By Catherine McNeur
The Tree of Heaven, or Ailanthus, gained fame in 1943 as a symbol of endurance in Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In this book about a plucky, determined girl from the tenements of Brooklyn, the tree seemed to embody her spirit. It thrived in cities while other plants withered. As Smith put it, “No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to reach the sky. It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree that grew out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts.” Today, if you ask an urban forester about Ailanthus trees, you’ll find that it’s exactly that kind of resilience that they find most frustrating. Today the Tree of Heaven is considered an invasive species and a problem to be solved. This was not always the case.
By Jason M. Barr and Gerard Koeppel
The Manhattan street grid plan of 1811 — both figuratively and literally — defines the city. It has created its identity while prompting continuing debate about whether it’s the “greatest grid” or “one of the worst city plans.” Despite the endless fascination after 200 years and counting, the grid’s history and its effect on Gotham are still not fully understood. We aim to correct the record. Here, we introduce some key misconceptions and their corrections; in eight monthly installments, we will discuss each one in more detail.
Reviewed by Julian Cole Phillips
To Walt Whitman, the network of waterways that cross-hatched what is now New York City were a transcendental link between epochs. “These and all else were the same to me as they are to you,” he wrote. “What is it then, between us? What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us.”
An Associate Professor of Social Science and chair of Interdisciplinary Studies and Urban Administration at the New York Institute of Technology, Bloom is the author of three books and the editor of several more; among the latter, an edited volume he assembled with Matthew Gordon Lasner, Affordable Housing in New York (Princeton University Press, 2015) may be of particular interest to our readers. Our conversation touches upon the place of figures like Robert Moses and Austin Tobin in JFK’s development; the ways in which the airport’s history reflected racial and class dynamics in the city; and Bloom’s approach to visual sources, which he employs to great effect. This hardly exhausts the book’s range of inquiry; readers will find that The Metropolitan Airport also offers fresh insights into subjects ranging from environmental history to the impact of airline deregulation. In all, Bloom has written a landmark study of JFK. He has also provided a model for how to place airports within the history of cities.
— Mason Williams
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