In Old New York

Thomas A. Janvier, Author, Janvier, Author, Edwin Burrows, Introduction by
Thomas A. Janvier, Author, Janvier, Author, Edwin Burrows, Introduction by St. Martin's Press $17.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-24282-4
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 978-0-8290-2375-6
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Today's New Yorkers are famous for both their fierce loyalty to their hometown and their intense desire to tell you how they can make it better. Things were no different in 1894, when historian and social commentator Janvier first published this meticulously detailed, floridly anecdotal and occasionally cranky love letter to his adopted home, reprinted here with a helpful new introduction by Brooklyn College history professor Edwin G. Burrows. After painstakingly outlining the city's early growth and development, Janvier, a self-trained historian, rants that an 1807 city commission charged with laying out the city's streets threw away ""the magnificent opportunity... to create a beautiful city."" By creating Manhattan's now famous grid of streets and avenues, they thwarted continued development of the complex, interlocking networks of ponds, woods and small neighborhoods that had made up the city until then. It's a classic clash between romantic idealism and ""progress,"" present in the writings of Jane Jacobs and other modern urbanologists. Janvier is best when describing the quirky, intricate history of Greenwich Village and the development of Chelsea around the Episcopal Theological Seminary, citing both as examples of his small-is-beautiful philosophy. A man of his time, Janvier's nativism and racism are omnipresent: he is as likely to state that ""even the bad smells have foreign names"" as he is to rhapsodize about sylvan glades. Still, this long-out-of-print classic adds welcome historical perspective to contemporary urban studies. (Mar.)
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