KC Johnson

MHC Seminar 4: Shaping the Future of New York City

Seminar 4 Description and Objectives

Course Description
Having examined a variety of important aspects of the past and present of New York City in the previous seminars, in this fourth and final seminar students analyze the interplay of social, economic, and political forces that shape the physical form and social dynamics of New York City. Students study important historical moments in social policy formation, such as the fiscal crisis of the 1970s and welfare reform, and focuses on important instances of development opportunities and challenges, from Robert Moses’s highway system to a new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to the reconstruction of the World Trade Center. By studying institutional agents of change – federal, state, and city governments, public authorities, private sector interests, community boards, and grassroots organizations – students come to appreciate the roles people take or are given the decision-making processes of government and the ways in which these roles are affected by patterns of access, inequality, and the operations of power. The culminating projects of this seminar are small-group presentations, in a cross-campus conference setting, of students’ investigations of crucial issues affecting the future of New York City.

Students will:

  • Use primary sources, both qualitative and quantitative, especially in their research projects, to understand community institutions, the local economy, and the role of government
  • Develop an understanding of how power differentially affects New York City’s people, its built environment, and its institutions through site visits, case studies, or research projects.
  • Develop the ability to engage in key contemporary debates that shape the future of the city through in-class discussions, presentations, and colloquia.
  • Develop an understanding of the formal and informal institutions underlying decision making in the city by analyzing historical and contemporary planning and policy issues.

Tuesdays at 5.05pm


  • Group presentation: 40%
  • Short paper (due via e-mail, 20 May): 25%
  • Class participation: 20%
  • Individual government agency/site presentation (weeks 2-6): 10%
  • Attendance: 5%


In addition to primary sources of various types, the course will use the following books:

Contact info:

  • email: kcjohnson9@gmail.com
  • cell: 207-329-8456
  • office hours: Thursdays from 2.00-3.00pm  (1127a Boylan)
  • website: kc-johnson.com

Technology fellow:

  • The instructional technology fellow for our class is Benjamin Haber.
  • His email is: bhaber@gradcenter.cuny.edu. His website is: benjaminhaber.net.

Individual Presentation:

In addition to the Group Presentation delivered in May, everyone in the class will deliver a 10-minute individual oral presentation summarizing the key priorities of one New York, city, state, or regional agency, or the NYC-related agenda of a New York public official. (Sign up for a topic in the signup sheet sent via email, on 15 Jan. 2019.)

Material for the presentation should be gleaned from primary sources, including the agency website, government reports, media coverage, or (if relevant) interviews. Topics include:

  1. New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  2. New York City Administration for Children’s Services
  3. New York City Department of Homeless Services
  4. New York City Department of Environmental Protection
  5. New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  6. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation
  7. Metropolitan Transportation Authority [MTA] (L-train policy)
  8. Metropolitan Transportation Authority [MTA] (non-L train issues)
  9. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey
  10. New York City Department of Transportation
  11. New York State Department of Transportation
  12. New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development
  13. Governor Andrew Cuomo
  14. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer
  15. U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
  16. U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke
  17. U.S. Representative Hakeem Jeffries
  18. Office of the Public Advocate
  19. Comptroller Scott Stringer



January 29: Introduction

February 5: New York & the National State

February 12: College closed–no classes

February 19: The Postwar Order

February 26: Civil Rights & the Travails of Liberalism

March 5: Fiscal Crisis

  • Kim Phillips-Fein, Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics
  • Thomas, ed., Civil Rights in New York City, pp. 161-181.
  • individual presentations 10-12

March 12: Malaise & Polarization

March 19: 9/11 & Aftermath

March 26: Group meetings (with instructor & with technology fellow)

April 2: Group meetings (with instructor & with technology fellow)

April 9: De Blasio’s New York

  1. National Ambitions (Jenna)
  2. Relations with media (Michelle)
  3. Demographic change (Ethan)
  4. Transportation “dead zones” (Christine)
  5. Amazon (Vijay)
  6. Economic development (Sam)
  7. Pedestrian/bike (Isaac)
  8. Homelessness (Elizabeth)
  9. Police misconduct (Nathaniel)
  10. School testing (Shana)
  11. Climate change (Arie)
  12. Congestion pricing (Stefan)
  13. Ethics (Joe)
  14. Ferries (Carmen)
  15. City-labor relations (Alice)
  16. NYC after De Blasio (2021 visions) (Morris)
  17. Wall Street & financial industry (Moussa)
  18. Sanctuary city/undocumented (Teresa)

April 16: Practice Group Presentations

May 4/5: Macaulay Spring Conference

May 7: Individual Presentations

May 14: Review


  • The faculty and administration of Brooklyn College support an environment free from cheating and plagiarism, as applied to the academic work of students. Each student is responsible for being aware of what constitutes cheating and plagiarism and for avoiding both. The complete text of the CUNY Academic Integrity Policy and the Brooklyn College procedure for policy implementation can be found at http://www.brooklyn.cuny.edu/bc/policies. If a faculty member suspects a violation of academic integrity and, upon investigation, confirms that violation, or if the student admits the violation, the faculty member MUST report the violation.
  • In order to receive disability-related academic accommodations students must first be registered with the Center for Student Disability Services. Students who have a documented disability or suspect they may have a disability are invited to set up an appointment with the Director of the Center for Student Disability Services, Ms. Valerie Stewart-Lovell at (718) 951-5538. If you have already registered with the Center for Student Disability Services, please provide me with the course accommodation form and discuss your specific accommodation with me.
  • The Student Bereavement Policy is available here.
  • The state law regarding non-attendance because of religious beliefs is available at p. 66 in the Undergraduate Bulletin.
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