A Brief History of Lower East Side Development

In the decade and a half after 1877, with the economy expanding and immigration growing, the area experienced its most intense building boom. … New York’s ruling class has long sought to tame and reclaim the Lower East Side from its unruly working-class hordes. Only five years after the federal government severely curtailed European immigration, the Rockefeller-sponsored Regional Plan Association offered an extraordinary vision for the Lower East Side. The 1929 New York Regional Plan explicitly envisaged the removal of the existing population, the reconstruction of “high-class residences,” modern shops, a yacht marina on the East River, and the physical redevelopment of the Lower East Side highway system in such a way as to strengthen the connection with neighboring Wall Street…

The stock market crash of 1929, the ensuing Depression and World War II, the unprecedented wave of post-war suburban expansion, and eventually the New York City fiscal crisis all mitigated against the planned reinvestment and reconstruction of the Lower East Side as a high-class haven. …

Not until a further half-century of disinvestment, dilapidation and decline did the 1929 vision begin to be implemented. Even as yuppies and artists began to pick over the wreckage in the 1970s, everyone else was moving out.

Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier (London/New York: Routledge, 1996) 20-21.

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