In the late twentieth century, New York City transformed into a model of neoliberal governance. While at mid-century, city government maintained the most robust social democratic program in the country, by the late twentieth century, much of this program had been curtailed and the private sector and market had gained a far greater role in providing services previously maintained by government.
Beginning in the late 1960s, New York entered an economic crisis that disrupted long-standing assumptions about what city government could provide. In response, residents embraced an ethos of private volunteerism and, eventually, of partnership with private business in order to save their communities from neglect. Local liberal and Democratic officials came to see these alliances not as temporary stopgaps, but as models for how to sustain public services in leaner times. These initiatives forged New York’s path toward a greater dependence on the private sector and market to address the city’s problems.
In the timeline below, I highlight key examples of how New Yorkers in the 1970s responded to alarming conditions affecting their parks, streets, and neighborhoods. As these kinds of initiatives gained support from local liberal and Democratic officials, they helped to shift major responsibilities of city governance into the private sector, market, and citizens themselves.