Urban Planning and NYC – Contextual Essay

Throughout history, man has adapted and changed his environment for his usage.  As urban areas grew, and technology advanced, man had to make diagnoses and decisions regarding these changes to the geography at hand.  New York City is a prime example, and one of the first in the United States to incorporate urban zoning, or urban planning, in its building codes.  Initially, plans were laid for a grid system on the island of Manhattan for the layout of the city once building moved past its location in the early 1800s.  Eventually, with the advent of steel for building, the concern became not only the layout of the city, but the types of buildings and where they would be located. New York City would stand as the vanguard for urban development and planning for the rest of the United States.

NYC Grid 1811

There are examples of cities incorporating grid systems for city planning since the time of the Romans.  Some Early American cities, such as Philadelphia, were established along a grid.  The Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 was adopted out of the desire to create an organized layout for future growth of the city.   The specified goal was to “lay out Streets… in such a manner as to unite regularity and order with the public convenience and benefit and in particular to promote the health of the City.” [1] The original plan was not readily received but is considered ahead of its time by current urban planners.  Changes have been made to the original grid plan in the years since 1811.

Of primary importance to the current city of New York would be the inclusion of open space areas, most notably Central Park.  During the mid-1800s cities such as New York were growing in an exponential rate.  The following are the population statistics of Manhattan based on census statistics:  (1830) 202,589; (1840) 312,710; (1850) 515,547. [2] This great increase in population led to masses of people living in extremely close quarters with little sanitation or opportunity for recreation.  The citizens of New York sought diversion from cramped living quarters in the streets of the city, and even recreation in the cemeteries of the city. [3] Central Park was opened in 1857 with an eye to creating open space.

Central Park

Environments for the people of the city to engage in out of door activities in a more healthy way.  Open space planning has become a highly sought after and controversial part of NYC’s urban planning.  It has become very evident in modern times, that the open space provision for lower income and minority groups is limited, smaller, and very basic in comparison to the open spaces near more affluent areas.

Most urban planners deal with five types of entities within a zoning plan:  Industrial & Manufacturing facilities, Residential properties, commercial properties, Institutional entities, and Parks & Open spaces.  Industrial & Manufacturing facilities have a unique part in the urban plan as these are often the places where large numbers of people are able to find work, but the facilities themselves are generally considered eyesores.  Pollution that is excreted by these facilities is also a consideration when placing these facilities in zones. Due to the lack of transportation by the urban poor, these facilities need to be located near urban transit.  Residential properties deal with all living quarters for individuals and families.  Commercial zones in NYC are especially crucial due to the lack of space.  In most neighborhoods, one will find stores and businesses located on the main floor of a multi-story building, with Residential properties located above.  Institutional entities are generally considered city services that need to be near the general populace but need to be centralized for the purpose of support for the city at large.  Hospitals and fire stations are excellent examples of this.  Parks and Open spaces have been discussed but are an important aspect of the urban dwellers life.  In today’s NYC it provides the place for outdoor recreation ; however, in the late 1800s and early 1900s it provided a much needed getaway  from the overcrowded, fetid, and unhealthy conditions of the inner city tenements and projects.

Large cities face unique issues due to the race to create vertical real estate.  The creation of steel allowed the development of buildings that towered over the landscape.  In New York City, the case of the Equitable Building brought matters of engineering and advancement into sharp contrast with concerns over the effect it would have on the general welfare of the city.

The building stood at 40 stories and had 1.2 million square feet of office space.  [4] The creation of vertical real estate was established, but the sheer size of the building, with no setbacks became the concern for city dwellers.

Zoning laws were thus enacted to mitigate future concerns of light, air, and environmental affect.   These same zoning laws have been adopted by virtually every major city in the U.S.  Setbacks, construction practices, and open air issues have resulted from NYC’s zoning laws regarding construction of high rises.  The picture below shows NYC’s adaptation to these zoning regulations.

Chrysler Building surrounded by high-rises under zoning laws

Cities and communities have throughout history adopted some type of plan for the development of its area.  Man has been active in his adaptation of geography to suit his needs.  The urban setting of New York City becomes an interesting study for this issue.  With the huge influx of immigrants in the 1800s and 1900s, the city has developed and modified plans for its city design.  Current issues have been magnified against previous plans and have forced a modernization of idea and thought as it pertained to urban development.  New York City is an example to the world of the usage of a finite amount of space with an extremely large population.


[1] http://www.library.cornell.edu/Reps/DOCS/nyc1811.htm, accessed July 10, 2010.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_New_York_City#Historic_population_figures, accessed July 12, 2010.

[3] John Emerson Todd, Frederick Law Olmsted (Boston: Twayne Publishers: Twayne’s World Leader Series) 1982: 73.

[4] http://www.nyc-architecture.com/LM/LM059.htm, accessed 7/18/2010.

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“The Island at the Center of the World”, Russell Shorta

New Amsterdam

The record that defines history is often written by the victor.  Generally, the defeated provided little contribution to that history beyond their mere presence or the opportunity to be vanquished, and replaced, by the victor’s story.  Russell Shorto in his book Island at the Center of the World replaces this tenet regarding the little known Dutch settlement in what we now know as New York City.  Utilizing new Dutch documents, Shorto has not only found a new storyline to the settlement of this area, but has reconstructed and explained the unique dichotomies of NYC itself.  Long seen as a city with a vast array of people and beliefs and customs, Island at the Center of the World shows historical basis for this culture.  It can be argued that New York is the commercial hub of the world, and Shorto shows this basis in the Dutch settlement, not the English takeover.  Early Dutch settlers such as Adriaen van der Donck would impart unique Enlightenment beliefs and philosophies on this new world.  Paired with these Enlightenment beliefs are linguistic adaptations that are still part of the modern vernacular.  The Dutch were the first to settle Manhattan and Shorto shows a profound and lasting influence that is still seen today.

In 1609, the Dutch West India Company employed Henry Hudson to find a route to the Far East.  Instead, he sailed up a river that would eventually be named for him and found the island of Manhattan.  It was then occupied by Indians, but would be purchased from them and settle with Dutch settlers for the next 50 years.  Unfortunately, that’s the generally accepted version of the entirety of Dutch influence in this area.  However, with newly translated Dutch documents, the richness and extent of Dutch influence on today’s society is astounding.

The settlement of New Amsterdam, today’s New York, lay in between two areas of English settlement.  In contrast to these settlements which were started for religious tolerance, the Dutch focus was trade and commerce.  This settlement soon became inhabited by a mix of races, religions, and cultures that were primarily interested in making money and trading around the world.  Dutch colonies were seen as   “the melting pot of Europe.”(p. 125) The harbor and rivers of Manhattan Island provided a perfect mecca for the sea trade of the day.  The many different belief systems that were a part of New Amsterdam were not so much accepted, as tolerated, mainly for the purpose of friendly trade arrangements.  The economic success of this colony was detested by the English, and the Dutch became gravely concerned at the English intrusion into Connecticut.  The Dutch turned from a pursuit of a corridor to the Far East and realized that they were located in the center of great riches.  Ultimately, this belief in, and pursuit of early commerce from the New World, provided the basis for New York’s establishment as the center of world commerce for the following centuries.

Many of the cultural norms and ideas that we take for granted today come from the Dutch influence of the New Amsterdam colony.  Words and concepts as ingrained in our society as “Santa Claus” come from the Dutch.  But of utmost importance to today’s American society would be the Dutch influence on our governmental systems.  Considered one of the more prominent members of Dutch society, beside Peter Stuyvesant, was   Adriaen van der Donck.  Van der Donck made incredible connections between the climate of company in the colony and the potential governmental structure.  He learned of Indian belief systems and started to incorporate these into his governance of the colony.  His ideas came into conflict with those of the West Indies Company and the economic goals of Holland, but within the colony itself, his ideas were revered. Some even believe that he could be considered “an early American prophet, a forerunner of the Revolutionary generation.” (p. 9) These varied beliefs from a vast array of cultures were brought into Enlightenment philosophy as some of the basic constructs of Revolutionary American thought.  Van Der Donck was able to fuse the unique ideals of economic stability and success with the ideologies of religious tolerance and diversity, as well as, values of liberty to create bedrock for today’s American society.

The Dutch settled North America with the goal of economic prosperity. There were definite struggles within the colony between ethnic and religious groups, as well as with the surrounding English colonists.  A unique culture had developed within this pursuit of economic success that seems to have transcended the sheer monetary goals of its original colonization.  New York City is the worldwide commercial success it is today due to the foundation of the New Amsterdam settlement and its aim at economic prosperity.  Americans prepare to go to the polls and churches and synagogues and community meetings which stem from the precedence set by the governance of the early Dutch.  The English roots get all of the “good press” in American history; but as often happens, the best stories lie in untranslatable texts.

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“Up in the Old Hotel”, Joseph Mitchell

Bowery NYC Early 19th Century

New York City….The Big Apple….a city bigger than others with a reputation of grandiose proportions.  The city boasts skyscrapers that are lost in the clouds, man made parks, and bridges of epic importance.  But the true insight into this magnificent city lies in the streets of the city; with its people.  Joseph Mitchell ‘s compilation of stories in Up In The Old Hotel takes one to the very heart of the city.  The stories of which he writes are raw, compelling, somewhat crass, but always filled with the vividly colorful characters that make up the city.   Saloon keepers, gypsies, Mohawks, fisherman, rats, and novelists are but a few of his protagonists and famous bars like McSorley’s are the scenes of his writing.  New York City comes alive in a truly unique flavor in Mitchell’s stories.

The history of the famous and wealthy of New York is well known.  The grand manses of the Gilded Age still stand as testimony to the grandeur of New York’s standing on the world stage.  Mitchell paints vivid pictures of the underclass, the downtrodden, and the everyday citizen with broad strokes and such dramatic depiction that the eccentricities of the characters become believable.  One needs but to walk into McSorley’s bar and be served a beer to see the characters in Mitchell’s “McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon.”

McSorley’s is the perfect stage for the characters of Mitchell’s writing on NYC life.  From patrons to owners, the compelling tales of the lives of the people are so much more interesting than any fiction.  McSorley’s is filled with the locals, who are most definitely the underclass of NY society.  They are real.  They are NYC.  From the opening of the bar at 8 AM until closing these men would spend their day swirling in the ale that was served and the stories of their lives.  Closing time, however, was not as routine as opening or the people that frequented the place.  Bill McSorley opened on time and closed when he felt like it.  He was known to say, ““I’m under no obligoddamnation to stand here all night while you hold on to them drinks” (p. 11) to any patron who lingered over their beer.  Men were his patrons, not women, and when a woman dared dress as a man, drink a beer and then show her true identity, there was scandal in McSorley’s!  This bastion of the commoner became so renowned that McSorley’s was the place that tourists frequented to see what life was really like on the Bowery.

Joseph Mitchell told the stories of the people that nice society wanted to forget; as well as the stories of NYC that people couldn’t believe.  Gypsies engaged the reader with stories most foreign.  The life and reputation of the gypsy often paralled theft and Mitchell readily pointed out his conversation with just such a man, “To a gypsy feller, there ain’t but two kinds of merchandise.  Lost and unlost.  Anything that ain’t nailed down is lost.” (p. 146) The stories of theft, evasion of authority, and life on the road, while abhorrent to the law abiding citizen, are curiously interesting.  Along with the gypsies were the stories of the carnies.  One specific story of Mitchell’s deals with Madame Olga, the bearded woman.  Madame Olga experienced the same life as most carnies with the exception of the face that Mitchell puts on her life.  She moved in the circle of the carnival for decades, but still felt the sting of pain when cruel comments were made of her appearance.  As the bearded lady, she was a freak on the road but a loving member of her carnie family.  Finally experiencing peace in a NYC apartment with her 3rd husband and cats, she finally lived with family that cared for her and who she truly was.

One of Mitchell’s most intriguing characters is Professor Sea Gull, Joe Gould.  Joe Gould was a self-professed bum, informing his mother after completing his A.B. that his intent at this point was “to stroll and ponder.” (p. 66) A bohemian in his demeanor, plagued by what he called the “three H’s – homelessness, hunger, and hangovers” (p. 52), he developed a reputation for a wanderer with a literary style that was “easy and uncluttered”. (p. 61) He spoke of his Oral History which he was writing and was to be found in manuscript form in thousands of notebooks saved and stored in various places all around NYC.  Joe Gould lived the life of a vagrant while he watched life in NYC through a scholar’s eye.  In some ways, Joe Gould’s cock-eyed examination of NYC in the Oral History was much like Mitchell’s writings.  He explained a unique view of statistics through a chapter named, The Dread Tomato Habit (p. 658) and Mitchell exposed the realities of NYC rat infestation in “The Rats on the Waterfront”.   These rats surely inhabit the world of Gould, Mitchell, and the millions of NYC denizens.  In a bizarre discussion, somewhat reminiscent of Gould, Mitchell discusses the origin, characteristics, and living habits of the three main types of rat in NYC.  Once one has read Mitchell’s writings, you can not help imagining Joe Gould, Professor Sea Gull, sitting on a park bench in the middle of the night, writing in his Oral History a chapter on the rats of NYC.

New York City as icons that the outsider thinks of upon hearing “The Big Apple”, such as Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building, and Times Square.  However, the unique stories of Joseph Mitchell tell the realities of the street.  The people and events that he chronicles expose the raw nature of mid 19th Century NYC to the outsider’s eye.  Mitchell tells the stories of the ne’er do wells, the bums, and the outcasts of society.  However, the lives of these people are the true NYC; every city needs some warts along with some bright lights.

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“The Great Bridge”, by David McCullough

“If there is to be a bridge, it must take one grand flying leap from shore to shore over the masts of the ships.  There can be no piers or drawbridge.  There must be only one great arch all the way across.  Surely this must be a wonderful bridge.” (p. 24)

In lists of the “Wonders of the Modern World”, arguably one of the most interesting cases can be made for the Brooklyn Bridge.  Although the “Great Bridge” was the longest suspension bridge for only approximately twenty years, it spanned not only the East River between Brooklyn and New York City, but it spanned significant periods of time in our country’s history.  David McCullough tells the fascinating story of “The Great Bridge” from its inception by John Robeling through its completion by his son Washington Robeling.  The Bridge spans the East River to bring Brooklyn and New York City into one municipal entity.  The completion of the bridge was completed in large part by the efforts of Washington Robeling’s wife, Emily Warren Robeling, long before women’s suffrage or equality were a consideration in the workplace.  Beyond these points, the sheer engineering feat of the construction was of an epic nature.  McCullough’s narrative brings “The Great Bridge” into the eye of today’s society and explains the exceptional nature of this construction of steel and shows how it became a symbol of the future, strength, and beauty to a century of Americans.

Prior to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn was the third largest city in America.  The people of the city conducted commerce and worked in New York City by means of a ferry system that crossed the East River.  As winters came and went, it became apparent to the citizenry of both cities that some type of bridge system was necessary to circumvent the problems that they faced due to weather.  Commerce came to a grinding halt as ferries became frozen and immobile in the East River.  The farmers and manufacturers would be able to transport their goods with greater ease for greater profit.  During times of Depression and Recession, great public works projects were considered a great option to unemployment issues that plagued great cities.  As New York City grew, issues of transportation and the movement of millions of people became a vital civic concern.  McCullough argues that “This …was to be something much more than a large bridge over an important river.  It was to be one of history’s great connecting works, symbolic of the new age…” (p. 27)

John Robeling would have been in complete agreement with David McCullough.  He saw his creation as the “greatest bridge in existence” and the “greatest engineering work of the continent and of the age.” (p. 27) The sheer size of the bridge and the elements within its design were massive and unheard of at the time.  It would be built with two foundational towers and four gigantic cables that would suspend the bridge roadway itself.  McCullough walks the reader through the engineering specifications and building with great detail.  The caissons that would be sunk to serve as foundations for the towers was an incredible engineering feet of their own.  With the use of air locks to dig the foundation in the East River, unprecedented construction was begun.  Without a working model for this technology, they created as they went.  Compressed air was pumped into the caissons as the digging continued. This gave doctors a first chance to observe the effects of the bends and work to create treatments for those afflicted.  As the towers rose to soaring heights, new methods of construction were created.  The utilization of Robeling cable and wire was of immense importance to the operation.  Again, newly designed cable would prove to be so substantial and effective that the same cable holds the bridge today, more than 100 years past the opening day.  Each of the four cables is 15 ¾ inches in diameter, 3578.5 feet in length and includes over 3515 miles of wire in each cable.  (p. 563) The sheer size, type of construction, weight and engineering processes available at the time make the Brooklyn Bridge of great historical significance for all time.

In a unique place in the bridge’s construction sat Emily Warren Robeling.  After her husband, chief engineer Washington Robeling, became very ill from extensive time in the caissons, Emily became the eyes, ears, and feet for the ongoing construction.  She assumed non-traditional roles of the time to continue the on-going design and construction of the bridge.  Emily had studied higher mathematics and under her husband’s tutelage, she learned the craft of wire and suspension cables.  Emily served as the chief go-between between her incapacitated husband at home and the engineers on sight.  For eleven years, Emily might be considered the supervisor of the entire project.  Throughout “The Great Bridge”, McCullough recounts her presence and hand in the completion of the bridge and recounts, “it was common gossip that hers was the real mind behind the great work and that this the most monumental engineering triumph of the age was actually the doing of a woman.” (p. 462) Emily Warren Robeling would not be given the credit for her part in this magnificent achievement for many decades, but hers might truly have been instrumental to the completion, and longevity of the bridge.

The Brooklyn Bridge is truly an icon of America.  It spans the East River connecting Brooklyn and New York, but more importantly today, it spans a century.  The Bridge originally affected commerce, but today it affects the life of the people of New York City.  Its use is commercial and pedestrian and it serves as a monument in the skyline of the Big Apple.  When one things of New York City, an immediate picture of the Brooklyn Bridge comes to mind.  The Bridge serves as a great piece of architecture and logistic cog in the wheel of transportation, but even more important, it serves as a giant monument to man’s creation and the heart of a country

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“Generous Enemies”, by Judith Van Buskirk

Wars are usually fought along very defined lines which encompass the military and civilian participants.  Judith Van Buskirk’s Generous Enemies belies this traditional view of the real situations of the American Revolution.  As the war was fought in and around New York City, the various forces and actors within, and around, the boundaries found themselves living in a world with very porous borders.  The British military could not hold a strict border around the city due to many factors.  Many Americans crossed the border between New York City and the surrounding area for familial visits and aid.  Military officers were accorded certain rights and privileges amongst the enemy due to their status as gentleman.  The African American population found this area to be particularly porous as they moved through the lines for a variety of reasons.  As always, business and profit trump all political and ideological boundaries as the almighty “dollar” sways men’s actions.  Ms. Van Buskirk utilizes a variety of vignettes to tell the stories of the American Revolution in and around New York City and the people who were ideological enemies but were disinclined to end all relationships due to a variety of factors.

As Governor of New Jersey, William Livingston

was uniquely involved with these issues as he attempted to conduct the affairs of office.  He dealt with the movement of both British and American troops through his region, but also the civilian requests for passes into the city of New York.  His state was uniquely   affected when the British occupied the city in 1776.  A flood of sympathizers to the American cause flooded across the river and into New Jersey.  However, this is where Van Buskirk’s story truly finds its theme:  the ties that still bound these people to those that stayed.  Governor Livingston dealt with requests from citizens wanting to enter the city to visit and help relatives who had stayed in the British zone.   Connecticut’s civilian government faced many of the same dilemmas as the war drug on.  Citizens on both sides dealt with deprivation. Van Buskirk relates the realities as “New York City residents worried about the availability of foodstuffs, (and) the refugees on the periphery found few available manufactured goods.”  (Van Buskirk, 36)  Livingston, as an example of civilian governmental leadership, dealt with the same issues as did the British Army leadership:  trying to strengthen lines of delineation between groups who meant to deal with one another.   The people of the war torn area saw “political and military issues (as) subordinate to concerns about family, earning a living and basic survival.” (Van Buskirk, 43)  Many personal issues would trump the ideology of war.

The ties of family and friendship endured and were flaunted at times in Revolutionary New York.   Sarah and Catherine Alexander were allowed to cross the lines and visit friend in the city for over three weeks.  Van Buskirk characterizes this behavior as “friends in disagreement.” (Van Buskirk, 44)  This visit was but one example of many between Whigs coming into the city to visit Tory sympathizer friends and relatives.  Many people conducted their personal business through letters that were allowed through military lines as well as more risky ventures.  Women were often allowed the greatest ease of movement, which also allowed them to report on military logistics that were seen in enemy territory.  The women of the higher echelon, as well as working women, were important lines of communication for both sides.  They brought news across the line of family, business and commerce, prisoners, and military information.    These lines served as the means for survival.  As basic necessities became scarce, provisions moved to supply the populace of the items they needed and thus solidified these networks during the war.

The relationship of the warring factions and the warriors who were fighting the war was a unique juxtaposition for the Revolutionary ideologies, as well as, the cultural mores that were being changed.  The concept of the “generous enemy” was particularly in reference to the treatment of the officer class once imprisoned.  As illustrated by Van Buskirk, imprisoned officers were accorded special lodging and even passes to roam the area. Many of these officers led a very busy social life with members of his own army as well s the enemy.   As an example, after the Battle of Saratoga, General John Burgoyne, British Army, was held at the home of General Philip Schuyler, American Army.  As recounted by Van Buskirk,

” One week after the battle, some American officers attended dinner at General Burgoyne’s table in the Schuyler house.  Amid much mirth and laughter, a British Major commented on the irony of their situation.  It was “an odd world” they lived in, mused the Englishman, that they now were “the best of friends, drinking your (American) wine and the day before trying to put one another to death.”  (Van Buskirk, 82)

This scene is indicative of the treatment that was accorded to members of the enemy officer rank.  Due to their status as “gentlemen” they were accorded certain freedoms of movement and recreation.  This distinction was not prevalent however for the enlisted ranks. Infamous jails and prison ships held the lower ranks of the army in putrid and horrific conditions.  These lines of the pre-Revolutionary society status structure had not been torn down yet, and these prisoners did not receive the same treatment as did the officers.  Succor and care were not found; and families were unable to give aid.  Many of these mores were tested during the Arnold/Andre spy episode.  Benedict Arnold placed hundreds of American soldiers in danger while defecting to the British side.  Major Andre, upon capture by American forces was expected to receive the generous treatment that would befit his rank as an officer and a gentleman.  However, General Washington was faced with certain realities of the New World.  How could he justify generous treatment of Andre, when not long before “a soldier had been hung for plundering.” (Van Buskirk, 100)  Van Buskirk shows that , “the military command could afford no ambiguity in the stance it adopted at this critical juncture.” (Van Buskirk, 101) General Washington found himself on a course to the new world order where the status of birth would not necessarily give special privileges.  The traditions and acceptance of military movement amongst officers created a situation of complexity in the New York City area; one where enemies on the battlefield were friends in the parlor.

African Americans, both slave and freeman, found the porous lines of the war zone a place of great mobility.  One of the great movements of the black population was across to the British side, as the  British were seen “as the most likely liberators of America’s enslaved population.” (Van Buskirk, 130)  The African American population in New York City exploded, and blacks were seen working in virtually every area of commerce.  Many utilized the porous lines to do the bidding of their masters, while others utilized it to run to freedom.  Many blacks acted as spies or purveyors of information and greatly enhanced their status.  As the war dragged on, and African Americans were utilized more by the British, a unique symbiosis was created where “the most powerful found common cause with the most vulnerable.” (Van Buskirk, 154) As many blacks utilized this new relationship with the British Army, many stayed with masters, and many others sought freedom.  In the end,  these displaced person’s were no different then any others, they “put their own priorities before adherence to either cause.” (Van Buskirk, 154)

The needs of the citizens on both sides became one of the keystone to the movement between the opposing sides.  A primary logistic move of both sides was to prohibit trade with the enemy, however, in times of demand, where the military lines had already been blurred, there were individuals who were willing to supply commodities.  Many saw the economic movement between the sides as those of necessity.  Clothing and food were the necessities that many sought; while luxury items made fortunes for those brave enough to trade.   When discussing business ethics, Van Buskirk states, “New Yorkers were especially prone to link liberty and free trade, even using business language to talk about freedom.” (Van Buskirk, 107)  The blurred lines surrounding New York allowed business men justify sales to citizens in the zone due to friendship.  Much of the trade was legal, however, the black market thrived.  It was through this black market that men made fortunes and generals ran a war.  “Washington trod carefully regarding this issue because he and his generals did use spies whose cover was black market trading with New York.” (Van Buskirk, 119)  Traders in this arena rationalized their position in the following ways:  1.  “He was simply acting like everyone else”,  2.  The “penal laws …(were) ….more suitable to the Nature of Monarchy than a Republic”, and 3.  They “pointed to the sacrifices they had made…(and)…found the legislative demands to be unreasonable.”  (Van Buskirk, 127).    The self-interest of the businessman and entrepreneur trumped the higher ideals of revolution.

At every turn in New York City during the American Revolution, scores of people were traversing the lines of the enemy.  Tories, Whigs, British and American Armies, and scores of displaced citizens were in flux and on the move.  Communication, trade, beliefs, and friendship were all the components of the needs of the people.  However, as much as each individual story was unique, it becomes apparent that  the common thread was self-interest.  This self-interest was served by a culture that allowed for the idea of the “generous enemy”.    Many realized that their best hope of survival lay in the familiar relationships that had been forged before the war, even if those people lived on the opposing side.  The people of New York City after the war were unique in that “they did not have to begin building bridges to one another; those bridges had never been destroyed during the war.” (Van Buskirk, 195).  Physical bridges can be easily replaced; but the generous enemies of the Revolution in New York City retained and strengthened those that already existed.

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NYC State of Mind

Billy Joel had a great song that I used to love to sing, “New York State of Mind.”  I never thought much about a depth to the lyrics beyond it was another great song by Billy Joel.  Like the song, I always thought NYC would be a great place:  cool, big, a hive of activity.  I never thought of NYC in an historical context; but NYC enjoys a unique place in the history, and the future, of our great nation.

NYC tells us about our collective past, present and future.  NYC tells a unique story of America:  how we’ve lived our past but moved on with an eye on the future.  The people of NYC tell a tale of living to the fullest and moving to the future.  How can a look to the future be of such interest to a history teacher??  I see that as one of the most unique things that I learned on this trip:  my life, our world, is the future’s history.  What we bring to the world now will be looked upon as the artifacts of our lives and our world.  Someday, our lives will become the “stuff” of museums. 

This year’s TAH trip gave me new visions of this incredible discipline we teach.  I realized as we toured on the bus with Dr. Jackson or walked the streets of the Lower East Side with Ed O’Donnell that history is where we stand; and we miss so much of it.  EY at the Museum of NYC taught that exact lesson:  our museum is everywhere we are.  Translating to Pueblo, CO:  what are we missing by not paying attention to the very streets we walk or the buildings that we drive by in a blur.   A meal can be a lesson in cultural diversity and the sign above a store can mean a century of change. 

Little Italy "The Real One"

Butcher's offering

Geography often becomes a lesson in latitude and longitude, but NYC can bring the lesson of space and how man adapts to his environment.  The island of Manhattan is limited in its square footage.  Man adapted; man created vertical real estate.  The streets of NYC show the ties between man and building and how the environment can be affected.  The blistering cold wind that we felt on a hot June day was evidence to this.  This geography lesson then leads to Urban Reform and changes with zoning codes in cities. 

Man’s geography in NYC also introduces the topic of the mighty Brooklyn Bridge.  The Bridge was an incredible feat in the late 1800’s.  The geography of Brooklyn and its separation by the East River created a man made need for a way to get across easier, without dealing with the issues of frozen rivers and incapacitated ferries.  From this one structure, you can now look at the past:  a myriad of bridges of varying construction, all awesome in their own unique way.  The Bridge also speaks to use of transportation and how do you possibly speak of the urban setting in NYC without discussing the subway.  For a simple country girl, what a scary behemoth is this underground labyrinth.  Once tamed and understood however, another lesson in how man deals with his surroundings.  The reasons why it was created, as well as how, could entertain our students for days.  Go, young padawan, …..CREATE!!!!

Brooklyn Bridge 1896

 

 

 

How is it that New Yorkers can live in the constraints of space that they do?  Some of this question is answered in the corridors of the Tenement Museum.  Immigrants lived and worked within 200 square feet.  They eventually moved at home sewing factories to large factories, but the apartments show how these people have developed a unique life.  The people of NYC do little inside but spend much of their life “out and about”.  Central Park enters this discussion.  The people of NYC utilize Central Park, and the hundreds of other parks, as their way of escaping the confines of small living space.  When one listens to television after having been to NYC, you realize how many offerings there are for the inhabitants. With little space, there is no space for grocery stores.  I found myself stopping in a “Loaf ‘n Jug” type store on the way into the subway to take home a couple things for the next day:  I HAD BECOME A NEW YORKER!!  Now I started to see the many carts, and vendors, and small specialty stores in every neighborhood.  This is exactly like I describe life for my kids in respect to immigrant life of NYC at the turn of the century. 

A “New York State of Mind” becomes engrained in how you look at the smallest aspects of life.  New Yorkers have moved beyond their past with an eye to the future.  Buildings are torn down and replaced; towers fall and they, as well as the people of the city, are reborn.  New Yorkers are resilient; much like Americans.  AHHHHH…..this makes me wonder:  which came first?  Can NYC be utilized as a study for all things American?  Or can Americanism be viewed through the lens of NYC? 

  

History teachers…..we take from the past, pass this on to the minds of the present, and hope to affect the future.  As I walked in amazement and with a new lens, saw NYC and its people, I viewed my job with renewed excitement and energy.  A love of history can only be enhanced on these streets teeming with people from centuries past and present.  The lessons of NYC can be translated to Pueblo.  The unique world of NYC helps create museums in every classroom.

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Day 13 My Kingdom for a Map! Ticonderoga & Saratoga

 

Ticonderoga & Saratoga are places that we’ve all heard of….but know much??  Well, most of us know that , well, someone once held it, and then someone took it, and then we won the war!!  There you go!  The way most of this period is taught.  Of course, in there somewhere is Lexington, Concorde, Declaration of Independence and General Washington.

However, military history being one of my favorite history subjects, this was a red letter day for me!  Standing at Fort Ticonderoga and hear the story of the importance of the fort from the French &B Indian War and then the, technically, lack of importance to the Revolutionary War, was very vivid.  This leads me to my first teaching commentary.  I used to always do map work prior to a military history lesson.  I have not as regularly been doing this for my students.  (Sorry guys!)  A map in hand would have made the commentary and information on the battle of Ticonderoga during the French & Indian Wars much more meaningful and less confusing!  Our tour guide did a fabulous job explaining the movement of British and American troops during the Revolutionary War in juxtaposition from those of the British and French  – and understanding where Canada was, thanks to map – underscored the reason why our troops were willing to retreat from the fort.

The field of Saratoga brings my teaching point #2.  People.  There were so many more personalities in the war beyond Washington, Benedict Arnold and a few other “well knowns”.  Very few know much about “Gentleman Johnny” General Burgoyne, General Larned, the American engineer who designed the lines along Bemis Hill, or other British, German or French officers.  The study of personalities provides great insight into battle strategy.  One of the British officers was the equivalent of a special forces officer, and the stratagem of such a mentality

British Defensive Lines

will undoubtedly lead to disastrous ends for an army.  The affect of the Grenadiers on our troops was unique in that our troops didn’t run.  The reason for this was the realization by our men that the “best army in the world” was imperfect and could be defeated.  The study of these people and their ideas and backgrounds can create a unique opportunity to place students into a logistic place to encourage higher order thinking.  Make students research a military leader and have them plan their battle strategy and play out the battle in class!!  

As always, I love to be on the battlefield.  The 3-D experience is so much better than a map.  The topography of the September 17 and October 7 battles of Saratoga clears the way to unbelievable understanding of the battle.  These are the places that legends are born; these legends and stories can be the lead off to a spectacular day in the history classroom – surrounded by the stories of the REAL events!

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