Gentrification is typically seen as the process by which an area becomes wealthier, often resulting in changes to the inhabitants, businesses, recreational facilities, and cultural events. It is happening in places all around the globe, and as an illustration of this, here Anthony Ruggiero looks at the recent history of gentrification of the area of Brooklyn in New York City.

The Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 by Currier and Ives.

The Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 by Currier and Ives.

Time has always had a way of bringing about changes. During the latetwentieth century and into the twenty-first century, Brooklyn has undergone these changes through the process of gentrification. The book, The World InBrooklyn: Gentrification, Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in a Global City, edited by Judith N.DeSena and Timothy Shortell (Amazon USAmazon UK), discussed how the changes brought about by gentrification impacted Brooklyn not only culturally, but also aesthetically. Gentrification prompted changes in the population, industry and community, and the redevelopment of parks. At St. Joseph’s College, these changes were recognized and discussed through different brochures that advertised walking tours of these areas. The school itself also experienced developments and modifications made to its buildings.


Impacts of Gentrification

Throughout the years, Brooklyn has been recognized for its diverse population. According to DeSena and Shortell, these individuals are not just native-born; a large number of the population is foreign-born. This includes individuals from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Eastern Asia, South America, Mexico and Central America, as well as South East Asia.[1]For example, people from Caribbean countries are the largest immigrant group, with approximately 302,000 Caribbean people making up the foreign-born population.[2]However, as parts of Brooklyn continued to experience gentrification, and the cost of living and obtaining an education increased, newcomers to the borough became less from majority foreign groups (blacks and Latinos), and more from white and Asian backgrounds, and more wealthier and educated homeowners.[3]As wealthier homeowners continued to move into areas in northern Brooklyn, studies show the displacement of black homeowners who could not afford the increased cost of living that their new neighbors could afford.[4]

Along with the change in population, gentrification also affected industry and the communities close to it. A prime example of this in Brooklyn is seen in Williamsburg. Initially, Williamsburg was a working-class community, made up of immigrants from Italy and Eastern Europe, with a large number of manufacturing firms; DeSena and Shortell described the landscape of the neighborhood as, “gritty and disinvested.”[5]However, as the early 2000s carried on, businesses such as cafés, trendy thrift stores, vegetarian restaurants, lofts, galleries, and clubs opened; this business attracted new, younger, and more artistic individuals and students.[6]Thus, the landscape began to alternate. An example of this would be an image provided by DeSena and Shortell, which displayed the transformation of a rundown, hardware store into a boutique.[7]Another example of the changed community is the summer event of the Williamsburg Walk. Created by the Department of Transportation, the Williamsburg Walk was designed to celebrate the neighborhood’s individualism and artistry. Although many of the newer inhabitants of Williamsburg were in attendance, many longer-standing residents of Williamsburg, such as those form poorer Hispanic and Polish backgrounds, rarely attended the walk, highlighting the divide gentrification has created within the community.[8]


The Changes in Different Areas

St. Joseph’s College experienced changes, as well as the surrounding Clinton Hill area. According to a brochure,Clinton Hill in Bloom, the original allure of Clinton Hill was the mansions that belonged to oil tycoon Charles Pratt, as well as the brownstones surrounding the area. However, years later, the site of the mansions is what is now St. Joseph’s College and several apartment complexes. Even so, after interest in the history of the area remerged in the 1980s, it once again saw a resurgence as many people came to open houses and on walking tours to see the history and brownstones.[9]Despite this resurgence in interest the Clinton Hill area had always maintained a stable community. Another brochure, published by St. Joseph’s College, Our Neighborhood…Clinton Hill, discussed that industry made its way to the neighborhood in the form of supermarkets, antique shops, art supply stores, and health food stores.[10]

Further areas that were impacted by gentrification were the parks in Brooklyn. An example of this is Prospect Park. Built to rival Central Park in Manhattan, Prospect Park was a sight of much crime during the 1970s. After an outcry from the neighborhood to revive the park, Mayor of New York City at the time, Ed Koch, gave money to restoration projects, which were successful. However, according to DeSena and Shortell, the renewal of the park area attracted new businesses that have contributed to the gentrification in the area, as many of the residents could not afford the higher prices of the new businesses.[11]A walking tour of the Fort Greene Park brochure in the St Joseph’s College archive recognized these different restoration projects. The tour called for further funds to be raised for the awareness of the park in order to fund The Atlantic Terminal Renewal Area project to restore the park.[12]These restoration projects spanned different areas around Brooklyn, once again showing the power and reach of gentrification.


In Conclusion

The gentrification of Brooklyn has had its positive and negative affects. On the one hand, failing areas such as Williamsburg and Prospect Park were restored with new renewal projects and industry, attracting new people in the process. However, in attracting new people, the original inhabitants of the area have been pushed out. DeSena and Shortell’s bookoffers prime examples of these effects. The brochures provided by St. Joseph’s College also demonstrate that gentrification during this time had its effects in different areas in Brooklyn as well. And though the effects of gentrification are evident today, only time will tell how gentrification evolves in Brooklyn and the wider New York City area.



This article has frequent references to the book The World In Brooklyn: Gentrification, Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in a Global City, which is edited by Judith N.DeSena and Timothy Shortell. This book is available here: Amazon USAmazon UK

What do you think about gentrification? Does it impact your area?

[1]DeSena, Judith N., and Timothy Shortell. The World In Brooklyn: Gentrification, 

   Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in A Global City.2012: 10-16

[2]The World In Brooklyn: Gentrification, Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in A Global City, pg.11.




[6]Ibid, 91-92.

[7]Ibid, 93.

[8]Ibid, 89-90.

[9]St. Joseph’s College, NY, Clinton Hill in Bloom, McEntegart Hall Archives, St. Joseph’s College Brooklyn, NY, Brooklyn, NY. 1986

[10]St. Joseph’s College, NY, Our Neighborhood…Clinton Hil1

[11]Ibid, 124-128.

[12]St. Joseph’s College, NY, Fort Greene’s Finest The Park Blocks, McEntegart Hall Archives, St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn NY, Brooklyn, NY. 1986


DeSena, Judith N., and Timothy Shortell. The World In Brooklyn: Gentrification, Immigration, and Ethnic Politics in A Global City. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2012.

St. Joseph’s College, NY, Clinton Hill in Bloom, McEntegart Hall Archives, St. Joseph’s College Brooklyn, NY, Brooklyn, NY. 1986.

St. Joseph’s College, NY,Fort Greene’s Finest The Park Blocks,McEntegart Hall Archives, St. Joseph’s

New York City was changing in the 1930s – from the 1920s boom to the Great Depression, many people quickly went from a comfortable life to the breadline. And the Nazis entered this climate and tried to gain more influence. Terrence McCauley, author of the New York-based novel The Fairfax Incident (Amazon US | Amazon UK), explains.

A German-American Bund Parade in New York City in 1939. The group had links with Hitler's Nazis.

A German-American Bund Parade in New York City in 1939. The group had links with Hitler's Nazis.

One of the many reasons why I enjoy writing about 1930s New York is because of the complex social dynamics occurring in the city’s history at that particular time. By 1933, the city and the country were undergoing a period of great change. The Roaring Twenties had come to a screeching halt, Prohibition was repealed, a new president was in the White House and the Great Depression was beginning to tighten its grip on every strata of society.


Economic Problems

For the first time since it had assumed control of the city’s modern political machine, Tammany Hall was beginning to lose its legendary power thanks to many of the reforms that had been set in place by former governor and then president Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The time of the omnipotent ward boss was on the wane and people like Mayor LaGuardia were poised to rise to power. The criminal underworld faced changes of its own as the Irish, whose immigrant population had been here the longest, began to leave the streets to become police officers, firemen, lawyers and yes, politicians. This criminal power vacuum was quickly filed by hungrier new immigrants like Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano.

As is usually the case in times of economic unrest, the middle class suffered the most. With their jobs gone and prospects of other employment scarce, many people lost their homes. Families were split apart as children were sent to live with relatives better suited to take care of them. Breadlines seemed to grow longer by the day. As the flop houses quickly filled, shantytowns known as Hoovervilles sprang up along the waterfront and even in the bucolic confines of Central Park. People accustomed to living in decent apartments were now forced to live in shabby structures comprised of any material the builders were fortunate enough to lay their hands on. The wolf was no longer at the door. It had blown the whole neighborhood down.


Germanic – and Nazi - Influence

The rest of the world faced revolutionary change of its own, especially in Europe. The monarchies of old had died away in the wake of the conflagration that came to be known as the First World War and a downtrodden Germany turned to a maniac they believed to be their savior. The man who vowed to restore their country’s dignity and make the world pay for punishing it so harshly in 1918. A man named Adolf Hitler.

As his Nazi Party took root in Germany, Hitler’s henchmen sought to export its philosophy to other parts of the world. America was no exception. Only here, its infiltration into society took a subtler, more devious approach. Knowing Americans would likely reject unpatriotic overtures from a foreign land, Hitler’s organization encouraged the formation of The Friends of New Germany, which spurred the American Bund movement. The Upper East Side of New York City, known as Yorkville, had a large German population and the organization found fertile ground there under the guise of a fraternal organization no different than the Knights of Columbus or the Ancient Order of Hibernians. They sought to encourage German immigrants and German-Americans to take pride in their heritage and cast off the shame of defeat in the Great War.

In New York, storefronts opened up featuring Bund material including Nazi propaganda and, of course Mein Kampf. It’s hard to believe such places could exist in as diverse a city as New York, but they did. Soon, the movement established Youth Camps in Long Island and New Jersey that claimed to be like the Boy Scouts, but more resembled the Hitler Youth in Germany.

The strength of the ties between the German Nazi Party and the Bund Movement have always been some matter of dispute. But there is no disputing the Bund’s power in organizing a large rally in Madison Square Garden in 1939 that drew 22,000 supporters who carried Nazi banners and saluted the evils of Hitler’s aims.

Despite the 22,000 people inside, over a hundred thousand protestors were outside, using their freedom of speech and assembly, not granted to the people in Germany, to voice their opposition to the movement. The event turned out to be a disaster, causing Germany to cut all ties with the movement, which collapsed completely when its members withdrew when the Second World War began.

A dark era in the city’s history was brought to an end by the brave citizens who took a stand against evil and promoted liberty.

I’m glad those ideas still exist in the city I call home today.


What do you think of the article and the role of the Nazis in 1930s New York? Let us know below.


As a reminder, you can get a copy of Terrence McCauley’s novel, The Fairfax Incident, here: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Aaron Burr's life has always tangled itself in controversy. From killing the first Secretary of the Treasury and key figure in the Federalist Party, Alexander Hamilton, to being the defendant of the United States' first treason case, Aaron Burr was well known for a lot of questionable decisions and bad luck. However, none of his decisions were as objectively manipulative, callous, and greedy as purposefully letting New York City suffer with tainted water for the sake of building a bank. Haley Booker-Lauridson explains.

An early 19th century painting of Aaron Burr.

An early 19th century painting of Aaron Burr.

The New York Water System

Back when New York was New Amsterdam, the water sources were from nearby ponds, streams, and wells, and continued that way for many years. Without a waterworks system, the city's waste ran into the same water it drank from, and distributing drinking water to various areas of the city proved difficult. This troubled Christopher Colles, an Irish engineer and inventor who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1771, just four short years before the Revolution.

In 1775, he began organizing a project he proposed, constructing a water distribution system in the heart of New York. This system used a steam engine pump to extract water from various wells into a reservoir, which would then distribute the water throughout the city in pipes. However, the Revolutionary War came to the city a year later and the project had to be put on hold, and the British soldiers soon destroyed what was left of the fledgling water system.

Though he made several attempts at creating various waterways and different systems in the newly formed United States, none of his projects came to fruition. The water in New York was left in a state of rapid pollution. Without a way to draw clean water, the citizens of New York City drank water steeped in animal, human, and industrial waste. Water distribution was another problem; fires could not consistently be quelled without a distribution system that could quickly get the water to the flames.

With a population of 60,515 people in the city, the waters became increasingly dangerous. By 1798, up to 2,000 people died of yellow fever, which doctors attributed to the filthy water people were drinking. By that time, New Yorkers desperately needed a plan to bring clean water to the city.


"Pure and Wholesome Water"

Nearly 24 years after Colles proposed a water distribution system, a bill to secure water from the Bronx River was drafted and sent to the New York State Assembly in 1799.

Aaron Burr, State Assemblyman and Democratic-Republican, worked to convince the Assembly to let the city and state use a private company for their water. While Democratic-Republicans were the main supporters of the bill, they received help from an unlikely ally, Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton campaigned for the Federalist Assemblymen to reach across the aisle. As New York had become his home when he emigrated to America in 1772, it is easy to see why he might want to turn the water bill into a bipartisan decision. The water was terribly polluted and toxic, and Aaron Burr had partnered with him on several occasions, including working as defense attorneys in the first murder trial in the United States. Having trusted Burr and having believed in the cause for a waterworks system, Hamilton convinced his fellow Federalists to back the creation of the Manhattan Water Company.

What Hamilton, and many Assemblymen, did not know was that Burr, just before submitting the bill for its final approval, slipped in a clause allowing the company to use "surplus capital" however it chose, as long as it followed state and federal law. The bill passed through with this clause on April 2, 1799, and the Manhattan Company was created to supply New York with "pure and wholesome water."

This small, unassuming clause transformed what was intended to be a water system for New York into a bank. Burr intended to establish a bank all along. He and other Democratic-Republicans inherently distrusted the First Bank of the United States and its branch in New York, as it was linked with Federalist politics. They feared discrimination in receiving credit and loans, and also desired the power to control campaign finance with their own bank. They wanted to establish a bank manned by their own political party, and schemed to use the city's water crisis to manufacture one right under the Federalists' noses.


The Manhattan Water Company's Legacy

By September 1, 1799, the Bank of the Manhattan Company opened, eventually becoming the oldest branch of JP Morgan Chase, and remains a financial institution today.

While the Manhattan Water Company was ostensibly a front for a bank, it did provide the city's first waterworks system. Shoddily put together, it constructed a cheap, crude network of wooden water mains throughout the city, by coring out yellow pine logs for pipes and fastening them together with iron bands.

The system was sub-par at best. It froze during the winter and the tree roots easily pierced through the log pipes, causing terrible back-ups. Even when the system worked, the people suffered through pitifully low water pressure. And, despite having permission to get clean water that ran down the Bronx River, Burr chose to source water from the polluted sources the city tried to get away from.

The Manhattan Water Company continued laying wooden pipes in the 1820s, even though other U.S. cities began using iron clad pipes. It remained the only drinking water supplier until 1842, leaving people with unreliable and bad water for over forty years.

As the water system floundered and the bank flourished, Aaron Burr experienced very little but misfortune from then on. Hamilton made it his duty to keep Burr out of influential public offices, famously campaigning against Burr during the 1800 election, and later in New York's gubernatorial race in 1804. Hamilton often negatively featured Burr in his newspaper, the New York Post. He likely would have continued had he not been fatally wounded in a duel with the man in July of 1804. Burr faced political exile that solidified when he was tried for treason in 1807, eventually fleeing to Europe for several years before returning to the U.S. and living as a perpetual debtor until his death in 1836.


What do you think of Aaron Burr? Let us know below.


Beatrice G. Reubens, “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company. Part I: Gaining the Charter,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXII (December, 1957), 578–607.

Beatrice G. Reubens, “Burr, Hamilton and the Manhattan Company. Part II: Launching a Bank,” Political Science Quarterly, LXXIII (March, 1958), 100–25.

“New York City (NYC) Yellow Fever Epidemic - 1795 to 1804”

"The History of the Water Mains in New York City"

New York Laws, 22nd Sess., Ch. LXXXIV.

The Statue of Liberty arrived in America on this day over 125 years ago, so its our image of the week.


The Statue of Liberty is today one of the great symbols of New York city. But it wasn’t always so. The statue was famously built in France before being transported to America. And it arrived today (June 17) in 1885. The statue was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, and was a gift from France to America that was produced having been a vision for many years.

Our image of the week is a lithograph of the statue from 1885, one year before the statue was actually stood upon the plinth on which it was to be placed. In the image, the statue is lit up in gold against the background and in large letters underneath it says:

The great Bartholdi statue,

Liberty enlightening the world,

The gift of France to the American people.



Now, have you heard of History is Now magazine? If not, click here to find out about a great new interactive history magazine.

Image source:,_1885#mediaviewer/File:Currier_and_Ives_Liberty2.jpg

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones