Little Italy: NYC's Disappearing Neighborhood
"Walking beside the narrow, cobblestoned streets beneath the fire escapes of turn-of-the-century tenements, you're tempted by the sights, sounds and smells of Italian cuisine and culture emanating from the restaurants surrounding you at every step."
Any idea which NYC neighborhood is being referenced in this quote from it's official website?
Hint: Look below!
The neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, once known for its large population of Italian Americans, today consists of only a few authentic Italian stores and restaurants. and is surrounded by heavily gentrified areas -on the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south - Chinatown, on the east - the Lower East Side, and on the north - Nolita.
Originally named Mulberry Bend, Danish-American social reformer, Jacob Riis, described it as "the foul core of New York’s slums.” as mass immigration from Italy during the 1880’s led to the influx of Italian immigrant settlement in lower Manhattan and resulted in the commercial gathering of their dwelling and business. Contrary to popular belief, Little Italy was not the largest Italian neighborhood in New York City, as East Harlem (or Italian Harlem) had a larger Italian population.
After World War II, many residents of the Lower East Side began moving to Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, and New Jersey. Chinese immigrants became an increased presence after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 removed immigration restrictions, thus causing the neighboring Chinatown to expand to the detriment of the Italian neighborhood. As lower manhattan real-estate boomed, residents struggled to survive well into the 20th century and after the September 11 attacks in 2001, areas below Houston Street were cut off for the rest of the fall. As a result, the San Gennaro feast scheduled for September 13 was postponed and yet again the residents of the neighborhood were dealt a massive financial blow.
In 2004, Bill Tonelli from New York magazine stated that "Today, Little Italy is a veneer—50 or so restaurants and cafés catering to tourists, covering a dense neighborhood of tenements shared by recent Chinese immigrants, young Americans who can’t afford Soho, and a few remaining real live Italians.” and the website, ItalianAware, has called the dominance of Italians in the area, "relatively short lived.” In 2010, Little Italy and Chinatown were listed in a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.
Although Little Italy has shrunk as Soho and Chinatown continue to expand, Mulberry Street to this day showcases the enduring impact thousands of Italians made on NYC.
We hope you've enjoyed learning about Little Italy: NYC's Disappearing Neighborhood! What is your stance on the ongoing gentrification in Lower Manhattan, and do you believe there is a way to save Little Italy from disappearing forever? Leave a comment below!