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The Insider's Connection

Neighborhood History

Jane Jacobs and the Future of Architecture and City Planning

What influences the character and development of a New York City neighborhood? Who decides which voices are heard in the face of urban renewal and expansion? How did one woman’s love for New York City empower communities and shift the future of architecture and city planning? After a costly war and an economic collapse, mid-20th…

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April 30, 2021

Seneca Village: New York’s First Black Property Owning Community

Whose perspectives represent a city’s story? Who gets to shape the public perception and legacy of a city’s communities? Which voices are left out when land, architecture, and public space are changed by the government? In 1824, the odds were stacked against the formation of free black communities in New York City. New York finally abolished slavery in 1827 (one of the last northern states to do so) but free black New Yorkers would still face systemic barriers that made social advancement nearly impossible.  Even after free black men could get jobs and own property here, they were barred from most skill-based trades. They couldn’t vote unless they had over $250 worth of property, which very few did. Black institutions were attacked constantly, and fugitive slaves were vulnerable to capture. Most of New York City’s population was settled downtown.  Meanwhile,…

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December 4, 2019

The Birth and Purpose of Rutherford Place

 Does your house or apartment building tell a story? Who was in it before you? Do you ever imagine the conversations, conflicts, and transformations that have happened in the place where you live? What conversations are happening now, and what has changed? No two of the 127 upscale apartments at 305 Second Avenue are the same. There are 3 quadruplexes, 66 triplexes, 50 duplexes, and 8 simplexes, each with unique layouts, ceilings ranging from 7-19 feet tall, and stunning views of Stuyvesant Square. 305 2nd Avenue, also known as Rutherford Place, is one of the most expensive addresses in its area. But the several A-list celebrities that have called this building home are the least interesting aspect of its story. The 10-story building was completed in 1901, a philanthropic gift to New York City from J.P. Morgan. Though the building’s…

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November 18, 2019

New York City’s Historic Wood Frame Houses

Which houses stand long enough to tell a story? How does a seemingly ordinary structure survive demolition in a gentrifying neighborhood? Two wood-framed houses on East 53rd Street have seen 150 years of New York history. These houses tell the story of a neighborhood, a real estate economy, and a city that continue to evolve and accidentally leave treasures behind. How will these houses be defended as a valuable piece of history, and what do they represent? By 1866, New York City was well-acquainted with the danger and ever-present threat of Great Fires. There’d been at least two fires by this point (1776 and 1835) that ravaged Lower Manhattan; most buildings were constructed from wood at this point, and when one burned to the ground, many others did too. Above 23rd Street, it was rare to see a wood-framed building…

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October 29, 2019

The Ever So Exclusive Gramercy Park: Samuel Ruggles

What gives an address a reputation? New Yorkers and tourists alike recognize the name Gramercy Park. 20th and 21st Streets between 3rd Avenue and Broadway are some of the most sought-after addresses in the world. The locked gates of Gramercy Park have been standing since 1844, granting access only to residents. Everything about New York…

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August 12, 2019

Yorkville: Behind the Mural on 83rd Street

Is large-scale art expected to speak for a neighborhood or community? York Avenue–named after US Army Sergeant Alvin York for honorable actions in World War II and grounding the neighborhood in its German roots–has rapidly gentrified in the recent decades. Yorkville, or the Upper East Side, continues to shift and evolve; it’s structures, residents, and community look different today than it has in the past. When a neighborhood changes, is its history threatened? How much should developers consider a neighborhood’s past when contributing to its future? In the early 2000’s, a 28-story condo building was being developed on 83rd and York. The new building’s lobby faces a 6-story tenement on the opposite corner and at the time, that building was covered in graffiti. Fielding complaints from soon-to-be residents, the developer made a deal with the tenement building’s owner to hire artist…

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June 3, 2019

The New York City German Migration from Kleindeutschland

What aspects of a neighborhood expose its roots and history? Where do you get information about the communities that shaped your neighborhood? How did New York’s “Germantown” completely relocate in a matter of a few years, and why don’t we hear about it more often? At the turn of the 20th century, New York City had the largest German population in the world outside of Germany. German immigrants settling in New York City found their way to Kleindeutschland–“Little Germany” or, the Lower East Side–in the decades leading up to 1900. Kleindeutschland bustled with highly-educated German immigrants, new businesses (picture Germany beer saloons on every corner!), art, traditions, and a gradually increasing population. A few years into the 20th century, however, Germans started moving uptown in huge numbers for a fresh start. The story often told: uptown, they’d have access to…

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May 28, 2019