Thirty years ago, Cats won the Tony Award for best musical, setting it off to secure its place as the second longest running Broadway musical in history. New York City streets were filled with women in torn sweatshirts and leg warmers inspired by everyone’s favorite steel-welding, break dancing ballerina portrayed by Jennifer Beals in Flashdance.
The city subways were rolling art galleries with graffiti covering nearly every square inch of space inside and outside of the cars. MTV debuted the first music video, “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles and millions watched Michael Jackson perform the moonwalk for the first time on live television. And a real slice of New York pizza was one dollar (although you can still get a slice for a buck, it’s not the same.) George Lucas released Return of the Jedi, the final installation of the first Star Wars trilogy.
In the 1980s no one had any idea what the city would look like in thirty years. Given the way the city was, many envisioned a 2013 New York to be an apocalyptic wasteland,—the future of New York City seemed like it would more resemble John Carpenter’s vision from Escape from New York than it would Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.At the time, homelessness was endemic; entire neighborhoods resembled war-ravaged bombed-out cities; the AIDS epidemic was beginning to decimate the community; and drug abuse was a pandemic. Fortunately the future has been kind and after 30 years, New York has gone from the place to avoid to the place to live once again. This month we look at some of the unsung legal and regulatory changes that greatly contributed to New York City progress.
Mean Streets to Clean Streets
Perhaps the most iconic memory many of us who lived through the 1980's remembers is that of Bernhard Goetz, the so-called “subway vigilante” surrendering to police in Concord, Massachusetts a week after he shot four young men on a New York City subway believing they were about to mug him. Goetz became a media superstar leaving the city deeply divided and widening the city's already simmering racial tensions. This incident even today reflects how many New Yorkers view the 1980s.
Sure, the Disneyfication of Times Square gets most of the anecdotal praise (or blame) for the transformation of New York. But from a residential standpoint, two smaller, much less publicized factors may have had an equal—if not larger—long-term impact on life in the Big Apple: the “Pooper Scooper Law” and the “Bottle Bill.”