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Crossing Broadway

Crossing Broadway: Washington Heights and the Promise of New York City

Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Crossing Broadway
    Book Description:

    In the 1970s, when the South Bronx burned and the promise of New Deal New York and postwar America gave way to despair, the people of Washington Heights at the northern tip of Manhattan were increasingly vulnerable. The Heights had long been a neighborhood where generations of newcomers-Irish, Jewish, Greek, African American, Cuban, and Puerto Rican-carved out better lives in their adopted city. But as New York City shifted from an industrial base to a service economy, new immigrants from the Dominican Republic struggled to gain a foothold. Then the crack epidemic of the 1980s and the drug wars sent Washington Heights to the brink of an urban nightmare. But it did not go over the edge.

    Robert W. Snyder'sCrossing Broadwaytells how disparate groups overcame their mutual suspicions to rehabilitate housing, build new schools, restore parks, and work with the police to bring safety to streets racked by crime and fear. It shows how a neighborhood once nicknamed "Frankfurt on the Hudson" for its large population of German Jews became "Quisqueya Heights"-the home of the nation's largest Dominican community.

    The story of Washington Heights illuminates New York City's long passage from the Great Depression and World War II through the urban crisis to the globalization and economic inequality of the twenty-first century. Washington Heights residents played crucial roles in saving their neighborhood, but its future as a home for working-class and middle-class people is by no means assured. The growing gap between rich and poor in contemporary New York puts new pressure on the Heights as more affluent newcomers move into buildings that once sustained generations of wage earners and the owners of small businesses.

    Crossing Broadwayis based on historical research, reporting, and oral histories. Its narrative is powered by the stories of real people whose lives illuminate what was won and lost in northern Manhattan's journey from the past to the present. A tribute to a great American neighborhood, this book shows how residents learned to cross Broadway-over the decades a boundary that has separated black and white, Jews and Irish, Dominican-born and American-born-and make common cause in pursuit of one of the most precious rights: the right to make a home and build a better life in New York City.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5518-6
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[viii])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [ix]-[xi])
  3. [Map]
    (pp. [xii]-[xii])
    (pp. 1-10)

    WHEN CRACK DEALERS TOOK OVER blocks in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights in the 1980s, one of the first things to go was places for kids to play. Dealers set up shop in apartments, seized upper floors for their lookouts, and made sure that no street games interfered with customers who drove into the neighborhood. Sidewalks became dangerous. Parents kept their children indoors. The drug trade cast a shadow over the entire neighborhood, and certain blocks looked as though they would become close to uninhabitable.

    Two neighborhood activists set to work reclaiming the streets. Dave Crenshaw, an African...

    (pp. 11-44)

    AT THE NORTHERN END OF MANHATTAN ISLAND, the landscape has always been more than a physical setting. For centuries, it has been something that people worked with and against to define their identities, their possibilities, and their ways of life in changing times.

    Upper Manhattan is long and narrow. Two great ridges run south to north, leaving a valley between them. The western ridge overlooks the Hudson River; the eastern ridge looks down on the Harlem River. Both ridges end at Dyckman Street. The land north of Dyckman remains relatively flat on the east side of the island. On the...

    (pp. 45-67)

    IN THE HOUR BEFORE 11 P.M., on the hot night of July 30 in 1957, two groups of young men converged on Highbridge Park. Before the night was over one boy would be dead and one would be wounded. The assailants eventually faced reform school, prison, and the electric chair. And the city around them glimpsed, through the tangled narratives of a murder trial and sensational news coverage, profound questions about New York’s neighborhoods, crime, youth gangs, and race and ethnic relations.¹

    From downtown, from Harlem, and from the lower fringes of the Heights, traveling in twos and threes in...

    (pp. 68-110)

    BY 1964, anxiety about integration was running high in Washington Heights. A modest number of black children were being bused into PS 187 in the western Heights under a program that allowed minority children to claim seats in underutilized white-majority schools. Some white parents feared that more strenuous efforts were coming. In February, Ellen Lurie, a parent activist who favored integration, told a television interviewer that her son’s classmates at PS 187 were saving their allowances to go to private school if integration came to their neighborhood. She called the thinking behind such behavior as a sickness, setting off a...

    (pp. 111-157)

    ON A SUMMER NIGHT IN 1978, people packed into a hot auditorium with a broken air conditioner at the Young Men’s–Young Women’s Hebrew Association of Washington Heights and Inwood. They had gathered to hear the new mayor’s plans for their neighborhood, which was wracked by crime, racial and ethnic tensions, dirty streets, and troubled public schools. The number of abandoned apartment buildings was growing. Residents of northern Manhattan looked across the Harlem River to the Bronx, where arson turned city streets into ashy rubble, and feared that their neighborhood might be the next to burn.¹

    Just seven months into...

    (pp. 158-195)

    ON A CRISP WINTER NIGHT IN 1990, the east side of Broadway in lower Washington Heights was crowded with young men who shuffled to keep warm. Lights were on, stores were open, and cars jockeyed for parking spots. As we navigated the busy sidewalks, swarms of young men parted to let us pass and closed up as we walked on. From a distance, it looked like a lively shopping district. In fact, the bustle was the product of a devastating drug trade.¹

    For a week, as part of my research on crime and the media, I accompanied police officers from...

    (pp. 196-222)

    IN THE MID-1990S, when the violence of the crack years was a fresh memory, researchers asked people in Washington Heights two deceptively simple questions: What is violence? And what can be done about it?¹

    Interview subjects responded that there were many kinds of violence in the world, from human rights violations to street shootings. Yet they saw two ways to deal with it: “hide or flee.” In the terror of the crack years, activism was not an obvious option. It was much safer to lay low. “Neighbors,” the researchers concluded in a report, “are afraid of one another.”²

    People in...

    (pp. 223-238)

    AT A DISCUSSION OF THE HISTORY OF NORTHERN MANHATTAN, a longtime resident asked me a sharp question: Wasn’t my research focusing too much on the negative aspects of the past in Washington Heights?¹

    It was true that I identified problems in the neighborhood, I said, but I did that to illuminate the challenges that its residents faced. Every New York City neighborhood, I said, has its flaws. The strength of Washington Heights, I insisted, lay in its residents’ ability to confront and—sometimes to overcome—problems that wracked cities in the late twentieth century.

    Our exchange was one of many...

    (pp. 239-244)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 245-286)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 287-296)