Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997

The Other City: People and Politics in New York and London

S. MacGregor and A. Lipow (editors)
Humanities Press: New Jersey
ISBN 0 391 03885 0
£12.95 (pb)
xvi + 240 pp.

Order this book

While there have been many attempts to make international comparisons of major world cities such as London and New York, there have been fewer attempts to compare systematically the different aspects of poverty or, in current European language, social exclusion in such cities. This book aims to do this for London and New York, and is motivated very much by the ideas of exclusion or otherness, conveyed in its title. The collection of essays are all written from a broadly left political perspective, taking a positive view of the potential role of public policy in tackling poverty. They are motivated by a particular concern, 'to describe how people really live their lives in London and New York as distinct from the images portrayed in the media, where the city is predominantly a metaphor for all current ills and is, in the classic twist, also blamed for the for the very problems it has to try to deal with' (p. xiv). Clearly the aim of the collection is to analyse what each city can learn from the others, and in the introductory chapter by the editors draws the main comparative threads together. The remaining chapters are specific to either London or New York, but are intended to deal with related subjects.

The focus of the book on poverty and exclusion means that the treatment of other issues, for example economic change is necessarily brief, but this does lead to one significant gap, with theoretical consequences. The discussion of the relationship between poverty and the economic processes which shape world cities is only very brief. The work of Sassen, for example, which has had a substantial influence in this area, and which argues that global city poverty is generated by global economic processes is only briefly discussed. The language of 'otherness' or exclusion tends to ignore these sort of causal linkages, and arguably makes it more difficult to resist approaches which blame the victim. Sassen's approach is contested, but a more extended discussion of it would precisely have raise comparative issues of differences between US and European economic and welfare regimes which would have been useful in motivating the book.

Any cross-national comparison involves two sorts of difference: a set of differences in the national situations being described, whether they be focused on policy, economic situation or social structure, and a set of differences in the approaches taken by the authors, rooted in national research cultures. Even though the papers in this book share many aspects of political perspective, differences in the approaches taken by the British or American papers do make it more difficult to see what are the real differences between the cities. Thus, the New York papers contain at least two very rich ethnographies of poverty (by DiFazio), and of drug dealing (by Dunlap), but the London chapters contain no equivalent material which could form any basis for comparison. For London instead, we have an assessment of poverty levels using quantitative data (by Oppenheim), and a useful paper by Pearson on the relationship between journalistic image and reality in the area of race, disorder and drugs. On policy, politics and planning for London we have three academically rooted papers on rather specific subjects: Church on docklands redevelopment and public response, Solomos on developments in local government housing policy and race, and Goss on emerging models of local democracy. For New York on the other hand we have papers by Kornblum and Lichten which describe in broad outline the developing patterns of fiscal crisis in New York. In summary we have a number of very useful papers in this collection. However, the absence of a strong editorial control to ensure that the analysis addressed comparable issues in comparable ways, means that one would want to be extremely cautious in drawing comparative conclusions about the extent or intensity of poverty and deprivation in New York and London, or about the effectiveness of public policy in either city.

Nick Buck
University of Essex

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997