In-depth series on problems and solutions in New York City.
New York State prisons and New York City jails hold fewer people than they did a decade ago. But even as inmates serve shorter sentences, they still face steep obstacles returning to civilian life. Mental healthcare is interrupted. Homelessness is common. Prison education programs are spotty, so work is hard to find. If the city and state are serious about reducing recidivism, the problems laid bare in these articles are places to start.
Gaps in life expectancy between wealthy and poor New York City neighborhoods have grown over the past decade, driven by old problems, new pressures and changes to how healthcare is delivered.
With huge rezonings looming in a dozen neighborhoods, a housing crunch making land-use decisions ever more weighty and forces like population growth and climate change increasing the need for sound planning, New York’s 59 local boards are facing new demands and tough questions.
Watching the Watchmen
Private security guards are everywhere in New York City, from construction sites to department stores, in banks and in homeless shelters. But New York’s laws and regulatory agencies have failed to keep up with an explosion in demand for security services after September 11, a City Limits investigation found, with consequences for guards and the public they serve.
Green Jobs Gone Missing
In 2009, New York State officials said the Green Jobs/Green New York program would retrofit a million houses and create 14,000 jobs. The results fell well short. Are there lessons to be learned for Gov. Cuomo’s new wave of energy innovation? Produced in cooperation with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Far from the heated debate over immigration on the presidential campaign trail, the reality of U.S. policy plays out in immigration courthouses, where lawyers can be hard to come by, detention without a hearing is the norm and the judge you’re assigned can be the difference between deportation or a right to stay.
In the wake of media investigations and prosecutors’ reports revealing widespread problems at the city’s main jail facility, a small but influential set of voices has begun calling to close Rikers Island. With the goal of informing the growing debate, City & State and City Limits present this series of articles exploring Rikers Island, its problems, the proposals to fix them and the bold case for more sweeping change.
New York’s public housing authority is the nation’s oldest and largest, home to half a million people and under enormous strain thanks to budget cuts and aging assets. As the city confronts difficult choices over how to respond to those challenges, City Limits looks at the people who will have leading roles in shaping the destiny of New York’s most reliable source of affordable housing.
Stopping the Slide
Summer vacation is a time of worry for teachers, principals, parents and policymakers who fear that students will lose ground during the long break. This summer, City Limits will look every week at some aspect of the citywide, summer-long effort to stop the summer slide.
The Cost of Our Water
New York City has been protected from the water crises gripping other cities because of a massive watershed and a stunning network of reservoirs, tunnels, plants and pipes. But even that system faces challenges as infrastructure ages and pressure grows to address longstanding environmental issues. This joint City Limits-WNYC reporting project digs into the tensions, choices and costs behind the water in our lives.
The chronic health woes of the Bronx, the borough with the highest rates of diabetes and obesity, are usually blamed on diet. But soda isn’t the only determinant of health; sit-ups matter, too. City Limits’ 2014-2015 Bronx Investigative Internship Program looked at how access to private gyms, bike lanes and physical education in schools affected the borough. The work was generously supported by the Simon Bolivar Foundation.
New York’s Trash Challenge
The more than 10,000 tons of garbage that New York City produces a day are taking a rising toll—in higher municipal spending, the city’s carbon footprint, burdens on neighborhoods and impact on landfill communities from upstate to Kentucky. Can New York come up with a better way to take out the trash?
The Rap-Sheet Trap
A society that prides itself on the rigorous prosecution of those who break the law is stunningly slipshod and careless when it comes to keeping those records straight. That’s the finding of a team of reporters at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism who spent three months interviewing people caught up in the trap of rap-sheet errors, those who try to help fix them and those in charge of the records themselves.
Certificates of Confusion
State law offers people convicted of crimes a way to demonstrate to employers, landlords, licensing agencies and others that they have paid their debt to society. But the difficulty in obtaining Certificates of Relief means that instead of a re-entry tool, they are just another obstacle for former inmates.
Justice Gets Evicted:
Bronx Housing Court Meets a City’s Crisis
A three-month City Limits investigation found that tenants in Bronx housing court are at a severe disadvantage facing their landlords in court, not only because legal advice and basic instruction remain elusive for most, but also because the system is overburdened—trying to keep up with a tide of housing need in a borough where rent levels and tenants’ incomes are increasingly mismatched.
From rent regulations renewal in Albany to decisions about the future of NYCHA to the roll-out of the mayor’s plan for 200,000 units of subsidized housing, the first six months of 2015 will be a crucial test.
Monitoring the Monitors
Growing out of construction scandals in the 1980s, private sector integrity monitors have become big business. They are supposed to prevent corruption and wrongdoing on major projects. With New York about to embark on a huge housing build, with billions worth of coastal protections to be constructed, with several major hospitals to be refurbished, the question is whether these privately paid watchdogs can be relied upon to police the public interest.
The Limits of Protection: A Child Welfare Reality Check
Days after taking office, in the wake of two deaths of children known to the city’s child welfare system, Mayor de Blasio called for more child-abuse reporting and stronger investigations. But the evidence suggests that ramping up enforcement won’t dent child fatalities. Is another approach possible?
NYC’s Battle Against Arson
A key factor in the city’s history, but largely left out of today’s discussions of crime, arson has seen a dramatic decline in New York. But changes in investigative techniques and cuts to the city’s arson investigation unit raise questions about whether intentional fire-setting is as rare as the statistics suggest.
Reading Room: Branch Libraries at a Crossroads
Far from obsolete in the digital age, New York City’s libraries are filling critical gaps: offering technology to low-income neighborhoods, a lifeline to immigrants, a safe space for after school. But public funding is down. How long before a lack of support undermines the library system?
Flaws in City’s MWBE Program
In 2005 New York City set out to reverse historic patterns of discrimination in contracting by adopting goals for the share of city procurement spending received by minority- and women-led businesses. Eight years later, in a project supported by LIU’s George Polk reporting grants, we check on progress.
Lessons of Willets Point
Queens’ Iron Triangle saw one of the longest-running development disputes of the Bloomberg years and embodied many of the signatures of the mayor’s approach to development—particularly a willingness to override the concerns of existing businesses and local residents in favor of City Hall’s vision.
Placing Our Bets: Gambling in New York
New York is on the verge of deciding where to allow casino gambling. But the state has long been in the business of drawing revenue from games of chance. This series looks at the winners and losers from the state’s 46-year-old experiment with gaming.
As income inequality has grown nationwide and across New York State, the city has led the way—exposing its strengths and weaknesses, raising questions about fairness and social cohesion. This series explores the complex effects income inequality has on day to day life the five boroughs.
The Five-Borough Ballot
To cover the 2013 municipal campaign, City Limits and City & State decided to focus not on the candidates, but on the voters. And we got to know them in the places they live, eat and drink.
The Class of 2013
October 2012-July 2013
Over one academic year, City Limits followed a few members of the class of 2013—the last under education reformer Mayor Bloomberg—to see how this group of young people navigated the final hurdles of their public school careers, and to look back with them on how the Bloomberg agenda appeared from a student’s desk.
A handful of influential firms in New York State lobby elected officials while also serving as consultants for political campaigns, a practice that is legal but raises several ethical questions.
Brooklyn Borough Presidency
March 2013-January 2014
If independent, Brooklyn would be the fourth-largest U.S. city, with a mayor to speak for its people. Instead, its spokesperson is a borough president. What did Marty Markowitz had to say? How will his successor Eric Adams change the tune? (Published during the 2013 election season.)
In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg pledged a comprehensive effort to dramatically reduce homelessness in New York. Today, more people live in shelters than ever before. Figuring out the ways in which the plan succeeded and how it failed might be crucial to giving the next mayor a chance to move beyond the crisis.
Sixteen years ago the federal government put new pressure on states to facilitate adoptions. But it never bothered to track how many of those adoptions fail. Now, there’s increasing concern about children getting adopted out of foster care, then returning to it—and how that phenomenon challenges the web of social services that the child welfare system offers.
Gun Politics, Gun Profits
In partnership with The Nation and the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, we explored the role of gun companies in the politics of gun control, both nationally and in New York.
Searching for El Primero: Latinos & the Mayoralty
In the 43 years since the first serious mayoral candidacy by a Latino, the community’s numbers in New York have only grown. But to break the ethnic barrier in 2013 or beyond, a Latino candidate must confront barriers that doomed past pioneers, shifting demographics and an ideological minefield. This series looks at the past and present of Latino political engagement in New York—and at the prospects for a future politics where identity politics and policy impact meet.
NYC in Congress
What do the members of New York City’s Congressional delegation actually do in Washington? A partnership with NYWorld.
New York State has one of the nation’s toughest bans on payday lending, which involves small loans that come with high interest rates. But the ban hasn’t stopped online lenders from operating in the Empire State. Is this online usury, or a case of the market connecting consumers with few options to a service they need?
The Epicenter of Stop and Frisk
No precinct saw more police stops in 2011 than the 75th Precinct in East New York, Brooklyn. Within that sprawling district, one seven-by-nine block area was the site of more police encounters than anywhere else in the area. We spoke to residents about what life is like at the epicenter of a controversial law enforcement strategy.
Courting Crisis: NYC’s Family Courts
No court deals with society’s problems on a more intimate level. But little attention is paid to the operation of Family Court, or its profound struggle to manage a challenging caseload with resources that stretch thinner every year. City Limits spent three months watching what happens in Family Court, day in and day out. This is what we saw.
The Phantom Landlord
New York has long had a bumper crop of notorious landlords. But it’s hard to peg Frank Palazzolo, a wealthy Westchester real estate operator, as a member of the worst-landlord club. That’s because, even though the scores of buildings he was associated with teemed with violations and creaked in disrepair (in 2002 one of them was the scene of a fatal electrical fire), actual legal ownership of most of the properties was usually in the hands of others. A joint project with the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Three-quarters houses give people who are homeless, leaving prison or seeking substance-abuse treatment a place to stay, and government agencies indirectly fund them. But critics say the houses are unregulated, often overcrowded and sometimes abusive to the vulnerable people they serve.
Whether we’re breathing their exhaust or stuck behind one on an exit ramp, most New Yorkers hate trucks. But trucks’ imprint on the city is complex: They don’t cause most traffic, but they have a bigger environmental impact when they do. At the same time, they’re essential to the city’s economic function. There are lots of ideas for how to solve the truck problem. Will they deliver?
Borrowing an experiment in direct democracy from Brazil, constituents in four City Council districts are getting a direct say in how $1 million of discretionary capital funding is spent. Will it work? Will it grow?
Campaign 2012: The Urban Agenda
From Truman to Obama, from immigration in Detroit to housing in New Orleans, these articles look at how cities have fared in recent presidential races and the federal issues facing America’s cities today.
Beyond CityTime: Private Consultants, Public Interest
The past 10 years have seen a profound change not just in the amount New York City spends on outside contractors, but what they are being asked to do. Does the high price of these deals ensure reliability, or magnify risk?
Why Firefighters Die
Time did not stop on September 11, 2001. The city soon went back to living and working and burning. The FDNY battled a quarter of a million structural fires in the decade after the twin towers fell. And it lost 11 men doing so. In the decade before 9/11, 21 firefighters perished on the job. Is New York doing enough to protect the bravest?
Fifteen years after federal welfare reform, five years after New York City embarked on a quest to reduce poverty, more Americans are poor than ever before and one in five New Yorkers remains below the poverty line. Yet poverty is absent from political debates and media headlines. Everyone, it seems, is tired of talking about poverty–except poor people.
When surveyed anonymously in 2008 and 2009, 11 participating U.S. correctional facilities posted the highest rates of inmate alleged staff sexual abuse. Three were New York prisons.
Brooklyn: The Borough Behind The Brand
No borough in the city—perhaps no other urban place in America—has the kind of name recognition that Brooklyn enjoys. And in the past 10 years, Brooklyn has embodied New York’s boom, from the boutiques that dot once-gritty Red Hook to the luxury high-rises of Fort Greene. But does Brooklyn’s cultural mystique—or the view from Red Hook or Fort Greene—reflect reality throughout the borough?
Given the deep disagreement the project prompted, what does it mean for Brooklyn?
City Without a Plan
Amid gentrification, concerns about sustainability and rising inequality, the city’s lack of a comprehensive plan becomes more glaring. The need to plan is obvious. And the desire to plan is manifest. Unfortunately, the way New York City plans is largely broken.
Mom and Popeyes: Small Businesses Fight to Survive
The deli that gives credit. The diner with the perfect burger. The clothier who knows your size. Small businesses help make New York’s neighborhoods what they are. But on many retail strips, a City Limits investigation finds, they are disappearing. Competition from chain stores, rising commercial rents and the lingering recession are part of the pressure. But city and state policies, on everything from parking enforcement to zoning, are also squeezing small businesses. What separates the businesses who make it from those who fail? What could government do to help mom and pop firms survive? And what will neighborhoods look like if they don’t?
A Risky Play: Turf in NYC
In 1998, New York City began installing synthetic turf fields in parks and playgrounds, saying the artificial material would be more durable than grass. But a City Limits investigation found that many turf fields are falling apart, and that health questions persist.
A Troubled Age
For decades our overriding reaction to the city’s youth has been to fear them. But our look at the challenges facing young people in New York—their health, employment, safety and more—reveals that they are the ones with the most to fear.
The Black Depression
The recent recession etched deep pain across New York and throughout the United States. Yet no group fared worse than black men, a fifth of whom are now unemployed–more than twice the rate for whites–and a record number of whom are not in the labor force at all. City Limits’ March 2010 special investigation on New York City’s black male unemployment earned the New York Society of Professional Journalists’ Deadline Club for best reporting on communities of color in 2011.
Founded by a committed advocate for low-income children, nurtured by the politically powerful and Wall Street titans, and lauded by media around the world, the Harlem Children’s Zone has raised a nation’s hopes. The Obama administration wants to use Geoffrey Canada’s model for a nationwide antipoverty plan. But what is really known about the success of the Zone?
Trying to size up all the ways New York City has changed since Michael Bloomberg became mayor is difficult. But in a single neighborhood—like the neighborhood that lies at the geographic center of New York, ZIP code 11237 in north Bushwick, Brooklyn – the story is still complicated, but a little clearer.
Buy or Bust: NYC’s War on Drugs
An in-depth investigation on the 40-year War on Drugs in New York City, from the first days of the heroin scourge to the arrival of coke, the disaster of crack and the intense and racially skewed crackdown on marijuana.
The Chamber: A Week in the New York City Council
One question is how the City Council works. Another is whether it works at all.
Public Housing’s Last Stand
City Limits’ 2009 investigation on the complicated past, troubled present, and uncertain future of the nation’s oldest and largest public housing system. This project was funded by the Independence Community Foundation (now the Brooklyn Community Foundation).
Twenty years after the enactment of what was at the time the nation’s most aggressive municipal campaign finance law, this edition of City Limits Magazine, penned by our editor Jarrett Murphy, traces the history of that law, looks at how well in practice it has measured up to its stated goals and, most fundamentally, asks whether the system is working well for citizens and for candidates.
1095 Days: Remaking New Orleans After Katrina
As chroniclers of critical urban issues we felt the third anniversary of Katrina could not pass without our taking a close look at the current state of affairs in the crescent city. In this issue, Mike Longman and Jarrett Murphy report on how a variety of redevelopment efforts are shaping New Orleans and how the efforts of the city, state and feds collide with, empower or frustrate individual and community based initiatives. This issue tries to get at just what kind of city is being made, whose interests are protected or neglected and what forces will determine the character of the “new” New Orleans.
Freedom or Fear
For some, the security measures that New Yorkers live with now are reasonable reactions to the terrorist threats detected in the summer of 2001 and the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. But others believe that a new dangerous threat is rising. This time it’s the risk that New Yorkers’ essential freedoms and liberties are being eroded. The latest issue of City Limits Investigates reports in “Freedom/Fear: Civil Liberties in Today’s New York” that city residents now occupy a place where freedom and liberty are starkly different from seven summers ago.
Targets of Opportunity
Two years ago Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised that by the end of his term, New York City would see “a major reduction in the number of children, women and men who live in poverty.” Where does that effort stand?
Exit Strategy: The High School Graduation Crisis
Last spring, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and schools Chancellor Joel Klein had good news to report: New York City’s high school graduation rate had improved. The bad news: Forty percent of students still failed to graduate on time. Thousands dropped out. Thousands more remained in school, their future uncertain. As the mayor’s school reforms roll on, their success will ultimately be judged by the graduation rate. But inside that statistic, inside the city’s 300-odd high schools, the effort to get students to the finish line is a complex story of success and failure, change and consequence. At its heart are 140,000 young adults at risk of losing out, and being lost.
27 billion gallons of untreated wastewater—enough to cover the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island a foot deep. That’s what New York City’s flawed sewage system dumps into our waterways each year. Under legal pressure and facing enormous costs, the mayor’s PlaNYC sustainability initiative seeks to reduce—but not eliminate—the spills. With the city’s population expected to grow to 9 million by 2030, is the Bloomberg administration charting a course for a greener, cleaner New York? Or is it just treading water?
Every year New York City detains thousands of people who are presumed innocent. They are pretrial detainees. They are the majority in city jails. And most of them are behind bars not because they are dangerous, but because they could not afford bail.
New stadiums. More subways. Taller skyscrapers. New York City is booming—and rents are soaring. Mayor Bloomberg’s 10-year housing plan is an attempt to keep the city affordable. But the local building boom and global economic forces are driving up the cost of constructing homes for low and middle-income people. Given its tight budget and the administration’s larger development ambitions, what will the mayor’s promise really deliver?