15 Stunning Photos That Show How Bad New York City Used to Be

Ahh, New York — land of the nearly-$5 cupcake, $30 hamburger, and $1,250 baseball ticket. (Just so we're clear, real fans — and the Fraade family — sit up in the nosebleeds at Yankee games). It's no secret that this city is expensive, flashy, and one of the best places in the world to be a Master of the Universe. 

Given just how much freaking money is floating around the city right now, it's sometimes hard to imagine that New York was ever anything but popular and prosperous. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the city was in seriously bad shape. While New York never reached Detroit or Cleveland-like levels of decline, largely thanks to the city's diversified economy, these photos from just a few decades ago show the kind of gritty urban decay that inspired countless songs and movies about the city, and that — let's be honest — more than a few longtime New Yorkers secretly miss. After all, Ed Koch never tried to ban Big Gulps.

Is the city more vibrant and livable than it's ever been? Did Giuliani destroy the spirit of Gotham by turning Times Square into Disneyland East? Probably a bit of both. Either way, have a look and decide for yourself (and listen to this album while you're doing it).



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1. 42nd Street, Near the Port Authority


42d Street 1988

2. The West Side Highway, Upper Manhattan


NY in the 80s 283

3. Subway Riders

4. Abandoned Coney Island Bathhouse


Coney Island 1985

5. East Village Stores


6. Lower Manhattan (and the Twin Towers) From New Jersey


WTC 50

7. Grand and Thompson Streets, SoHo

8. Church Ruins, Brooklyn

9. (Relatively Clean) Subway, Upper Manhattan


NY in the 80s 31

10. Remember When Pizza Was This Cheap? Neither Do We

11. NYC Firefighters

12. Alphabet City


Alphabet City 1985

13. What Times Square Used to Look Like


14. Meet the Locals, Near Houston Street Subway


NY in the 80s 11

15. ...But It's Still Home.

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Jordan Fraade

Jordan Fraade is an Associate Politics Editor at PolicyMic. Working on the Publishing team, he edits and proofreads PM's politics and international-relations articles. Outside interests include history, urbanism and city planning, politics, media, and the Spanish-speaking world. Tireless consumer of Indian food, ice cream, and music. Last name rhymes with "Todd."

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