Last year in Triple Canopy, Ian Volner and Matico Josephson published a lengthy reexamination of the administration of New York mayor John Lindsay (1968–73) and his far-reaching, largely unrealized plans to remake the city. His story is that of “a young, cultured, and charismatic politician,” they wrote, “as confident in the power of the people to effect change as in the ability of government to keep pace with their needs, who promised to usher in a new era for a city plagued by political gridlock, institutional malaise, and an insurmountable deficit, and who was elected under the banner ‘He is fresh and everyone else is tired.’”

Since then, a slew of further reappraisals of Lindsay have appeared in print, on television, and in exhibition; most of them follow Volner and Josephson’s lead, drawing a line between the ambitious, charismatic Lindsay, whom Robert Moses called “matinee-idol mayor,” and President Obama. Sam Roberts, the New York Times urban-affairs correspondent, has written America’s Mayor: John V. Lindsay and the Reinvention of New York. The Museum of the City of New York is currently showing an exhibition of the same name. New York public-TV station Thirteen has produced Fun City Revisited: The Lindsay Years. (Rudy Giuliani recalls learning from Lindsay that “you have to know how to sporadically intervene.”)

These various endeavors highlight how the turmoil of the age stymied Lindsay’s progressive program: The idealism he inspired gave way to disenchantment as he was buffeted by Governor Nelson Rockefeller and his allies, as well as the city’s white-ethnic population, and the dream of “Fun City” became the folly of Captain Marvel or Sir Galahad or Mr. Clean, as the mayor was called in the press. But Volner and Josephson go beyond the allure and pitfalls of callow idealism, sketching out a vision of urban transformation that should be fully reckoned with, especially as we strive to reshape our cities to address the myriad problems that have festered in the years since America’s Mayor left office.