Between 1967 and 1985, a generation of suburban youth and non-Western immigrants arrived in New York during its greatest period of decline and created new ways of living in the postindustrial city. They established community organizations and alternative spaces, started magazines, formed collectives, lived in factory buildings, installed street art, cut up piers, and squatted tenements. But by the mid-1980s, the city still had more than 2,000 murders a year and its population had declined by nearly a million people. Today New York has recovered and emerged as one of a few global “superstar” cities, attracting a never-ending flow of cultural and investment capital. The story appears to be an incontestable success. Why, then, are so many people nostalgic for a freedom they say has disappeared? In its reexamination of key moments in the formation of contemporary New York culture, A Beautiful Ruin uncovers unknown stories, unexpected facts, and under-recognized figures, upending popular narratives and ideological assumptions. At issue is the sustainability of New York’s neighborhoods and communities, the city’s applicability and limitation as a model, and the possibility of reviving the anarchic freedom and community spirit of 1970s and 1980s urbanism.

Stephen Zacks is a cultural reporter and producer based in Brooklyn and a native of Flint, Michigan. He has contributed to the New York TimesVillage VoicePopular ScienceMetropolisArchitectural RecordPrintthe Architect’s Newspaper Monocle,BlueprintTARP Architecture Manual, and RIPP Magazine. A Metropolis editor from 2005 to 2009, his international reporting includes coverage of Israeli architecture in the West Bank, master planning in Dubai, landmarks preservation in Kosovo, the no-man’s land in Nicosia, public art in Panama, and political art in South Korea. He co-founded Bring to Light/Nuit Blanche New York in 2010 and co-directed the Collective: Unconscious performance space from 1996 to 2002. Zacks is currently producing and directing the Flint Public Art Project. He has received awards from the New York State Council on the Arts, the Graham Foundation for the Advancement of Fine Arts, the Newtown Creek Fund, the MacDowell Colony, and ArtPlace.