The Newtown Pentacle

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Archive for July 30th, 2021

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Shabbos… a haaa… shabbos

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last Saturday, one had a lunch date with a few friends on Manhattan’s Lower East Side… well, actually the extremely Lower East Side. The only part of residential Manhattan that’s still remotely interesting is found between the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges, East of Bowery. That’s where you find architectural variation in the building stock, weird counterpoints, and an actual working class neighborhood. Don’t worry, the City and the EDC will likely declare the entire area a slum soon and knock it down in favor of glassine towers. They’re in the early stages of doing to Manhattan what they did to Brooklyn and Queens over the last few decades. Ugh.

What’s so interesting, you ask?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Going back to the Civil War, when this section of Lower Manhattan was the center of NYC and Manhattan was still quite industrial, groups of do-gooders and reformers have shown up in every generation who had the answer to “how you help the poor.” You had Jakob Riis and his reformers – and there’s still “Old Law” and “New Law” tenement buildings extant from their solution. A generation later, the Settlement House people showed up, then came the (actual) Progressives like FDR with an enhanced education system, then Robert Moses with his urban renewal money brought highways and Section 8 housing, and then Moses and the NYCHA people built the Rutgers and Al Smith Houses and the rest. These days the do-gooder’s hustle involves “affordable housing” for the well off and screw the poor. The fossil skeletons of these behemoth movements and trends litter the streets here. A history book in brick and mortar and steel.

All of these brilliant and connected people who have tried to solve the intractable problem of urban poverty over the centuries, here in Lower Manhattan, and never did it occur any of them to just give some of the cash they were spending to the actual poor people. The core issue of poverty is that you don’t have any money, which means your babies are hungry. When you have hungry babies, you do desperate and often violent things as that makes sense in the circumstance. America’s overlords have always felt threatened by poor people, and worry that actual cash in their pockets will be drank, smoked, or gambled away. There’s a puritanical side to charitable impulses in our country. God forbid somebody on Welfare might use the money to buy their kids an ice cream cone.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wish that you could see through time like I can. A fire escape bolted to the front of a New Law Tenement on East Broadway? Well, that’s symptomatic of Jakob Riis and Teddy Roosevelt, as well as the formation of the FDNY after NYC consolidation in 1898 and the creation of a uniform fire code. The East Side of Manhattan’s “Chinatown” occupies a space that has long housed ethnic populations who regularly spoke languages other than English at home. German, Gaelic, Yiddish, Italian, Spanish. I wonder who made that fire escape, where was the foundry, and who got handed the license by the Tammany appointed Fire Inspectors to design and install it. Love it down here, I do, as it’s thought provoking in a way that a glass walled condo tower ain’t.

Speaking of seeing through time… what are you doing on August 7th? I’ll be conducting a WALKING TOUR OF LONG ISLAND CITY with my pal Geoff Cobb. Details and ticketing available here. Come with?


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Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

July 30, 2021 at 11:00 am

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