The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, 1900-1940
"It'll be a great place if they ever finish it," O. Henry wrote about New York City. This laconic remark captures the relentlessly transitory character of New York, and it points toward Max Page's synthetic perspective. Against the prevailing motif of a naturally expanding metropolis, Page argues that the early-twentieth-century city was dominated by the politics of destruction and rebuilding that became the hallmark of modern urbanism.
The oxymoron "creative destruction" suggests the tensions that are at the heart of urban life: between stability and change, between particular places and undifferentiated spaces, between market forces and planning controls, and between the "natural" and "unnatural" in city growth. Page investigates these cultural counterweights through case studies of Manhattan's development, with depictions ranging from private real estate development along Fifth Avenue to Jacob Riis's slum clearance efforts on the Lower East Side, from the elimination of street trees to the efforts to save City Hall from demolition.
In these examples some New Yorkers celebrate planning by destruction or marvel at the domestication of the natural environment, while others decry the devastation of their homes and lament the passing of the city's architectural heritage. A central question in each case is the role of the past in the shaping of collective memory—which buildings are preserved? which trees are cut down? which fragments are enshrined in museums? Contrary to the popular sense of New York as an ahistorical city, the past—as recalled by powerful citizens—was, in fact, at the heart of defining how the city would be built.
Beautifully illustrated and written in clear, engaging prose, The Creative Destruction of Manhattan offers a new way of viewing the development of the American city.
"An excellent, multifaceted analysis of the process of urban development-not the inevitability of development but the choices individuals, organizations, and developers made that transformed Manhattan. The politics of place was, Max Page convincingly argues, an ongoing battle to define and thereby control the evolving shape of the city."—David Schuyler, author of Apostle of Taste: Andrew Jackson Downing 1815-1852
"Max Page transcends the usual dichotomy between those who glorify destruction for the sake of change and those who would avoid both at all cost. The sizeable borderland between architecture and preservation reveals new dimensions about science and history, innovation and memory, the cities that have been, and those yet to come."—Gwendolyn Wright, author of The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism
"A sober, humane explanation of how and why New York City became a place of continuous rebuilding. . . . For real or armchair New Yorkers, the whole package is a treat."—Kirkus Reviews
Society of Architectural Historians: Spiro Kostof Book Award
ONE: THE PROVISIONAL CITY
TWO: FIFTH AVENUE'S "RESTLESS RENEWALS"
Real Estate Development Along the "Spine of Gotham"
The "Via Appia of Opulence": Sources of Fifth Avenue's Development
"A Compelling Force": The Speculative Market in Space
Real Estate Stories
Commerce without Commercialism: The Fifth Avenue Association and the "Conservation of the Avenue
Zoning the Avenue, Zoning New York
Conclusion: The Progress of Preservation
THREE: THE FOUL CORE OF NEW YORK
The Rise of Slum Clearance as Housing Reform
Jacob Riis and the "Leprous Houses" of Mulberry Bend
"New York's Real Napoleon III"
Decongestant: Embracing Slum Clearance in the 1920s and 1930s
Conclusion: "Cataclysmic" Reform
Historic Preservation and the Valuing of Space
"Sacred Stones": Early Preservation in New York
St. John's Chapel
"Life Thread" of the City
FIVE: "A VANISHED CITY IS RESTORED"
Inventing and Displaying the Past at the Museum of the City of New York
New York's "Attic"
A "Visualized Biography"
Collecting and Selling a City
Conclusion: "New York's Memory"
SIX: USES OF THE AXE
Toward a Treeless New York
Natural New York
"A Bit of God's Country": Central Park Tree Battles
Tree Culture: The Decline and Rebirth of Street Trees
The Spirits of the Trees
SEVEN: PRO URBIS AMORE
I. N. Phelps Stokes and the Iconography of Manhattan Island
"Speaking of Old New York..."
Remembrance of Things New York: Producing the Iconography
Frozen City: Photography and Memory in the Iconography
Acquiring New York
A "Chaos of Memories"
EIGHT: LANDSCAPES OF MEMORY AND AMNESIA