Bloomingdale Neighborhood History Group
Winifred Armstrong and Barbara Earnest composed this pamphlet for the Park West History Group (predecessor of the BNHG) in 2007
The Tragedy of Urban Renewal: The destruction and survival of a New York City neighborhood
In 1949, President Harry Truman signed the Housing Act, which gave federal, state, and local governments unprecedented power to shape residential life. One of the Housing Act's main initiatives - "urban renewal" - destroyed about 2,000 communities in the 1950s and '60s and forced more than 300,000 families from their homes. New York City's Manhattantown (1951) was one of the first projects authorized under urban renewal and it set the model not only for hundreds of urban renewal projects but for the next 60 years of eminent domain abuse. The Manhattantown project destroyed six blocks on New York City's Upper West Side, including an African-American community that dated to the turn of the century.
Designating West 99th and 98th Streets a "slum" was bitterly ironic. The community was founded when the great black real estate entrepreneur Philip Payton Jr. broke the color line on 99th Street in 1905. Payton, also credited with first bringing African Americans to Harlem, wanted to make it possible for a black man to rent an apartment, in his words, "wherever his means will permit him to live." A couple years after Payton moved his first tenants into West 99th and 98th Streets, the black orator Roscoe Conkling Simmon marveled that African Americans for the first time were living in "the most beautiful and cultured neighborhood in New York City...because back of them stands organized and sympathetic capital." Fifty years later, the federal bulldozer tore that neighborhood apart.
Written, produced, shot, and edited by Jim Epstein. Narrated by Nick Gillespie.