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David Simon: City, The Wire and the End of Empire.

“Someone, somewhere is going to start throwing bricks. It’s not right or wrong, it is just going to happen.” That, says David Simon, is how things change.

There was consolation, in an epilogue to my long stay in the comfort zone that is New York, to hear a voice willing to publicly rail against the monster that US capitalism seems happy to be revealing itself as.

by Gordon Gibson

In the appropriate setting of a vacant lot, temporarily prettified at no small expense to house the first 10 week BMW Guggenheim Lab series on the urban condition, David Simon, of The Wire and Treme (and much more besides), tore into the bulwarks. He describes a sociopathic elite, willing to sacrifice a vast layer of society, 15-20%, mostly black, prevent universal healthcare, collapse the education system for those unable to achieve Charter School places, blackmail the economy, brutalize the world, import it’s products from exploited workforces on the other side of the globe, pass laws so that corporations can, without restraint, fund their political lapdogs and so remove any vestiges of democracy that might represent the interests of common people – all this and more, as long as increasingly obscene amounts of money continue to be accumulated by shareholders. There is no responsibility left, no philanthropy with the excess.

The only tax increase the Republicans are willing to contemplate to remedy the failings of the financial pirates, is one on the poor. Yet huge corporations, much worse than Murdoch’s discredited News International, pay no tax, zilch, actually winning billion dollar rebates from the beleaguered government revenue to reward their tax-evading skills.

US capitalism’s all-exclusive greed is the outstanding characteristic of an empire in decline, says Simon.

New York itself is cocooned from the worst excesses of financial collapse because it is at the very heart of the decay. By default, spillage seeps into the city and, for that reason, Manhattan is a great place to be. It has it’s failings and overt expressions of poverty but it is a world away from West Baltimore, North Philadelphia, East St Louis or, in the language of my home country, Clase, Llanrumney, the Rhondda, or Pencraig in Llangefni.

It was unfortunate in the Greenwich Village home of Jane Jacobs’ seminal text on the rich diversity of ‘good town’, ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’, published 50 years ago this year, that the opportunity was missed to hear Simon reflect on the characters that give such strength to his tv series. He anticipated inevitable questions about The Wire’s Omar but they were not forthcoming. That rich character writing, where even the most brutal of violent killings can evoke tear-surges of empathy for the perpetrator, would have been a valuable vehicle to further explore the urban social condition that Jane Jacobs so thoroughly documented and that the ‘Lab’ seeks to investigate.

Simon does not pretend his work to be journalism, where his writing started. He says he writes propaganda and viewers and readers of his work can appreciate what an astute observer he, like Jacobs, is of social, economic and political reality.

Neither is there any claim to provide answers. Those of us in the middle and even working class, who encourage social demise by voting for the executioners in the hope that one day we too will make our fortune and pull up the drawbridge of our gated community, are most likely to be bystanders as the flood of economic climate-change engulfs us.

Meanwhile, it appears that the brick throwing has commenced.


The BMW Guggenheim Lab finished its run in New York in October, 2011, and now travels to Berlin and then Mumbai. Cycle 1 concludes with an exhibition presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2013. Two additional two-year cycles will follow, each with a new mobile structure and theme, concluding in the fall of 2016.


Gordon’s blog on Urban Design and Sustainable City is at

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