The Foundations of New York is a seven-week class that gives New Yorkers the history, political theory, and political practice they need to conduct the politics of progress. Applications are closed, but you can sign up for the next cohort waiting list here. Read on for more information.

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  1. The Politics of Progress
  2. The Foundations of New York: Class Structure & Information
  3. About Your Instructor
  4. Class Syllabus

New York City and the Politics of Progress

The Foundations of New York is a seven-week class that teaches you the political history, status quo, and strategy needed for New York City to build again. If you want the city to have better governance, more housing, new transit, and for it to reclaim its proper title as capital of the world, this class will give you what you need to make that a reality.

The principal problem in governance across the country, but especially NYC, is that most intelligent, ambitious, kind people stay away from government and politics. Worse than that, they often (incorrectly) think the domain is beyond help.

This has only one inevitable consequence, but it doesn’t have to happen.

The Foundations of New York is a ready on-ramp into politics and the abundant future it could give us. Besides the actual structure of our government and its laws, the class covers the causes of the meta problem of why you, despite wanting the world to be better, don’t know about government and politics:

  • The anti-politics meme: the unconscious programming most people have that steers them away from politics.
  • The anti-concreteness meme: the rhetorical habits and cultural defaults that prevent people from understanding government the same way they expect to understand a physical trade, science, or math.
  • No easy way to learn: politics is as complicated as any STEM field, but you will not readily find easy introductions to it anywhere. Most people only have the option of “figure it out yourself,” with no obvious set of YouTube videos or books to assist them.
  • A loss of social technology: New Yorkers (and Americans) were not always so helpless and disengaged from their civic order. People accomplished extraordinary things in the civic realm, and you can become one of these people.

You are not politically helpless.

Politics is a system, and its results can be beautiful.

Government is the proper place for the good, kind, and rigorous.

Enter the arena.

The Foundations of New York: Class Structure and Information

When applications are open, they will be accepted on a rolling basis, and sooner is better.

The details:

  • Meeting time: class will meet in person once a week, in NYC, for two hours (near 79th and 5th on the Upper East Side). There will also be optional office hours according to student interest.
  • The class will meet on Tuesday evening.
  • Structure: class will be structured as a seminar, each with an introductory presentation followed by discussion.
  • Class preparation: There will be readings for each class, small class projects, and a final exam (written and oral) that is graded pass/fail. Plan to allocate at least 2-4 hours a week for this work. Final exams will be scheduled at the class’s convenience.
  • There will be a graduation ceremony at the end of the class, and you must pass the final exam to graduate. You can take the exam multiple times if you need to—the point is that you have the relevant knowledge to think about governance, not that you jump through a hoop. The class content will prepare you to pass the exam, no cramming necessary.
  • Class participants will be added to a Maximum New York Discord server, which will be our primary mode of communication for coursework, office hours, and general discussion.
  • The class has several price tiers based on your self-determined ability to pay, between $0 and $1,000.

And after the course, the real fun of politics begins. It’s an open world.

About Your Instructor

Hello, my name is Daniel Golliher (gol- as in golf, yer- as in yurt. Gol-yer). I’ve lived in New York City for almost four years. Besides my writing on this website, you can learn more about me on Twitter, and my personal website. I’ve written a few books, play the piano and sax, enjoy all manner of physical fitness, and can’t wait to meet you.

I graduated from Harvard College in 2014 with a degree in Government1, and since then I’ve worked in the legal industry, a coffee shop, higher ed, the legal industry again, and now I dedicate my time to Maximum New York.

Class Syllabus

The Foundations of New York will focus on three broad domains of NYC: history, political theory, and political practice. They’ll all be addressed in an integrated fashion, rather than in sequence or isolation.

History is vital, because it reveals why New York is the way it is. Cities are the product of path dependency and lock-in effects, and you shouldn’t govern if you don’t take these into account, because you’ll be producing them no matter what you do.

Political theory is necessary to inspire and motivate. It examines how government has been formed and revised in the past, and gives us the knowledge about how we might do it again now and in the future.

Political practice, otherwise called political strategy, is the study of how to connect political means to political ends. How to do things, not vaguely bullshit with your friends about what someone should do. Politics is as sophisticated as any science, and we will treat it that way. Some vital components of this field are knowledge of the governing structures of the city themselves, and the political players within them.

History:

  • The consolidation of New York City in 1898
    • Why consolidate? Topics from the post-Civil War to 1898 (the case of the Brooklyn Bridge)
    • Effects of consolidation and the last Mayor of Brooklyn
    • The consolidated government and the Board of Estimate
  • Consolidation to WW2: it’s time to build
    • Subway expansion
    • The Bronx: an instant city
    • 1916 Zoning Resolution
    • Skyscrapers!
    • Urban renewal and the Progressive Era
    • The Port of New York and New Jersey, 1921
    • New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), 1934
  • 1960s: turning points
    • The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, 1961
    • 1961 Zoning Resolution (!!)
    • Along comes the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), 1968
    • Preservationism: the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the Landmarks Law, historic districts, the fight to save Carnegie Hall, and the demolition of Pennsylvania Station, 1961-1965
    • Urban renewal continues: the demolition of Lincoln Square, the rise of Lincoln Center (with a cameo from President Eisenhower), 1955—1969
  • The 1970s: change and turmoil
    • The twin towers completed in 1973
    • The Power Broker in 1974 and the end of Robert Moses
    • City bankruptcy of 1975, the intervention of Albany
    • The charter revisions of 1975, Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) and Community Boards
    • The near-demolition of Grand Central Station (1975-1978); compare to the preservation fights of the previous decade
    • The blackout of 1977: literal and spiritual
  • The charter commission of 1989 and Board of Estimate of City of New York v. Morris
  • The ghosts of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses, how they haunt the city, and whether to exorcize them

Political theory:

Political practice:

  • The NYC government
    • Charter, Local Laws, The Rules, Administrative Code
    • Branches: Mayor, City Council, Comptroller, Public Advocate, Executive Agencies, Borough Presidents, Community Boards/Districts
    • Budget: Executive and Adopted; Expense, Capital, Contract, and Revenue; dependence on Albany and DC
    • The boroughs: what do they do?
    • ULURP: case study on the nature of governmental review and public comment
  • The city’s external dependencies
    • The NYS government
    • The Federal government
    • Public benefit corporations
      • MTA
      • The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
  • Various topics in city politics:
    • The players and their stage
    • Housing: NYCHA, markets, LPC, and zoning
    • Transit: why is it the way that it is?
    • Law enforcement, Rikers, and the NYPD
    • Organizations that are already doing good work, and what you can do to help them
    • Other topics that surface during the course
  • Good follows, reads, and resources
    • Twitter
    • Books
    • Podcasts
    • Blogs
    • Civic Tech

Notes

  1. I recommend reading this essay for further elaboration on that credential.