Which period of Lower East Side history do you pine for?
The beginning. The neighborhood was focused on the East River docks and the small-scale industries associated with them. By the time of the Civil War, residents were primarily members of ethnic groups recently immigrated from Ireland and Germany. At this time, housing in the area consisted largely of crude wooden shacks built on swampland that had not yet been fully drained.
The end of the 19th century. Massive immigration of peasants from southern and eastern Europe. Harsh conditions prevailed; startling rates of disease and overcrowding, insalubrious housing conditions, and the exploitative and miserable working conditions associated with the sweatshops and piece-work of garment production before unionization.
Early 20th century. Population declined in the 1920s; development in the outer boroughs and suburbs drew off large numbers of immigrants, and restrictions on new immigration shut off the tap of their replacements. This decline intensified during the Great Depression, which visited new hardships on the remaining population and began the process of further decay and abandonment. Numerous evictions, deprivation of heat and utilities, and high unemployment.
The postwar period. Slum clearance, the replacement of tenements by large-scale housing projects. The slums between the Grand Street and Stuyvesant Town developments were cleared and replaced by public housing projects for low-income residents. Migration from Puerto Rico increased, bringing hundreds of thousands to New York. They created "Loisiaida," helping make the "East Village" attractive to counter-culture participants of the 1960s.
The 1970s. Massive disinvestment, as property owners sought to bail out from a no-longer profitable environment. Tax forfeitures reached epidemic proportions by the late 1970s; massive destruction of the housing stock, particularly in the area closest to the public housing projects. The Puerto Rican community was battered by the disappearance of jobs. In place of the old community stood vacant shells of burnt-out buildings, and weed- and trash-covered vacant lots where the drug trade was the chief activity.
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