Elevate Difference

Bloomberg’s New York: Class and Governance in the Luxury City

Julian Brash’s Bloomberg’s New York is an anthropological study of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration’s implementation of a particular type of neoliberal urban governance (the “Bloomberg Way”) since taking office in 2002, “branding and marketing the city as a luxury good,” an agenda aimed not only at “advancing the economic elite’s class interests” but in shaping the culture and geography of the city of New York by prioritizing this demographic. A thoughtful and rigorous analysis of class, urban development, and neoliberal governance in the context of New York City during the Bloomberg years, Bloomberg’s New York is a thought-provoking read primarily aimed at scholars of urban studies.

Brash’s work interestingly contextualizes the politics of governance in New York City in its “post-fiscal crisis era” but also shows how this paved the way for an individual like Michael Bloomberg (the “CEO as Mayor”) to take on the mayoralty of the Big Apple. The most interesting section of Brash’s work is the more theoretical chunk of this book, which employs an analysis of Bloomberg’s governance style—the Bloomberg Way—of running New York City “like a business,” viewing residents as “clients” and branding the city itself as a product to be marketed to a select demographic. The penultimate section of Brash’s study is a close look at the Bloomberg administration’s promotion of the Hudson Yards plan, contextualized by elite driven redevelopment drives in New York. Brash also illuminates with extensive ethnographic evidence the deeply contested public debates that surrounded the city’s bid to host the 2012 Olympics, highlighting differing perceptions of New Yorkers of what this meant for New York, and pointing the reader to the ruptures that this debate revealed in economic, political, cultural, and other differences between New Yorkers which have long characterized the fabric of this city.

Brash’s meticulous uncovering of the mechanics of class interests underpinning the shaping of the cultural, economic and political space of global cities is in the context of New York, but certainly poses important questions applicable to both urban scholarship of other cities and in furthering our understanding of class as a unit of analysis. For example, Brash calls for a more rigorous interrogation of the interests of the “transnational capitalist class” (or “TCC”)—shorthand for the owners of globalized means of production—and how these interests have a physical and cultural impact on the local spaces in which these classes are formed, live and work. His injunction not to “abstract” elite class interests from the physical spaces they inhabit comes as an important reminder in a time where their transnational mobility (enabled by the travel and technology that global capital allows) can easily allows us to forget the increasingly bigger and more powerful role that private enterprise and business interests have on the physical shaping and growth of cities today.

From a feminist perspective, it is important to note that Brash uses class as his primary unit of analysis but declares at the outset that his understanding of the term extends beyond its use as the individual’s relation to the means of production and that class is mediated by a range of other factors such as race, gender, and sexuality. While he acknowledges how class relationships may be displaced by other identities (such as gender), his own analysis is not necessarily engaged in these debates for the purposes of his book.

Written by: Kaavya Asoka, April 8th 2011

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