WSJ Book Review: The Routes Not Taken by Joseph B. Raskin

The Wall Street Journal
BOOKSHELF

Book Review: ‘The Routes Not Taken’ by Joseph B. Raskin
By JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN
April 11, 2014

The Second Avenue subway was first proposed in 1929. It will begin operation—perhaps—in 2016.


Three things enabled the population density that made New York rich, diverse and dominant throughout much of the 20th century: Manhattan’s street grid, Central Park and the subway system. The crowded, contentious city of today would be unthinkable without the grid’s arrow-straight streets, which expedited vehicle and pedestrian flow, and the extensive subway system, which transported people to most of the places they wanted to go. But as New York has undergone yet another surge in population—some 8.3 million people lived in the city in 2013, projected to grow to 9.1 million by 2030—it has been grappling with the limits imposed by its aging infrastructure. Most important, its subway system has barely expanded—though this is not for lack of trying over the past century.

Joseph B. Raskin’s “The Routes Not Taken” lays out the planned underground labyrinths that were never built. The book couldn’t be more timely or relevant: Some of the routes now being built (the Second Avenue line, for example, which is to run along Manhattan’s East Side) or recommended (the extension of the No. 7 Flushing line westward under the Hudson River to New Jersey) were carefully analyzed and seriously proposed decades ago—the extension of the Flushing line in 1926, the Second Avenue subway in 1929. But “no proposal for a line,” Mr. Raskin writes, “enjoyed an easy path.” The author, an official at New York City Transit, uncovers and explores dozens of abandoned routes and chronicles the many ghost tunnels and stations that have been nearly forgotten or have come to be regarded as urban myths. It’s a wonder, he concludes, “how lines have ever been built.”

In presenting lively, though sometimes overly detailed, case studies of what he regards as the most important unbuilt lines, Mr. Raskin encourages his readers to think about the adaptable nature of the city. Had the other boroughs gotten a crosstown subway, linking them with one another as well as Manhattan, they would be profoundly different, and probably far wealthier, today. By focusing on the negative—what didn’t get built—Mr. Raskin forces us to ponder what the city is, what it could have been, and what it still could be.

Earlier generations fully appreciated the subway’s ability to bring development and wealth to underserved sections of the city. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, rising neighborhoods such as Harlem in Manhattan and Flatbush, Midwood and Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn were marketed with an emphasis on access to transit. And that strategy applied even to upscale buildings: In the 1890s, William Waldorf Astor sited his elegant apartment houses on subway stops to attract the swells. The old planners also understood the potential downside of elevated lines, which could move people but blight neighborhoods. “There is such a thing as the defacement of a city,” said W.C. DeWitt in 1889, representing Brooklyn’s Fulton Street property owners. A strong shared civic understanding made possible the capital commitment and construction of transit even as communities and their representatives fought over details.

As Mr. Raskin shows, the old New Yorkers were every bit as irascible, contrarian and territorial as their successors. The transit system, under the authority of the state, isn’t under the control of the mayor or the city council. And the residents of each borough have their own interests to look out for. In its campaign for a subway, the Queens Chamber of Commerce trumpeted: “Should the Bronx grow as Flushing stands still? Shall the Third Ward pay for the growth of Yonkers, Mt. Vernon and White Plains?”

The underlying problem was, and remains, that most basic of political questions: Who benefits? Some neighborhoods prospered while others stagnated. Many New Yorkers assumed that wealthier and more privileged areas were being preferred. “The only time you get to the Northeast Bronx is when you are on your way to the Yale Bowl to see the Yale and Harvard game,” said Bronx assemblyman Joseph Kinsley to a city planning commissioner in 1929, discussing the never-built Burke Avenue line. In 1953, the Brooklyn borough president accused the New York City Transit Authority of behaving like “a prince in Manhattan and a pauper in Brooklyn.” He refused to support any plans that excluded Brooklyn.

At the heart of these disagreements was a conflict between two legitimate points of view: Some thought that transit should benefit the city’s farthest regions and beyond, while others urged transit for the densest neighborhoods. Cost was always, as Mr. Raskin notes, “the daunting factor.” Elevated lines might blight, but they were relatively cheap to build. Underground lines were tremendously expensive. And even though construction was financed from bonds that came due well into the future, many New Yorkers felt they were paying in the here and now to benefit unborn generations.

In practice, New Yorkers weren’t even paying for ongoing expenses. Because the city’s mayors, and often the newspaper editorial boards, opposed fare increases, the fare stayed at a nickel for 44 years, not doubling to 10 cents until 1948. The result was that a concept of “deferred maintenance” was present almost from the beginning. When the system got new money, even for capital construction, it was often diverted to maintenance.

When money was finally found for a new line, all sorts of obstacles could cause delay. The repeated postponement of the Second Avenue Subway is the most famous example. Over the decades, construction has proceeded in fits and starts. The latest big push began in 2007, as crews started boring tunnels from 96th Street down to 63rd. The daily cost of massive under- and above-ground construction to businesses and residents has been immense. Once finished, the line will likely deliver equally immense benefits, but not to those businesses that went bankrupt or to the residents who moved out in despair.

—Ms. Vitullo-Martin is a senior fellow at the Regional Plan Association, a research and advocacy organization.

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The Wall Street Journal BOOKSHELF Book Review: ‘The Routes Not Taken’ by Joseph B. Raskin By JULIA VITULLO-MARTIN April 11, 2014 The Second Avenue subway was first proposed in 1929. It will begin operation—perhaps—in 2016. Three things enabled the population … Full Story

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HELEN TARTAR Memorial Fund


Helen Tartar Memorial Fund

Helen Tartar was one of the most significant editors in the recent history of academic publishing. The Helen Tartar Memorial Fund is dedicated to maintaining her vision of editorial commitment to publishing high-quality scholarship in the humanities and across all academic disciplines.

A passionate advocate for the role of critical thinking and scholarship in editorial practice, Helen Tartar sought out, nurtured, and promoted emerging as well as eminent authors who published in a range of fields, most especially at the intersection of philosophy, literature, religion, ethics, and the environment. She maintained a tireless commitment to enhancing scholarship in the humanities and social sciences. She devoted her life to publishing books focused on the lived experience of human beings in the world: through scholarly endeavor, through habits of critical thinking, through a yearning for social justice, and through a passion for ethical understanding. Her efforts helped transform Fordham University Press into one of the leading scholarly presses in the United States.

Fordham University Press remains as committed as ever to Helen Tartar’s many projects and to her editorial vision for a vibrant, critical, and creative publishing future for the humanities and across academic disciplines. To continue her transformative editorial work, Fordham University has established the Helen Tartar Memorial Fund.

Memorial Service

A memorial service for Helen Tartar will be held on Tuesday, April 8, from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. in the Law School’s McNally Amphitheater, Lincoln Center Campus.

Helen Tartar’s family requests that donations be made either to the Helen Tartar Memorial Fund or to the Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery. Donations should be sent to the following addresses:

The Helen Tartar Memorial Fund
Development and University Relations
Fordham University
888 Seventh Avenue, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10019
Phone (212) 636-7441
Fax (212) 636-7152

Taungpulu Kaba-Aye Monastery
18335 Big Basin Way
Boulder Creek, California, 95006

Helen Tartar Memorial Fund Helen Tartar was one of the most significant editors in the recent history of academic publishing. The Helen Tartar Memorial Fund is dedicated to maintaining her vision of editorial commitment to publishing high-quality scholarship in the … Full Story

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“A profound intellectual joy”: In memoriam, legendary editor Helen Tartar

Posted to Stanford University | The Book Haven: Cynthia Haven’s Blog for the Written Word | Sunday, March 16, 2014

Haun Saussy and Helen Tartar

The first impression I had meeting legendary editor Helen Tartar a dozen years ago was … silver. She was wearing a calf-length silver-gray dress, with silver chandelier earrings and silver bracelets, and her straight hair was a striking complement in the same color. She appeared to be a shimmering silver Christmas tree.

In 2002, her position as humanities acquisitions editor had just been eliminated at Stanford University Press … an agonizing wrench for her and for the authors she nurtured. At the time, I was writing an article about the cutbacks and faculty reaction for Stanford Magazine – it’s here. The following year, Helen was snapped up by Fordham University Press to serve as its editorial director, and is credited with transforming Fordham University Press into one of the leading scholarly presses in the United States. She was on a roll.
Hence her death in a Denver car accident on March 3 came as a shock. She was 62. READ FULL STORY

Posted to Stanford University | The Book Haven: Cynthia Haven’s Blog for the Written Word | Sunday, March 16, 2014 The first impression I had meeting legendary editor Helen Tartar a dozen years ago was … silver. She was wearing … Full Story

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Fordham University Press Mourns Loss of Editorial Director

Dear Friends:

Photo by Bruce Gilbert

I write with the devastating news that Helen Tartar, the Press’s Editorial Director, has died in a car accident. Everyone at Fordham University Press and the Fordham community is deeply saddened by the news of Helen’s death.

Helen was one of the most passionate and dedicated editors in the academic publishing community. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her for the past five years and to collaborate with her on transforming Fordham University Press into one of the leading scholarly presses in the United States. I was in awe of her tireless commitment to enhancing scholarship in the humanities and social sciences and her ability to attract a devout group of authors impressed with her adept editorial skills and intellectual conversations. Helen told me on several occasions that her books were her children. Despite her countless accomplishments, Helen remained quite modest.

As I wrapped myself up in an orange hand-knitted scarf given to me as a belated holiday gift from Helen, I thought fondly of her constant desire to thread things together; thoughts, ideas, words, and people. Helen would rarely be seen without her yarn and needles, always managing to satisfy her need for movement and creativity. I will cherish this quiet token of Helen’s talent and friendship.

Please keep Helen’s husband, Bud, her family, and her friends in your thoughts as we all mourn her death. Her life will live on through the connections she made and the books she crafted.

Fordham will be hosting a memorial service for Helen in the near future, and we will share further information about that once it becomes available.

Fred Nachbaur
Director
Fordham University Press

Dear Friends: I write with the devastating news that Helen Tartar, the Press’s Editorial Director, has died in a car accident. Everyone at Fordham University Press and the Fordham community is deeply saddened by the news of Helen’s death. Helen … Full Story

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Publishers’ Weekly (starred review)

*More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church
Edited by Christine Firer Hinze and J. Patrick Hornbeck II
Fordham University Press, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8232-5658-7

While a recent poll indicates that approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be legalized, the Catholic Church hierarchy remains intransigent in its stance. There is, however, a refreshing dialogue occurring within Catholicism regarding the lives of LBGTQ persons. Firer Hinze and Hornbeck, both professors at Fordham University, have collected a wide spectrum of essays regarding how LGBTQ individuals live out their sexual lives with dignity and authenticity. Included here are the testimonies of theologians, parents, pastors, and a physician, alongside Bishop Thomas Gumbleton and Dan Savage, the nationally syndicated sex columnist who shares an emotionally gripping story about growing up gay and Catholic. The personal nature of several of these essays makes the collection especially riveting. These conversations are immensely healthy for the Church, so it is unfortunate that few bishops will condone them. These authors have invited Catholics and others to have dialogs about important issues that seriously affect a group valiantly finding its voice in an often resistant religious culture. Thoughtful Catholics and LGBTQ allies can help move the conversation forward. (April 2014)

*More than a Monologue: Sexual Diversity and the Catholic Church Edited by Christine Firer Hinze and J. Patrick Hornbeck II Fordham University Press, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8232-5658-7 While a recent poll indicates that approximately two-thirds of Americans believe that same-sex marriage should be … Full Story

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