Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Landscape of Modernity

Landscape of Modernity: Essays on New York City, 1900-1940

David Ward
Olivier Zunz
Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 384
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Landscape of Modernity
    Book Description:

    New York City stands as the first expression of the modern city, a mosaic of disparate neighborhoods born in 1898 with the amalgamation of the five boroughs and shaped by the passions of developers and regulators, architects and engineers, politicians and reformers, immigrant entrepreneurs and corporate builders. Through their labor, their ideals, and their often fierce battles, the physical and social dimensions-the landscape-of the modern city were forged. The original essays inThe Landscape of Modernitytell the compelling story of the growth of New York City from 1900 to 1940, from the beginnings of its skyscraper skyline to the expanding reaches of suburbanization.

    At the beginning of the century, New York City was already one of the world's leading corporate and commercial centers. The Zoning Ordinance of 1916, initially proposed by Fifth Avenue merchants as a means of halting the uptown spread of the garment industry, became the nation's first comprehensive zoning law and the proving ground for a new occupation-the urban planner. During the 1920s, frenzied development created a vertical metamorphosis in Manhattan's booming business district, culminating in its most spectacularly modern icon, the Empire State Building. The city also spread laterally, with the controversial development of subway systems and the creation of the powerful Port of New York Authority, whose new bridges and tunnels decentralized the population and industry of New York. New York's older ethnic enclaves were irrevocably altered by this new urban landscape: the Lower East Side's Jewish community was nearly dismantled by the flight of the garment industry and the attractiveness of new suburbs, while Little Italy fought government forces eager to homogenize commercial use of the streets by eliminating the traditional pushcart peddlers.

    Illustrated with striking photographs and maps,The Landscape of Modernitylinks important scenes of growth and development to the larger political, economic, social, and cultural processes of the early twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-550-4
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-ix)
    D.W. and O.Z.
  4. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)

    • 1 Between Rationalism and Pluralism: Creating the Modern City
      (pp. 3-16)
      David Ward and Olivier Zunz

      With the amalgamation of the five boroughs in 1898 into a greater city, New York became the most populous city in the world after London. The new metropolitan government and its public agencies faced the challenge of rationalizing a vastly expanded city, with a burgeoning business center in Manhattan and expansive suburbanization. In addition, New York City absorbed a more numerous and diverse flow of immigrants than any other city in the nation. The outcome was a rational and pluralistic metropolis of unprecedented scale.

      By the first decade of the twentieth century, New York was already a precursor of those...


    • 2 Regulating the Landscape: Real Estate Values, City Planning, and the 1916 Zoning Ordinance
      (pp. 19-45)
      Keith D. Revell

      On July 25, 1916, the New York City Board of Estimate and Apportionment adopted the nation’s first comprehensive zoning ordinance. Edward Bassett, the Brooklyn lawyer who chaired the commission that drafted the law, wrote to the members of his handpicked committee to congratulate them on a job well done and to invite them to a dinner in honor of the two men who wrote the ordinance: architect George Ford and statistician Robert Whitten. George Mortimer, president of the Equitable Building Corporation, responded enthusiastically: “While I think we are all to be congratulated, I feel that the real glory to be...

    • 3 Density and Intervention: New York’s Planning Traditions
      (pp. 46-75)
      Marc A. Weiss

      “Make no little plans.” Daniel Burnham’s famous dictum was written for and about Chicago at the turn of the twentieth century. Yet his large and ambitious vision could equally well have been applied to New York City. Indeed, two of the leading promoters of the 1909 Plan of Chicago, Charles Norton and Frederic Delano, later helped initiate the much grander Regional Plan of New York and its Environs, which played a major role in guiding the infrastructure development of the modem metropolis. New York’s regional efforts in the 1920s stood as a direct descendant in a long line of farsighted,...

    • 4 Joining New York City to the Greater Metropolis: The Port Authority as Visionary, Target of Opportunity, and Opportunist
      (pp. 76-105)
      Jameson W. Doig

      When the final wires had been spun and the giant bridge stood ready for use, it seemed to symbolize much that was good and graceful in a world now gone awry. In his dedication address, Franklin Roosevelt caught the spirit that infused the crowd gathered at the Hudson River on that autumn day in 1931: This was an immense project, FDR pointed out, which demonstrated the impact that “skill and scientific planning” could have in surmounting large obstacles, as well as the benefits of “constructive cooperation” across state lines, and the great value of leadership by citizens who approached public...

    • 5 The Regional Plan and the Transformation of the Industrial Metropolis
      (pp. 106-126)
      Robert Fishman

      In ten weighty volumes of maps, surveys, statistics, detailed architectural drawings, and earnest prose, the Regional Plan of New York and its Environs (1929–1931) presented itself to the world as the sober product of practical economics, rigorous social science, and disciplined planning theory.¹ Funded by more than a million 1920s dollars from the Russell Sage Foundation, the plan remains the most thorough and ambitious single project in the history of American planning. Yet, at the heart of this massive effort was a vision of an ideal twentieth century metropolis that was as much an “urban utopia” as the contemporary...


    • 6 Corporate Identity and the New York Office Building: 1895–1915
      (pp. 129-159)
      Gail Fenske and Deryck Holdsworth

      The steel-framed office building dramatically altered the urban character of New York at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. The dimensional changes it effected in the city’s fabric were found in the new verticality of the skyline, visible from afar, but also along important commercial thoroughfares such as Broadway, Wall Street, and Park Row, as large edifices housing the headquarters of major enterprises replaced earlier rows of narrow buildings housing small-scale commercial activity. The swiftness with which the new urban landscape emerged startled observers; its outward appearances, however, were but the final ramifications of...

    • 7 Form Follows Finance: The Empire State Building
      (pp. 160-188)
      Carol Willis

      The Empire State Building is the quintessential monument of the golden age when New York reigned as the unchallenged leader in sky-scraper design and construction. A study of the forces that shaped it is the story of all high-rises of the period. At once typical and extraordinary, it was a work of genius in which the operating intelligence was not a brilliant designer, but thegenius lociof the capital city of capitalism (Figure 7.1).

      In both its unmatched height and speed of construction, the Empire State culminated the frenzied development of the 1920s when over 100 buildings of twenty...


    • 8 Subways, Transit Politics, and Metropolitan Spatial Expansion
      (pp. 191-212)
      Clifton Hood

      The New York subway straddled the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The first route, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company’s line, was conceived during the industrial depression of the 1890s, yet opened in the new century, at a time of prosperity and optimism. The subway was constructed by thousands of largely Irish and Italian immigrant laborers who worked mainly with their hands, not with machines, yet it became the world’s fastest rapid transit railway and a symbol of technological progress. It broke the transportation barriers of the industrial metropolis and stimulated the settlement of northern Manhattan and the Bronx. This immense physical...

    • 9 Sweatshop Migrations: The Garment Industry Between Home and Shop
      (pp. 213-232)
      Nancy L. Green

      A visit to Manhattan is like a course in urban archaeology. What strikes the newcomer is not only the postmodern skyline but also the mélange of new and old, of glass and steel with brick and stone, of skyscrapers and tenements. Yet, while the soaring buildings tower in height and imagination in representing the city, the point of this chapter is to show why the pregentrified loft still merits a symbolic place on the New York postcard.

      The garment industry is perhaps one of the best reminders that not every New York building is a brownstone or a high-rise. One...


    • 10 Little Italy’s Decline: Immigrant Renters and Investors in a Changing City
      (pp. 235-251)
      Donna Gabaccia

      Three-quarters of New Yorkers in the Progressive Era were immigrants and their children. As in most industrial cities at that time, they lived in a few densely settled and highly visible central city neighborhoods. In 1890 over half of New York’s Italians lived in just three wards bordering on Canal Street in lower Manhattan.¹ The size and apparent permanence of neighborhoods like theirs frightened native-born Americans, and inspired the more socially concerned among them to agitate for stricter regulation of housing, industrial workplaces, and immigration from abroad. Many of these native-born reformers soon began to call for the dispersal of...

    • 11 On the Fringes of the City: Jewish Neighborhoods in Three Boroughs
      (pp. 252-272)
      Deborah Dash Moore

      In 1902, when Hutchins Hapgood published his evocative account of the Lower East Side,The Spirit of the Ghetto, he captured the symbolic moment of the immigrant Jewish world.¹ By the middle of the Depression, a decade after Congress decisively restricted immigration in 1924, images of the Lower East Side summoned nostalgia among many New York Jews.² In the intervening years, they had left the area in the heart of lower Manhattan³ (see Figure 10.1, p. 236). Finding homes on the fringes of the city in neighborhoods of second and third settlement in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and upper Manhattan, immigrants...

    • 12 Cities of Light, Landscapes of Pleasure
      (pp. 273-286)
      David Nasaw

      In the year 1900, two remarkable novels were published about mid-western farm girls who left “gray” homes with “gray” families to journey to cities blazing with light, color, and irrepressible gaiety.

      Home and family were not havens of warmth and affection for Dorothy and Carrie. Dorothy’s Uncle Henry, we are told in the first few pages ofThe Wizard of Oz, “never laughed. He worked hard from morning till night and did not know what joy was.” Aunt Em “was thin and gaunt, and never smiled.” Their home in Kansas was surrounded by the “great gray prairie.… The sun had...

    • 13 “The Pushcart Evil”
      (pp. 287-312)
      Daniel Bluestone

      In 1936, William Fellowes Morgan, Jr., New York’s commissioner of the Department of Public Markets, proudly reported the successful “conversion of the pushcart peddler to a small merchant with self respect and banking relations.”¹ Morgan viewed his department’s recent completion of an enclosed Park Avenue Market between 111th and 116th streets as an important “advancement of social progress.” He hoped that enclosed markets would sound “the death knell of the pushcart, which long has outlived its usefulness in this day of modern, quick, sanitary distribution of foods.”² The enclosed market simply represented the latest approach in a decades-old effort by...


    • 14 Fiorello H. LaGuardia and the Challenge of Democratic Planning
      (pp. 315-330)
      Thomas Kessner

      The Depression of the 1930s put an abrupt end to national dreams of permanent prosperity, confronting the United States with an economic catastrophe of surpassing proportions and throwing New York City into fiscal turmoil. At the same time, precisely because this was an emergency that the federal government could not ignore for long, the Depression initiated an era of federal involvement in relief, public works, and economic planning that made possible a wide-reaching transformation for the aging industrial metropolis.

      Depression acquainted New Yorkers with bank failures, industrial meltdown, curbside apple sellers, bread lines (what Heywood Broun called the “worm that...

  12. Selected References
    (pp. 331-342)
  13. Index
    (pp. 343-370)