New York circa 1979 had blown past decline and gone straight into fall. Though the fiscal crisis had crushed it financially, the city’s general collapse had been a group effort that left New Yorkers in a filthy, dangerous—though, admittedly, often exuberant—state of nature completely divorced from nature itself.

In the parks, the anything-goes mindset of the 1960s had meant millions of visitors with no sense of responsibility. A few years later, when the money ran out, all the dead, dusty acres they’d left behind made the city’s decay seem inevitable and unstoppable.