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The Battle for New York's Lower East Side


Published in Oxford, UK ; Cambridge, USA : Blackwell, November 1994
Paperback, 396 pages, 153 x 26 x 230 mm — ISBN: 978-1-55786-525-0

From Urban Village to East Village, book coverThis landmark study explores a new reality in today's inner cities - one that diverges radically from the dominant models of either the urban village, with its shared culture, or the disorganized zone of urban anomie.

Growing numbers of inner city neighbourhoods now contain populations drawn from a multiplicity of ethnicities, subcultures, and classes. These groups may share physical space, but they pursue disparate ways of life and hold very different views of their neighbourhood's future. Such areas have become contested turf - arenas of heated political struggle.

Nowhere has this struggle been so complexly joined than in the East Village on New York's Lower East Side. For over two decades, established and new immigrants, community activists, hippies, squatters, yuppies, developers, drug dealers, artists, the homeless, and the police have been battling for control of the district and its central meeting ground, Tompkins Square Park.

Based on five years of research and participant observation, this book gives a vivid account of the contestants and their struggles in the battle for the Lower East Side. It is a battle which is likely to be replicated, perhaps less violently, in many other parts of urban America.

Whereas the dominant model for the study of inner city neighbourhoods in the US has been that of the "urban village" or "ethnic enclave" - natural communities where residents share a common culture and pursue a relatively unified set of interests vis a vis outsiders - this study demonstrates the existence of a different reality within today's inner cities. Now numerous multi-ethnic, highly diversified districts contain sub-groups with varying lifestyles, class interests, goals and ideologies. The author argues that inner-city neighbourhoods have lost their common culture and consensus and have become, instead, a place of diverse groups which intermingle in physical space but pursue disparate lifestyles and conflicting goals.

The book focuses on New York's Lower East Side as an example. For almost a decade, "yuppies", developers, politicians, squatters, the homeless, the police and a broad multi-ethnic population have been caught up in a complex battle over ownership of the district - the outcome of which still remains to be seen. In the Lower East Side, sub-groups vie not only with "outside" interests such as developers, but with one another - in a particularly visible blueprint of similar battles being fought across urban America.

This study aims not only to delineate a new form of urban neighbourhood, but also to embody a new form of neighbourhood study. In an effort to represent a complex and fragmentary situation, it suggests that the single-author ethnography is no longer possible. The way forward, rather, is for a team of single authors to each gain the trust - and an understanding - of a separate group, and to represent this in the finished work.

Contents: Introduction / Janet Abu-Lughod. 1. Welcome to the Neighborhood / Janet Abu-Lughod -- Pt. I. The Past Is Still There / Janet Abu-Lughod. 2. The Changing Economy of the Lower East Side / Jan Chien Lin. 3. The Tenement as a Built Form / Richard Plunz and Janet Abu-Lughod. 4. A History of Tompkins Square Park / Marci Reaven and Jeanne Houck. 5. Deja Vu: Replanning the Lower East Side in the 1930s / Suzanne Wasserman -- Pt. II. The Process Of Gentrification / Janet Abu-Lughod. 6. Neighborhood 'Burn-out': Puerto Ricans at the End of the Queue / Christopher Mele -- Appendix: The Other Side of the Coin: Culture in Loisaida / Mario Maffi. 7. From Disinvestment to Reinvestment: Mapping the Urban 'Frontier' in the Lower East Side / Neil Smith, Betsy Duncan and Laura Reid. 8. The Process of Gentrification in Alphabet City / Christopher Mele. 9. Public Action: New York City Policy and the Gentrification of the Lower East Side / William Sites. Pt. III. Contesting Community: The Issues And The Protagonists / Janet Abu-Lughod. 10. A Resident's View of Conflict on Tompkins Square Park / Diana R. Gordon. 11. The Battle for Tompkins Square Park / Janet Abu-Lughod. 12. The Residents in Tompkins Square Park / Dorine Greshof and John Dale. 13. The Squatters: A Chorus of Voices ... But Is Anyone Listening? / Andrew Van Kleunen. 14. Defending the Cross-Subsidy Plan: The Tortoise Wins Again / Janet Abu-Lughod -- Conclusions And Implications / Janet Abu-Lughod. / Includes bibliographical references (p. [355]-374) and index.

Subjects: East Village (New York, N.Y.) - Social conditions. | Neighborhood - New York (State) - New York. | Gentrification - New York (State) - New York. | Pluralism (Social sciences) - New York (State) - New York. | New York (N.Y.) - Social conditions.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Janet L. Abu-Lughod is professor emerita of sociology of Northwestern University and the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research, has been writing about and studying cities for more than fifty years. Her books include From Urban Village to East Village: The Battle for New York’s Lower East Side; Changing Cities: Urban Sociology; Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350; Rabat: Urban Apartheid in Morocco; and Cairo: 1001 Years of the City Victorious, among many other publications. In 1999 she received the Robert and Helen Lynd Award (American Sociological Association, Section on Community and Urban Sociology) for distinguished lifetime contributions to the study of cities.

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