Reviewed by Burton W. Peretti
We’ve Come a Long Way Baby: A Backward Glance at Library Service Availability at the Municipal Colleges
By Sandra Roff
You are still waiting for that interlibrary loan book or perhaps a video that you wanted to show your class, and you are wondering what is taking so long. After reviewing Reading Publics: New York City’s Public Libraries 1754-1911 by Tom Glynn it became clear that in the nineteenth-century, at a time when reading was the only way to get information, the availability of libraries was extremely limited, and what we now recognize as the job of a library was not realized until the twentieth century. The earliest libraries that opened in New York City operated as private corporations, with the wealthy buying shares to borrow books. Special interest groups also started libraries such as the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, who had a library with a small annual fee. The New-York Historical Society opened in 1805 with a mission to collect New York City materials, but again membership was restricted to the elite. Other libraries followed but they all required a fee and in addition, many had extremely limited hours.
By Joseph Alexiou
Writer and photographer Mitch Waxman is the leading authority on the history of Newtown Creek, a toxically polluted industrial waterway on the border between Brooklyn and Queens. In addition to his reporting and documentation, Waxman leads regular tours on land and by boat while spreading the unique stories of New York’s most centrally located contaminated coastline to the community.
You are considered New York City’s foremost authority on Newtown Creek. What was the journey to becoming an expert on a federal Superfund site?
Famously how I ended up at Newtown is that I got sick with heart “stuff,” and my doctor told me to start running. The quote I always give everyone is that in the part of Brooklyn I’m from, you only run if someone is chasing you. So I walked. I walked around with camera and discovered Newtown Creek and discovered this wild thing in the center New York City.
Reviewed by Kara Murphy Schlichting
What metaphor captures the relationship between the Hudson River, the cities that line its shores, and the people who plie its waters? Is the river a touchstone by which thinkers trace American ideas about nature? Is it an allegory, teaching those humbled in the face of ecological change to repent humanity's role? Is it the exemplar of the declension narrative present in American environmental storytelling? Or is the river more like a battle cry, rallying those committed to environmental activism and resiliency? Hudson Rising, the new exhibit at the New York Historical Society, contends it is all of these things. This deeply researched, thoughtfully presented, and satisfyingly interdisciplinary exhibit introduces the visitor to myriad people who have used and shaped the river, confronted ecological ruin, and turned towards preservation to mitigate degradation.
Hudson Rising, New York Historical Society. March 1 – August 4, 2019.
By Nina E. Harkrader
Upper and middle-class New Yorkers quickly grew alarmed by the number of young, single women living in cities apart from their families — alone, unprotected, and unsupervised. The practical question of finding decent accommodation for single working women thus also became a moral one of preserving the purity, dignity, and femininity of future wives and mothers. These tensions between the increasing numbers of working women and societal expectations would continue for decades. As a result, during the period from about 1860 to 1930, urban housing for single working women — its location, design, and even its furnishings — became central to the struggle for women to be accepted as independent citizens.
Reviewed by Leslie Day
In the late nineteenth century, municipal officials and boosters of a regionally-scaled New York City endeavored to reshape the material nature of the cityscape. Debates about the physical nature of the urban fringe demonstrate how the city’s coastal edge was both an ecological system and a cultural and political landscape. The harbor environment included both sides of the high-tide line — riparian land and lands underwater. Developers looked to control the material characteristics of the coast through infrastructure. Landscape architects, engineers, and street commissioners approached the urban edge as a laboratory for regional planning. These city builders focused on regional environmental boundaries in contradistinction to laissez-faire urbanization and development that overlooked the conditions of environment and topography. Parks, channelized rivers, and street systems expanded the urban fabric into rural hinterlands.
Reprinted with permission from New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore, by Kara Murphy Schlichting, published by the University of Chicago Press. © 2019 by the University of Chicago Press. All rights reserved.
Reviewed by Emily Brooks
The Girl on the Velvet Swing is an engaging and fast-paced presentation of this story that will prove compelling to popular and academic audiences interested in New York City history or histories of the gilded age. Despite these strengths, Baatz’s analysis is weakened by a problematic interpretation of Nesbit’s narrative of her own assault, included in the book’s afterword, which may unsettle readers.
The Manhattan Street Grid Plan: Misconceptions and Corrections [Expansion] Myth #10: Example of Laissez-Faire Planning
By Gergely Baics & Leah Meisterlin
Not until 1916 did New York City acquire its comprehensive zoning resolution, the first in the nation. Through the 19th Century, the city’s land-use restrictions comprised a patchwork of fragmented and locally scaled public and private regulatory interventions, including nuisance laws, fire zones, building codes, and deed restrictions in the form of restrictive covenants. Although with this patchwork of caveats, it is fair to describe this early land-use regime as largely unregulated, at least by our contemporary standards. The Commissioners’ Plan was laid out within this historical context: even as it strictly defines the geometry of blocks and streets — and, consequently, a geometry of intersections — the plan remains silent on land use, save the location of a few public spaces. In fact, the 1811 Plan preceded the conceptualization of distinct categories of use. Such categorization arguably first appeared decades later in William Perris’s landmark 1852-54 Fire Insurance Atlas, which catalogued and systematically organized each building in Manhattan by its function, establishing our still familiar taxonomy of residential, commercial, and industrial uses.
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