Tag Archives: Urban History

Cohoes in Vintage Images and Postcards


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9781467121293Using vintage images and postcards to highlight history is Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History Series book Cohoes. The new book by the Spindle City Historic Society is releasing on March 24, 2014. It displays more than 200 vintage images and memories of days gone by.

This new pictorial history is a tour of landmarks of Cohoes through postcard images, taking readers through distinctive sections of the city including downtown, the mill district, the island and the hill. The book also features notable residents of Cohoes who impacted the city, including vaudeville performers, Revolutionary War officers, explores, industrialists, entrepreneurs, sports figures and daredevils. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: The Brooklyn State of History


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Currier and Ives print of Brooklyn, 1879What is the Brooklyn story and if there is one, is it being told?  In December, I wrote a post here about the Dutch heritage. That led to two responses from people who can claim a direct connection to that heritage in Brooklyn.

“My mother’s family ‘way back’ (1638) was Dutch, and helped found what is now Brooklyn. As I understand, they owned part of what is now Prospect Park. (I shocked a very family-proud great-aunt by saying ‘They should have held on to it; it would be worth a lot of money today!’ I was probably about 10 years old at the time and not impressed by family background!” – Celin Schoen Continue reading

How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America


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Supreme CityThis spring Simon & Schuster will publish Supreme City: How Jazz Age Manhattan Gave Birth to Modern America by Donald L. Miller, the John Henry MacCracken Professor of History at Lafayette College and author of several books about World War II. Miller also wrote the bestseller City of Century about Chicago, and his book Masters of the Air is currently in production with Spielberg and Hanks at HBO.

As its subtitle proclaims, the book examines how midtown Manhattan rose to become the nation and world’s capital of commerce and culture via mass communication – radio, film, music, printing – as well as architecture, spectator sports, and organized crime during the roaring 1920s. Continue reading

Ancestry, NYC Launch New York Records Partnership


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Ancestry new York State City RecordsAncestry.com, the world’s largest online family history resource, has announced the availability of an index to more than 10 million New York City birth, marriage and death records, spanning 1866-1948, for free online at Ancestry.com/NewYork.

The new index, made possible through a relationship with the New York City Department Of Records/Municipal Archives, enables people exploring their family history to discover and learn more about their possible New York roots. Continue reading

The Plantation in Brooklyn:
Nate Salsbury’s Black America Show


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Black America from Illustrated American 1895Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.

Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading

A History of Family Poverty and Homelessness in NYC


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ThePoorAmongUs_frontcoverWith nearly 49,000 people living in city shelters, including almost 21,000 children—a modern-day record that may well be broken—there has never been more of a need to step back and understand how New Yorkers have confronted poverty and homelessness over time.

The Poor Among Us: A History of Family Poverty and Homelessness in New York City (2013, White Tiger Press), puts current policies in perspective through the lens of nearly 300 years of public and philanthropic efforts to alleviate poverty in New York City. Continue reading

FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern NYC


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City of AmbitionCity of Ambition: FDR, La Guardia, and the Making of Modern New York (W. W. Norton & Company, 2013) by urban politics historian Mason B. Williams is a loving exploration of the history of the New Deal and its role in the making of modern New York City.

The story of a remarkable collaboration between Franklin Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia, this is a case study in creative political leadership in the midst of a devastating depression. Roosevelt and La Guardia were an odd couple: patrician president and immigrant mayor, fireside chat and tabloid cartoon, pragmatic Democrat and reform Republican. But together, as leaders of America’s two largest governments in the depths of the Great Depression, they fashioned a route to recovery for the nation and the master plan for a great city. Continue reading

A Short History of the Highrise: Innovative Short Films


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Highrise FilmThe New York Times’s Op-Docs and the National Film Board of Canada (NFB) have debuted an immersive, interactive multimedia series on urban highrise living. The series, “A Short History of the Highrise,” had its world premiere at the New York Film Festival and launches today on NYTimes.com.

The series unfolds in four short, interactive films that viewers can navigate using touch commands like swipe, pinch, pull and tap. On desktop and laptop computers, users can mouse over features and click to navigate. Smartphone users can view the four films via the New York Times Mobile Web site. Continue reading

Jewish History in New York: An ‘Arrival Day’ Tour


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Shearith_Israel_19th_St_Bldg_int_from_ Angel Remnant of IsraelOn September 29, 2013 a walking tour of lower Manhattan which traces Jewish history will celebrate “Arrival Day”, the day in 1654 that Jews first landed in North America.

The tour begins at the  flagpole in Peter Minuit Park near the Staten Island ferry that commemorates the arrival in 1654 of 23 Jews  in Lower Manhattan (then New Amsterdam) after a harrowing journey from Recife Brazil. Continue reading

Dear Andrew Cuomo: Fund History Infrastructure


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Andrew Cuomo (Times Union Photo)Last Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo inaugurated the Adirondack Challenge as an upstate tourist initiative. The Indian River rafting challenge was issued to New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who, according to news reports, is more familiar with yachts than inflatable rafts. The State defeated the City by 18 seconds in the three mile race. A wet and good time was had by all.

Governor Cuomo’s love for upstate (in particular the Adirondacks, not, say Syracuse), is well known. According to the New York Times a year before the Path through History roll-out, the Governor “has conspicuously avoided leaving the state” save for driving on the Palisades Interstate Parkway when headed north from the city. As Cuomo put it: “You can have the best vacation of your life right here in the state of New York. I see no reason to go anywhere else. It’s my state and I’m sticking to it.” Continue reading

Saving Cities: Learning from Melanie Griffith


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One of my favorite movie scenes is from Working Girl when Melanie Griffith explains while riding up the elevator with Trask and Indiana, how she came up with the idea for the corporate merger. It wasn’t as if she had been thinking about anything even remotely related to it. Her insight derived from a chance juxtaposition perceived by a mind willing to learn and open to new possibilities. Continue reading

Peter Feinman On New York’s ‘Ruin Porn’


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Ruin porn is in. Ruin porn is hot. Ruin porn is sexy. Ruin porn is the term coined by Jim Griffioen, who writes a blog about his life as a stay-at-home dad in Detroit.

As part of that effort he periodically posts photographs he has taken of the more than 70,000 abandoned buildings in his city. Such images included (as reported in the New York Times) “‘feral’ houses almost completely overgrown with vegetation; a decommissioned public-school book depository in which trees were growing out of the piles of rotting textbooks”. The term has become a familiar one in the city not without some misgivings by the locals as they watch tourists take souvenirs of their city back home. Continue reading

Roberta Brandes Gratz Recieving Landmarks Lion Award


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The Historic Districts Council, the citywide advocate for New York’s historic neighborhoods, buildings and open spaces, will present its annual Landmarks Lion Award on November 5 to advocate, author, journalist and urban critic Roberta Brandes Gratz.

Participating in the ceremony will be Ronald Shiffman, co-founder of the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development, Richard Rabinowitz, president of the American History Workshop, and Stephen Goldsmith, Director of the Center for the Living City. Since 1990 the Landmarks Lion Award has honored those who have shown outstanding devotion in protecting New York City’s historic buildings and neighborhoods. Continue reading

Odetta, Richard Wright Being Honored Today in NYC


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Today, Tuesday, July 17, 2012 the Historic Districts Council and the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center in New York City will unveil new cultural medallions for two pioneers in the fields of literature and music.

First at 11:00am, in collaboration with the Fort Greene Association, author Richard Wright will be celebrated with a medallion unveiling at 175 Carlton Avenue in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Then at 2:00 pm their will be an unveiling of a medallion commemorating the life of Odetta, the legendary singer, songwriter and political activist, at her longtime residence, 1270 Fifth Avenue, in East Harlem. The public is invited to both events.

Odetta: The Voice of the Civil-Rights Movement, 1930-2008

Odetta Holmes, born on December 31, 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama was a true activist, performance artist and musician. Her powerful image and robust voice was and continues to represent the politically driven folk-music of the 1950’s and 1960’s. As an African-American female performance artist during a time of political and racial upheaval, Odetta was a leader and voice for the civil rights movement; marching with Martin Luther King Jr. and performing a show for John F. Kennedy. The ability she had to convey meaning and life into her music inspired others to follow in her pursuit of fairness, equality and justice.

Author Richard Wright, 1908- 1960

Born in Mississippi, Richard Wright spent the majority of his childhood living in poverty in the oppressive racial and social atmosphere of the south. Wright escaped familial and social constraints by immersing himself in the world of literature, and became one of the first great African American writer’s of his time. Richard Wright relocated to Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood and was living here in 1938 when he drafted his first novel, Native Son. He wrote several controversial novels, short-stories and semi-autobiographical accounts that reflected the brutalities often inflicted on the African American people of the south during this period. Wright eventually left New York City for Paris. His grave is located in the Père Lachaise Cemetery.

About the Ceremony and Cultural Medallion Program

Distinguished scholars, artists and elected officials will be participating in both of the cultural medallion ceremonies. The Richard Wright program will include Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, celebrated playwright Lynn Nottage, Paul Palazzo of the Fort Greene Association, musician and author Carl Hancock Rux, and Howard Pitsch will read a message from Wright’s daughter, Julia Wright, who currently resides in Paris. Pianist Dave Keyes will perform Odetta’s signature piece, This Little Light of Mine, at the Odetta ceremony.

The Cultural Medallions are a program of the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel, Chair of the HLPC, created the Cultural Medallions program, and will lead the ceremony. The HLPC has installed almost 100 medallions around the city to heighten public awareness of the cultural and social history of New York City.

New York Heritage Weekend, May 19 and 20th


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Organizations throughout the state will celebrate New York history during this year’s New York Heritage Weekend on May 19th & 20th. Now in its 3rd year, the weekend will offer special programs, discounted or free admission to sites and events that celebrate national, state or local heritage.

Guided hikes, local history festivals, historic garden events, open historic houses, and events that explore all kinds of New York culture and history are on tap. Last year Heritage Weekend hosted 166 Heritage Weekend events with 143 federal, state, and private organizations. For a full searchable listing of events, and maps see www.heritageweekend.org .

Not only does this Heritage Weekend celebrate New York’s rich history, but it also boosts local economies. According to recent studies, tourism generates 81 billion dollars and sustains over 670,000 jobs in New York. According to a recent study recent commissioned by the U.S. Cultural & Heritage Tourism Marketing Council and the U.S. Department of Commerce, 78% of US domestic travelers participate in cultural or heritage activities.

“Heritage Weekend opens the door to so many of New York’s great historic and cultural treasures,” said Beth Sciumeca, Executive Director of the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor. “Once that door is open, people will find that there is a lifetime of places to experience throughout the state.”

New York Heritage Weekend 2012 is funded in part by The Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area and Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and sponsored by I Love NY, National Park Service, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and participating event partners.

Modern New York: Recent NYC Economic History


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The economic history of New York is filled with high-stakes drama. In Modern New York: The Life and Economics of a City (2012, Palgrave Macmillan), journalist, economist and political commentator Greg David (who edited the regional Crain’s New York Business for more than 20 years and is now director of the business and economics reporting program at the Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY), tells the story of the city’s financial highs and lows since the 1960s.

David fairly conservative approach looks at how Wall Street came to dominate the economy in the years following a decade of economic decline. He argues that New York City’s great recession is not happening now, and it didn’t happen after 9-11. “The Great Recession That Wasn’t”, is David’s term for the current American economic disaster.

“By comparison, the city’s great recession had occurred between 1969 and 1977, when a stock market crash devastated Wall Street and the city’s manufacturing sector collapsed and it’s competitiveness waned as the city hiked its tax burden,” David writes. “Some 650,000 jobs disappeared over those years, and the population fell by almost 1 million people, two little-discussed factors that were as important as budget chicanery in created the Fiscal Crisis that almost sent the city into bankruptcy.”

This understanding of New York’s post-war period rests in part on the neo-liberal interpretation of New York City’s recent history. It goes something like this: the anti-business policies (regulation, and higher taxes) of liberal machine politicians like John Lindsay (Mayor from 1966 to 1973) and Abe Beame (Mayor from 1974 to 1977) led to the loss of manufacturing and then the flight of New Yorkers from a desperate, crime-ridden and “grimy” Gotham. Only the pro-development policies of Ed Koch and the great victory of Rudolph Giuliani, reformist street cleaner and crime fighter, kept New York City from becoming another Detroit.

That’s more or less the story told here in chapters like “Structural Not Cyclical”, and “Making New York Safe For Commerce”. David chastises leaders for failing to recognize long term manufacturing declines, and points to unions, burdensome taxes, and restrictive zoning as the major culprit. Perhaps due to the author’s limiting regional scope and focus on the perspective of the business community, significant American trends such as baby-boom suburbanization, container shipped goods from low wage workers in Asia and elsewhere, and media-based perceptions about crime and quality of life issues are set on the back burner.

For example, a wider perspective in Modern New York would include worker struggles to retain the wages and benefits that made living in the city attractive. New York City’s economic decline coincided directly with unprecedented attacks on the city’s workers. Witness, for example, the 1966 transit strike during which Lindsey refused to negotiate and mocked workers to the press. Or the seven-month teacher strike in 1968 that was the result of the firing of teachers opposed to Lindsey’s contract negotiation plan to divide their union. These strikes were followed by actions on Broadway, and the sanitation strike in the fall of 1968. In 1971 the city’s AFSCME workforce walked off the job. One might argue that workers simply had no interest in living in the city’s difficult employment environment. Whatever the cause of the city’s working class losses, Modern New York could have offered a deeper, more multidimensional understanding of the city’s recent economic history.

In David’s interpretation, after 9-11 the finance industry and tourism stepped in to help save the day, at least temporarily. In a chapter entitled “Three Sectors To The Rescue”, the author suggests that film and television production, higher education, and the technology sectors are the future of New York, leaving the contrary reader to wonder how the city can survive without its working class.

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Arts-and-Culture Investments in Placemaking


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What do theaters, cultural centers, jazz clubs and the like contribute to local economies? To public safety? To neighborhood desirability? Many agree that culture is an essential component of urban livability, but quantifying how much and in what ways is a challenge. And that makes justifying and attracting investment an equal one.

At the forum “Measuring Vibrancy: The Impacts of Arts-and-Culture Investments in Placemaking,” the Municipal Art Society of New York expects to offer those involved in placemaking – an approach to developing public spaces that starts by gathering information about users’ and potential users’ needs and aspirations – a chance to hear how some of their counterparts have met the measurement challenge.

The panelists, who represent the disciplines of economic development, urban design, research and real estate, are:

Carol Coletta, President, ArtPlace (NYC) – Moderator

Joe Cortright, President and Principal Economist, Impresa (Portland, OR)

Kevin Stolarick, Research Director, The Martin Prosperity Institute, Rotman School of Management (Toronto, ON)

Harriet Tregoning, Director, Washington, DC, Office of Planning (Washington, DC)

Sue Mosey, President, Midtown Detroit (Detroit, MI)

ArtPlace, which moderator Carol Coletta leads, is a national collaborative of foundations, federal agencies (including the NEA) and some of the nation’s largest banks which support placemaking initiatives. The organization is in the process of developing a set of “vibrancy indicators” that will measure the impact of investments in arts and culture.

“Measuring Vibrancy: The Impacts of Arts-and-Culture Investments in Placemaking” will be held on Tuesday, April 24, 6:30 – 8:00 pm (reception to follow) at the National Museum of the American Indian (One Bowling Green, NYC). The event is free, but registration is required.

This is the latest program in the MAS Arts Forum series. Produced since 1990, the series presents visionary cultural leaders working in all disciplines, across the country and around the world, who share their knowledge and experience with New Yorkers passionate about arts advocacy, policymaking and management. This event follows an April 12 MAS Arts Forum in which the leaders of all three NYC library systems will discuss the libraries’ role as centers of neighborhood cultural activity.

The Municipal Art Society of New York, founded in 1893, is a non-profit organization committed to making New York a more livable city through education, dialogue and advocacy for intelligent urban planning, design and preservation.