Perhaps the biggest difference between the New York City of 40 years ago and that of today is the degree to which the major tourist areas have been "cleaned up." This is especially the case with areas such as Times Square.
In the 1970s, Times Square was a pretty squalid place. It was best known for such things as the "peep shows" where people could view pornography in little booths. It was one of the worst areas in the city because of all the pornography, strip clubs and prostitution.
By contrast, Times Square today is "Disneyfied." It is a place for wholesome family entertainment, not the sort of place that families would try to avoid.
This change is symbolic of a more general change in the city -- one in which the city has been made more "livable" in many people's minds by a crackdown on petty crime and vice.
I think that the problems of the modern metropolitan setting was more apparent in New York in the 1970s as opposed to New York now. The New York setting in the 1970s represented some of the worst fears of urban life. The construction of the "bad parts of town" were quite predominant. The reality of "white flight" or "urban flight"had started to take hold as the belief that the urban setting was a dangerous one. Crime was very high in parts of the city as urban administration, representative of the challenges of larger government, was seen as ineffective and not able to deal with the sprawling realities that cities like New York faced. This is in stark contrast to now. Gentrification has taken place in many parts of the city, creating "high rent" areas that were not as apparent in the 1970s. Along with this is much more diversity in cities such as New York now than in the 1970s. At the same time, the role of government municipalities has become more meshed with privatization of public services. This has brought about greater efficiency in comparison to the 1970s. Additionally, public activism in government affairs has become more evident, with individuals being able to articulate their own voices in more of a dominant fashion. The development of the "Op- Ed" component to the New York Times was a recently new development in the 1970s. It has become standard in all New York Newspapers in the modern setting. The inclusion of more voices in city planning and urban development is much more present now in New York than in the 1970s. Finally, while there are areas of poor economic progress in New York, as in every city, there is a greater rise in economic opportunity for many more now than there was in the 1970s.