In this conversation with OHNY executive director Gregory Wessner, Kim Phillips-Fein, author of Fear City: New York’s Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (Metropolitan Books, 2017), discussed civics.

A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, Fear City tells the story of the 1975 fiscal crisis that brought New York City to the edge of bankruptcy, and how that experience permanently transformed the city and reshaped ideas about the role of government throughout the country. This conversation revisited that harrowing period in New York’s history to understand how the city recovered and how the lessons learned may shape the way we move forward today.

Author Bio

Kim Phillips-Fein is a historian of 20th-century American politics. She teaches courses in American political, business, and labor history at New York University, where she is a professor in the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She has written widely for publications including The Nation, London Review of Books, and New Labor Forum.


Open House New York’s Conversations on the City offers diverse perspectives on the issues defining New York’s recovery, resilience, and reopening in the aftermath of COVID-19. The series was launched at the onset of the pandemic in April 2020 amid a moment of uncertainty about the future of urban life, ultimately drawing together an audience of 10,000 over the subsequent months. Organized around a broad theme or topic, the series has a point of view: urban life brings an abiding joy. What makes cities continue to thrive, what propels them forward, is a shared need for human connection; this is what cities make possible and it will always prevail over whatever challenges may arise.