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.”
By Benjamin Feldman
One afternoon this past winter, I and my new friend Bill drove over from his Jersey home to the northeast corner of Inwood, looking for something very special. We parked on 9th Avenue just north of 207th Street, next to the municipal bus garage. To the north, a fence blocked our way to the river bank, where Captain Moffat’s yard once stood. There’s no public access now to the rotting ghost-piles. But Bill and I peered through the chain link at the grimy water and the remnants of a pier under which he swam as a child as he reminisced about the water quality, even worse fifty years ago than today.
is a blog for
independent and professional scholars of New York City
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"The Gotham Blotter" (2006-2015)
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