stranglehold over the city and Tammany Hall. The IND was mapped to run out to built-up areas and thus held no appeal for real estate speculators. Business organizations opposed the IND, too, fearing that increased taxes would result, repelling investment in New York's businesses. But Hylan prevailed and IND construction began, strengthening the lines of communication between Manhattan and the boroughs. In addition, by extending subway lines out to areas previously served by elevated railways, the construction of the IND fueled the battle over street space, making the traffic-obstructing pillars of the unsightly elevateds obsolete.

The IND was only part of Mayor Hylan's contribution to New York's transit history. Another was his commitment to the five-cent fare. While some cities' transit companies began raising their fares from a nickel even before post-World War I inflation, in New York the five-cent fare remained in effect until 1948. By 1920, workers were highly dependent upon the subway system, and Hylan knew the political importance of retaining the low fare. Retention of the fare through years of inflation contributed to the decline of the transit system, which was already threatened by a political culture that stressed antagonism and competition between private and public sectors; by declining quality of service; and by shifts in private investment from transit to automobile-accommodating infrastructure.

Through anecdote and historical narrative, Clifton Hood highlights the subway's social and political effects and tells the story of its construction, presenting geological and engineering details in a remarkably compelling manner. 722 Miles is a thorough history of New York's subway, but many important issues are presented and illustrated without much analytical or comparative perspective. Hood's reliance on anecdote and brief biography makes for interesting storytelling, but at times diverts the reader from serious reflection on substantive issues such as the role of labor or the subway's place in the broader framework of city transportation planning.

Overall, however, 722 Miles is an interesting addition to urban history and transit literature, covering the entire history of New York's subway, from the Beach pneumatic subway in 1870 to unification by the New York Transit Authority in 1953. It supplements Charles Cheape's Moving the Masses: Urban Public Transit in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia 1880-1912 (Harvard University Press, 1980) and Joshua B. Freeman's transit-labor history, In-Transit: The Transport Workers Union in New York City, 1933-1966 (Oxford University Press, 1989). The lively and very readable account is also highly accessible to nonacademics and professionals, anyone interested in New York and the world's greatest and longest subway.


By Martha J. Bianco

Bianco is currently co-moderator of H-Urban, an urban history electronic discussion list, and adjunct faculty at Lewis & Clark College.

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Source: Journal of the American Planning Association, Winter95, Vol. 61 Issue 1, p122, 2p
Item: 9502102081
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