Daniel Wortel-London is a doctoral candidate in history at New York University, specializing in twentieth-century U.S. political economy, fiscal policy, and urban history. His dissertation, “On What Grounds: Real Estate and the Public Costs of Private Growth in New York City, 1880-1940” examines struggles over public finance policy in America’s largest city during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. His writing has been published in the Journal of Urban History, and has also worked as a research associate for numerous non-profit organizations including Civworld, the Adelphi Institute, and the Museum of the City of New York. Daniel received his B.A. in history and American studies from Ramapo College and an M.Phil. from the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the recipient of the 2019 Louis Galambos National Fellowship in Business and Politics, the Bessie and George Levy Prize, and the Larry J. Hackman Research Residency.
On What Grounds: Real Estate and the Public Costs of Private Growth in New York City, 1880-1940
“On What Grounds” investigates the changing relation of public finance and real estate development in New York City between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. Whereas most historians have viewed these topics in isolation, assuming that urban fiscal policy merely reflects broader social and economic forces, my research reveals that decisions over how - and by whom - urban real estate should be taxed or subsidized had independent and powerful effects on the distribution of wealth, power, and social equity within American cities. My project traces these effects by applying a “fiscal lens” to questions of local political economy in one American city. Between the 1880s and 1930s New York routinely faced bankruptcy - not as a result of macro-level trends, but of municipal subsidies for real estate speculation on the city’s core and periphery. These policies, which added to the tax and rent burdens of ordinary New Yorkers, led to widespread conflicts over how, where, and whether real estate should be publicly promoted. By 1940 these struggles had established a new public finance regime - one that systematically favored large central-city developers and underassessed white home-owners while discriminating against working-class and minority tenants. By examining the development of this system and its continuing effects on one American city, scholars can better understand how public finance decisions have subsidized the spatial, racial, and wealth inequalities that characterize American cities today - and in so doing, rethink their accounts of how the “New Urban Crisis” came to be.