Department of History

Remaking Fear City: The Crisis of Crime and the Transformation of New York City, 1965-1985

Project summary

This project considers how public and elite anxieties over crime, especially predatory street crime, permanently transformed the political, cultural and spatial landscape of New York City during the 1970s. Drawing on archival, published and visual sources, it assesses the impact of a perceived crisis of crime in restructuring city political culture and coalitions, public policy norms and modes of governance, urban space and design, and the city’s media cultures. 

Remaking fear city, skull image

These anxieties were as instrumental as another crisis – the much-documented fiscal crisis which pushed New York to the brink of bankruptcy in 1975 – in reshaping the city, legitimising or encouraging new ideologies and solutions – from self-help and populist conservatism to public-private partnerships – whilst destabilising long-standing assumptions and sites of authority. In so doing, they transformed New York from the cradle of American civic liberalism, even social democracy, into the “neoliberal city” of today, and offered a model for other Western urban centres to follow.

Up to this point, the project has secured funding from the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust small research grants scheme and the British Association of American Studies’ Founders Awards. This funding has supported two major research trips to the United States, the publication of two journal articles (with a third on fear of crime and the rise of self-help initiatives on the way), and presentation of research findings at major international conferences in Britain, Ireland, and the United States. The next stage is the development of a monograph, provisionally titled Remaking Fear City, which will explore these themes in greater depth.



“Fear of Crime, The Association for a Better New York, and the Privatization of New York City, 1969-1973”, forthcoming in the Journal of Urban History, 2018.

“‘I Don’t Believe in a Fun City; I Believe in a Safe City’: Fear of Crime and the Crisis of Expertise in New York City”, in the Journal of Policy History, Vol. 29, No. 1 (January 2017), pp. 112-139.

Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

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