They Came for the Neighborhood

Although the long-term impact of the ongoing pandemic upon cities remains uncertain, one reality remains constant: housing costs continue to tick upward in desirable urban areas. This raises the twin specters of gentrification and displacement. The causes and connections of these processes have been hotly discussed and debated over the past several decades in both academic and popular discourse.

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Trees and Traditions

Late last year, I read an article detailing the prominent place fig trees hold in the cultural imagination of Italian-Americans and, of course, their backyard gardens. A demographer can trace the path of Italian migration in the United States by simply tracking the fig trees. They can be found in neighborhoods throughout New York City and New Jersey, including my own in Jersey City. This recent article prompted me to think differently about the conception and discourse of urban history.

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A City’s Lost Dreams: Review of How Newark Became Newark

On January 1, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson wished a happy 300th anniversary to Newark, New Jersey, observing that Newark’s history paralleled that of the United States itself. Church bells rung, and celebrations occurred throughout the city. The Newark Museum launched a year of exhibits exploring the city’s historical and cultural heritage. A year and a half later, on July 12, 1967, riots wracked Newark, destroying millions of dollars in businesses and property and leaving twenty-six people dead. Brad Tuttle opens his history How Newark Became Newark: the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American City (New Brunswick, NJ: Rivergate Books, 2009) with these two dramatically different events.

Newark began as an outpost of a Puritan splinter group. Robert Treat and his cohorts left Connecticut, finding the colony too lax in its religiosity and chafing under the laws of its government. The Puritan families hoped that their settlement could remain devout and separate from the new nation forming around them. Not surprisingly, this desire proved to be impossible. Newark’s prime location became apparent in the decade prior to the American Revolution. In the last two decades of the eighteenth century, Newark emerged as a  regional transportation, commercial, and manufacturing hub.

Firm of Ferdinand Mayer, Newark, (East of Mulberry St. 1820–5), c. 1854-1857 (Courtesy of New York Public Library).

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