In the spring of 2018, a diverse group of New Yorkers—all ardent fans of the New Deal—came together to form a Working Group charged with bringing public attention to the New Deal’s stunning achievements in the city.
Until the arrival of COVID-19 on our shores, we were meeting once a month at Roosevelt House, a gracious yet modest townhouse on East 65th Street that was home to Franklin and Eleanor during the early days of their marriage. Today, it is part of the Hunter College campus, with Deborah Gardner serving as curator and historian-in-residence. We count ourselves fortunate indeed that Gardner is a member of our group.
All of us dearly hope to meet again in person, once it is safe to do so. But our work continues. In fact, it sustains us.
Now a Chapter of the Living New Deal, we’ve built our forces with the help of the organization’s California founders and through our own networking efforts. The Working Group started out with a half a dozen members, a number that has more than doubled over time. We’ve continued to forge relationships with a broad network of like-minded individuals and organizations, including the American Institute of Architects (AIA New York), City Lore, the Museum of the City of New York, FDR Library, and the National Jobs for All Network, among others.
With a tripartite career as a journalist, author, and historian, Kevin Baker is a longtime admirer of the New Deal. What took place in the country during the 1930s into the early 1940s was nothing short of an “American Renaissance,” he says, as the nation made major strides in the arts, design, technology, and above all, democracy. Read more
Working closely with its co-founder, Grace (“Jinx”) Roosevelt, Peggy Crane is “chief cook and bottle washer” for the New York City chapter of the Living New Deal. With the help of Crane’s leadership, organizing, and strategic outreach efforts, the chapter has grown significantly in terms of its programmatic offerings, donations, and membership. Read more
Deborah, a founding member of the NYC Working Group, grew up in a New Deal-oriented household. Her mother went to Hunter College and her father went to City College, which were tuition free back then. Both came of age during the 1930s, and both benefited from the institutions of higher learning that helped many first- and second-generation immigrants move up in the world. Read more
Jeff Gold is an urbanist who has earned his living as an acquisitions editor, a partner at new media partnership JIA, and director of the Institute for Rational Urban Mobility (IRUM), an eco-transport nonprofit. He also chairs the steering committee of the Metro New York Health Care for All Campaign and serves on the board of the National Jobs for All Network. And he’s active in electoral politics at the local, state, and national level. Read more
Prof. Marta Gutman first encountered the New Deal during the late 1950s, when she was four years old. Her father took her to a public swimming pool located in Astoria Park in Queens—one of the five boroughs of New York City—close to the family’s apartment, and gave his daughter her first swimming lessons there. Read more
Born and raised in New York City, Ruth Messinger imbibed her parents’ passion for FDR and especially for the New Deal as a model for what government could and should do. Her long career as a social worker, celebrated New York City politician, and honored social justice leader reflects and magnifies that passion.
At Harvard University, she was inspired by one of her professors, who started every class saying, “I told Franklin….”—a phrase that seemed to connect her to a living past. Read more
Adam Roberts has packed a lot of politics into his young life.
He grew up on Long Island in a family of “proud New Dealers.” At home, FDR was worshipped, he says. It didn’t take long for Roberts to find his calling, and both nature and nurture helped him get there.
During his teens, he dreamed of becoming a dentist, but that dream would soon be replaced by one better suited to his talents and temperament. Read more
Born on Friday the 13th, Jinx Roosevelt prefers her nickname to her given name, but not because she thinks she’s unlucky. Spanning multiple roles as a teacher and professor, author and activist, wife and mother, she considers herself extremely lucky to have been granted the wide-ranging experiences life has offered her. Read more
On December 3, 2019, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic blanketed the city, Rob Snyder was sworn in as Manhattan Borough Historian by former borough president Gale Brewer. Each of the city’s five boroughs boasts its own official historian—an honorary role that dates back to 1950—and Manhattan is lucky enough to have Snyder, a distinguished academic, author, and journalist with a lifelong passion for the city and its history. Read more
If you use your imagination and squint a little, you can picture Lou Venech as a behind-the-scenes policy advisor to FDR. Born too late for that particular destiny, he worked for 34 years at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey—a unique transportation agency with a strong public works tradition—as a policy analyst and transportation planner before retiring in 2019. He’s the only member of the NYC working group who has had direct responsibility for planning infrastructure projects. Read more
Eighty-five years ago, as a result of the Great Depression, America suffered an acute housing crisis. How did the New Deal respond, and what lessons can we take away from its successes and failures to help address the current housing crisis? For low, moderate, and middle-income families, the current crisis had its origins in the 2008 recession and was disastrously exacerbated by the pandemic, which brought with it increased evictions and homelessness. What are the proposals being put forth to address immediate and long-term housing needs, and what chance do they have of being enacted? How do those proposals address financial as well as racial inequities in the housing market? Our speakers will provide an overview of the New Deal’s innovative housing programs for urban, suburban, rural, and migrant families; and then examine current plans for financing and building housing, as well as ensuring the equitable distribution of housing assets.
Picture an America in which an angry crowd of radical veterans surround the Capitol and are dispersed only with tear gas and gunfire. An America in which a disgruntled Marine general is approached about leading a coup to overturn an election; in which right-wing fanatics hoard weapons, set up paramilitary and youth indoctrination camps around the country, and encourage children to turn in undocumented immigrants. An America in which a ranting demagogue sends his followers into the streets to assault Jews and spread stories of foreign subversion. Where a clownish, would-be president plots to grab the White House by forming his own third party and splitting the vote. Where the most outlandish conspiracy theories and the wildest rumors are spread everywhere about the president, his wife and children, and his most trusted advisors.
No, we’re not talking about America today but America in the 1930s, when the Bonus Army marched on Washington, the fascist “Silver Shirts” set up a Manson-like compound outside Los Angeles, millions tuned in to hear Father Coughlin spread his anti-Semitic poison over the airwaves, and American Nazis set up such a large youth camp on Long Island that the Long Island Railroad had to run special trains to it from Grand Central Station every weekend. Learn about just how extremist America could be, back when Donald Trump was still just a twinkle in his father’s eye—and Fred Christ Trump was still just a home-building Klansman in Queens.
Hear the sort-of-shocking, sort-of-reassuring story of how the country held on during the ultimate stress test of the Great Depression and the approach to World War II. It’s the story of how we saved democracy before—and how we might do it again.
Among its many achievements, the New Deal devoted significant resources to improving public health. Join our panel as they explore this forgotten history and seek ways to address the public health challenges we face today.
Starting out as a set of aspirational policy objectives, the Green New Deal has rapidly gained traction among policymakers, change agents, and the public. It draws its inspiration from the New Deal, which offers a compelling model for tackling the challenges ahead. Our distinguished speakers will lead a discussion about the economic, environmental, social, and political changes that many of us want to see and be part of..
To join our efforts as an adviser, institutional partner, supporter, or active member of the NYC Chapter of the Living New Deal, please contact us at [email protected].
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Check out our latest map and guide to the work of the New Deal in Washington, D.C. It includes 500 New Deal sites in the District alone, highlighting 34 notable sites, and includes an inset map of the area around the National Mall which can be used for self-guided walking tours.
Take a look at our previous guides, equally comprehensive, covering key New Deal sites in San Francisco and New York City.