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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Creative Destruction: Memory, Public Finance, and the State in New York City

  • Author(s): Potluri, Keerthi Choudary
  • Advisor(s): Esmeir, Samera
  • Watts, Michael J
  • et al.

This dissertation demonstrates how the neoliberal state marshals public finance and public memory to incorporate itself into the contemporary urban landscape. It investigates sites in the built environment where the state deploys public funds to subsidize private construction projects that are fiscally unsound, using the institutional form of the public authority to covertly mediate between itself and the private sector. Combining discursive analysis of news media, funding allocation records, and the sites themselves, it looks at the World Trade Center reconstruction, a bus depot in Harlem, and Freshkills Park in Staten Island, a former landfill, and examines the effects of these projects both on urban space and public memory itself. The dissertation argues that the state uses public funds to inaugurate sites of memory in the city's cultural and political landscape in order to assert its ethical and political legitimacy in a moment when that legitimacy is bound up in its relationship to private capital. This is an unexpected manifestation of what Marx and Schumpeter describe as "creative destruction" - the destruction of capital necessary to the continuation of capitalism - but what the dissertation shows is that this process not only sustains capitalist economy, but also removes democratic participation from planning the built environment while regenerating the state's failing legitimacy in times of fiscal crisis. The dissertation employs historical and archival research on public authorities, including the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and qualitative research, such as personal interviews with project planners, neighborhood residents, tourists, state officials, and activists. By showing that state projects of memorialization are central to mediating between private interests and the capitalist state, it contributes to scholarship in state theory, urban planning, and material culture.

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