Taking the Train

How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City

Joe Austin

Columbia University Press

Taking the Train

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Pub Date: January 2002

ISBN: 9780231111430

400 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $38.00£31.95

Pub Date: January 2002

ISBN: 9780231111423

400 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $105.00£87.95

Pub Date: January 2002

ISBN: 9780231533881

400 Pages

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List Price: $37.99£31.95

Taking the Train

How Graffiti Art Became an Urban Crisis in New York City

Joe Austin

Columbia University Press

In the 1960s and early 1970s, young people in New York City radically altered the tradition of writing their initials on neighborhood walls. Influenced by the widespread use of famous names on billboards, in neon, in magazines, newspapers, and typographies from advertising and comics, city youth created a new form of expression built around elaborately designed names and initials displayed on public walls, vehicles, and subways. Critics called it "graffiti," but to the practitioners it was "writing."

Taking the Train traces the history of "writing" in New York City against the backdrop of the struggle that developed between the city and the writers. Austin tracks the ways in which "writing"— a small, seemingly insignificant act of youthful rebellion—assumed crisis-level importance inside the bureaucracy and the public relations of New York City mayoral administrations and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for almost two decades. Taking the Train reveals why a global city short on funds made "wiping out graffiti" an expensive priority while other needs went unfunded. Although the city eventually took back the trains, Austin eloquently shows how and why the culture of "writing" survived to become an international art movement and a vital part of hip-hop culture.
Austin argues that the graffiti epidemic was really a smokescreen for poor civic management, and that graffiti itself was the inevitable result of a whole outpouring of structural social factors. New York Times Book Review
Although solidly academic, this book is enlivened by its fascinating topic. Booklist
A meticulous history. Booklist
Austin's precise, witty, and genial style perfectly meshes with his rigorous research and analysis.... This exemplary study makes important contributions to understanding contemporary art, urban sociology, and the culture wars. Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Lets the graf writers talk back to the haters, while offering a nuanced reassessment of New York City's graffiti scene. Village Voice
Austin does full justice simultaneously to New York as a symbolic, although never more than partially representable, city; to changes in the city's economy which create nationally unusual shifts in the relative distribution of wealth and in the ethnic make-up of poverty...ranges widely and with rich detail, yet always anchored in the central narrative focus. Urban Studies
Prologue
1. A Tale of Two Cities
2. Taking the Trains: The Formation and Structure of "Writing Culture'' in the Early 1970s
3. Writing "Graffiti'' in the Public Sphere: The Construction of Writing as an Urban Problem
4. Repainting the Trains: The New York School of the 1970s
5. The State of the Subways: The Transit Crisis, the Aesthetics of Fear, and the Second "War on Graffiti''
6. Writing Histories
7. Retaking the Trains
8. The Walls and the World: Writing Culture, 1982-1990
Conclusion: A Spot on the Wall
Appendix: Sources from Writers
Notes
Selected Bibliography
Acknowledgments
Index

About the Author

Joe Austin, assistant professor in the Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, is coeditor of Generations of Youth: Youth and Youth Cultures in the 20th Century.