Lower Manhattan

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Lower Manhattan refers to the whole of the island from 14th St down to New York Harbor. The term for this area is also loosely referred to as “Downtown” Manhattan. However, this term is largely relative to the person using it. For someone living in the Village, Downtown may mean the Financial District and City Hall. For someone living in the Bronx, it might mean any place in Manhattan as it is downtown from their neighborhood. It is also worth mentioning that Lower Manhattan is the oldest part of New York City. It was the site of the original Fort Amsterdam and the town that grew up around it, New Amsterdam. Because of this, much of Lower Manhattan (especially the areas below Canal St) does not follow the Commissioners' Plan of 1811. The streets here are not on a predictable and recognizable grid. They are irregular, narrow, confusing, dark and creepy and the main inspiration for Batman’s Gotham City. In some areas, the streets are so dark and narrow that they cannot accommodate cars and pedestrians are constantly shrouded by the tall buildings engulfing them.

Despite this generalization, Lower Manhattan’s vibe is as diverse as the people living and working within it. In the upper parts around 14th Street, Greenwich Village and surrounding neighborhoods have been the seeds for many influential bohemian sub-cultures. Below Houston are many the immigrant neighborhoods of Little Italy and Chinatown. Still further downtown is the world famous Financial District and Wall Street with its conservative business set.

Contents

Lower Manhattan Neighborhoods

Lower East Side

Location: Canal to Houston and the East River to Bowery

Perhaps one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, the Lower East Side has had a tradition of being a poor to working class community filled with immigrants from diverse ethnicities. Today it is largely dominated by Hispanic immigrants. However, just as Chinatown in San Francisco is a cultural symbol to Chinese Americans, so too is the Lower East Side to American Jews. In fact it is considered the historical capital for American Jews and as such has been fought over fiercely by community groups during the recent moves to gentrify the area. Jewish groups in particular have been instrumental in preserving many of the historical tenements which make up the bulk of the residential property in the area. Ethnic shops, restaurants, bakeries, delis, yeshivas, synagogues, and community centers still operate in the area. There is even a Lower East Side Tenement Museum honoring the struggle of the neighborhood’s immigrants. Chic boutiques, shops, nightclubs, bars, and lounges occupy the spaces beside them. This has led to a lot of friction between long-time residents, developers, and the newly arrived business owners – especially bar owners whose businesses are open late at night and whose patrons are less than quiet. All this renovation has had a positive effect on the area’s crime rate over all, however with the amount of nightclubs and bars around, how long term that improvement will last is uncertain.

Chat Room: The Bank

Alphabet City aka Loisaida

Location: Houston to E23rd (14th) and FDR to A

Is a specific sub-neighborhood of the East Village. Traditionally an immigrant community which has been historically important throughout the history of the city and among the different waves of immigrant groups that have called it home, Alphabet City has undergone many transformations. In recent history the neighborhood has been a center for the Puerto Rican artistic movement known as the Nuyorican Movement due to the large Puerto Rican population residing there. It is also the home of many African Americans and has been the home of many it was home to many of the first graffiti writers, b-boys, rappers, and DJs. The ethnic artistic and intellectual movement attracted many bohemians. Presently there is a mix of Puerto Rican and African American families living alongside struggling artists and musicians (who are mostly young and white). Tompkins Square Park is at its center and continues to be a refuge for the homeless and drug addicts due primarily to activists from the neighborhood resisting gentrification which has gone ahead full steam in the neighborhood. So now the bohemians and ethnic families find themselves sharing a neighborhood with rising rents and taxes with conservative young professionals and bourgeois shops, cafés and bistros.

Chat Rooms: Tompkins Square Park

East Village

Location: Houston to E14th and the East River to Bowery

The East Village was once considered part of Lower East Side, but developed its own identity in the 1960s as its own neighborhood within Lower Manhattan. What distinguishes the neighborhood from others, is its raw grit and more edgy personality. Here, the traditional residents are way out of the mainstream and in fact they shun it adamantly.

The neighborhood was founded by the fringe elements of its day beginning with the Beatniks who settled into the neighborhood and later attracted hippies, musicians and artists well into the 1960s. Therefore its residents are tolerant of those who occupy the fringes of society. The East Village also has a large alternative lifestyle community meaning there is a large gay community and fetish community calling this place home. Cross dressers are not an unusual sight and many clothing shops along St. Mark's Place cater to them as well as the bondage crowd. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in the area also cater to these fringe groups with everything from Indian cuisine which seems to be a favorite in the East Village to the standard Ale houses. Nightclubs vary from the hardcore punk and rock to subdued lounges to huge techno venues with revolving promoters.

The streets are full of colorful storefronts on the street level and on sub-basement levels that are a few steps down from the sidewalk. They have apartments above them with winding fire escapes on their faces and the stoops and sidewalks are crowded with people loitering about and watching the passersby or shopping at the unique clothing and record stores that cater to the residents, dining at the cafés, getting piercings or tattoos, buying pipes at the local head shops, and patronizing the smaller nightclubs and neighborhood pubs.

Architecture in the East Village is just as eclectic as the residents. Many of the buildings are painted with colorful and funky murals that wrap around them others still are left plain or are in odd shapes as there are converging streets, particularly in the heart of the East Village and around Cooper Square, which make triangle shaped buildings common. Artist lofts are more common on this side of the Village as many sub-basement leveled buildings lend themselves perfectly to that use or still others were once warehouses especially around Bowery as that area had been extremely industrial in the past.

Perhaps in no other neighborhood is the fight against gentrification more apparent and fiercer. Yuppies and wannabes glom on to the area, hoping to be let into the hip and trendy world of the struggling artists and intellectuals. But their presence strangles the edge from the neighborhood as they seek to fashion their perfect vision of fashionable New York life. Community activists, artists, musicians and club owners in the East Village have banded together to preserve the avant-garde roots that made the neighborhood what it is. They fight to keep the retail spaces vibrant and resist chain stores or attempts to create suburban malls out of them. Their efforts have slowed the gentrification process, but every time a fringe nightclub is closed and a little bistro put in its place, the community mourns and then galvanizes that much more in opposition.

Chat Rooms: St. Mark's Bar & Grill

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Bowery

Location: Canal to E4 and Allen to Bowery

The Bowery is a little corner of the East Village that has been particularly resistant to gentrification due to its long history of being one of the city’s worst and most illicit neighborhoods. From as early as the Civil War era, the Bowery, which bordered the infamous Five Points, served as a haven for gays who were shunned by the rest of society. Among the prostitutes, pimps, cheap saloons, tattoo parlors, and gambling dens gays in New York were welcomed as just another sub-culture that was shunned by Victorian hypocrisy. Conditions were considered so bleak that the YMCA serviced the poor and down-and-outs of the neighborhood and the Bowery Mission remains there to this day. Over the years the gritty reputation stuck and conditions in the Bowery worsened as it was riddled with brothels, flophouses, alcoholics, drug addicts and the homeless. By the 1970s it was considered Manhattan’s Skid Row and the homeless within it were called “Bowery Bums”. Its businesses consisted of largely restaurant suppliers and those remain to this day. However, artists seeking cheap space for rehearsal studios, painting studios, galleries and even a few daring night club owners opened some fascinating and noteworthy establishments in the neighborhood. Gentrification has been particularly insidious here and hard fought. As homeless were run off from Tompkins Square Park in the 1980s, they retreated to the Bowery and have been making their last stand here ever since. Prim and proper yuppies seeking the New York dream in lofty new high-rises have been living a rude awakening as the homeless literally sleep on their front doorsteps. Missions, shelters, and flophouses cling to their spaces and fight the city government tooth and nail, forcing it to honor old zoning restrictions to prevent further development in the area. Some of the best nightspots in the area have banded together with artists and homeless activists to force landlords to extend leases. Their efforts have paid off as recently the home of the punk rock movement, an amateur theater, and a flophouse was saved.

Chat Rooms: CBGB, Méliès

Greenwich Village

Location: Houston to W14th and B-way to the Hudson River

Perhaps best characterized as the East Village's older and more mature sibling, Greenwich Village is an important center for bohemian and alternative culture and music. It has been the birthplace of many different artistic movements including the Beatnik movement in the 1950s. It has also served as a center for jazz and the blues as it houses internationally known venues such as the Blue Note Cafe and Cafe Wha?. It harvested the rebirth of folk music and later folk rock as such names as Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone and many others played at the many clubs in the Village. During the Vietnam War it was second to San Francisco in the size anti-war movement and the counter-culture movement. It houses an important avant-garde theatre community as well. The energy in the area is palpable as it is in the East Village, but it is less nihilistic and infinitely more hopeful and hip.

The neighborhood's streets are filled with off-beat bistros, shops, cafes, bars, clubs, and theaters. To add to the energetic and random ambiance, the area does not follow the grid system well as it was settled long before 1811, so the architecture and layout still lends some quirkiness to the narrow and jam packed streets which feel more like a series of alleyways rather than thoroughfares for vehicles. Most of the streets are one way only and are used as sidewalks much to the chagrin of drivers who find navigating the Village at any reasonable speed completely hopeless.

The neighborhood is also home to Washington Square Park and to New York University’s main campus. So in addition to the bustling bohemian scenes, a thriving college campus life also permeates around the neighborhood and the two crowds feed off each other and inspire new cultural movements. Sandwiched between the NYU’s campus and the East Village is a small sub-neighborhood called NoHo which is made up of only 125 buildings. What makes these buildings so special is that they were once centers for large industrial operations and so during the process of gentrification, they have been converted into some of the most desirable and fashionable loft spaces in the city coveted for their central location to all the nightspots and shopping of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Chat Rooms: Blue Note Café, Washington Square Park, Benny's Deli, Cafe Bizarre, Unoppressive Non-Imperialist Bargain Books

SoHo

Location: Canal to Houston and Lafayette to Varick

The name SoHo stands for south of Houston Street. SoHo's present architecture has its origins in the 1850's when many residents began moving to the newly fashionable and settled upper Manhattan. What replaced the residents were industrial warehouses and small companies of skilled artisans which had ornate showrooms on the street level. The conversion resulted in renovations of the architecture that included cast-iron façades which was cheaper and more malleable medium than masonry.

With the development of Upper Manhattan, artisans eventually began moving their showrooms uptown. No longer home to the prestigious fabric houses, fine china manufacturers, jewelers, cast iron sculptors, and glassblowers, SoHo fell into decay in the 1930's. During this time it was largely abandoned with some buildings being occupied by sweatshops until improved labor codes forced them out of the area in the 1960's. The fine cast-iron details on the façades of the buildings and the bargain prices of the rents began attracting artists to the unique fixer-upper opportunity and soon the community thrived with artists turning the buildings into loft studios and featuring their galleries below.

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SoHo was the first and most extreme example of the process of gentrification. In fact a lot of New Yorkers describe the process not by the name gentrification but by the label “the SoHo Effect” (as typically developers and other bourgeois elements follow the hip artists and intellectuals). However in SoHo’s case there were no original residents to displace. Artists were never priced out of their studios because their guilds negotiated deals with the city’s zoning officials to retain their industrial spaces and classify them as live/work dwellings so eviction for zoning violations became a non-issue. However, after the artists had established themselves, they attracted the most fashionable retailers, restaurants and nightclubs to their district. Everyone wanted a piece of this exciting new neighborhood with the charming buildings and the chic artists. Prices for space shot through the roof as new buildings constructed as residences sprang up here and there.

Now, with lofts selling in the millions of dollars, SoHo is perhaps one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Manhattan. The demand and the expensive shops lining the area have driven rents and sale prices way up so SoHo has lost its artistic edge and it has become a mainstream disappointment. Galleries and lofts here are primarily occupied by artists that have already made their mark or were lucky enough to be here in the 1960's when property value was at a low while bars, nightclubs, and restaurants have just enough edge in their decor and their music and menus to make them chic.

However, for the truly avant-garde artistic forces of the city, SoHo is a place not to be caught dead in. Nothing artistically exciting is going on there anymore. New and daring emerging artists are priced out of the game and have gone off to find greener and more affordable pastures to graze in - leaving SoHo a bland, boring, stuffy, and pretentious tragedy.

Chat Rooms: The Wailing Trumpet

Little Italy

Location: Canal to Broome along Mulberry

Little Italy is a shrinking neighborhood in Lower Manhattan. Made famous over the years because of gangster movies and the notorious New York Mafia, Little Italy attracts tourists and locals alike looking to experience a piece of the “old neighborhood”. Chances are if you’ve seen any of the Godfather movies, then you have an idea of what Little Italy looks like.

The boundaries of Little Italy are as follows: Canal Street to the south, Spring Street to the north, Centre Street to the west, and Elizabeth Street to the east. It has shrunk over the years as Chinatown threatens to engulf the "old neighborhood" as many of the people who remember the "old days" have long since moved out of the area and the relentless influx of Chinese immigrants has changed the demographics of the neighborhood significantly. Still, Little Italy manages to retain its flavor with its festas, cafés, restaurants, grocers, delis and artisans. Streets are very narrow as in any downtown neighborhood with the architecture consisting of beautiful old brick tenements with apartments and lofts occupying the upper floors and authentic Italian restaurants and shops occupying the ground and some sub-basement levels. Flags and banners in the colors of the Italian flag (red, green, and white) are strewn from lines that tie off from building to building so as to dangle down across the street overhead and the façades of the shops follow the color theme with little white Christmas lights twinkling along their awnings and potted shrubs and trees at their entries.

Streets are jammed packed, especially in the evenings and on the weekends, as the area's Italian cuisine and atmosphere is a temptation that many can't resist. Restaurateurs send out their most charming young men who sound like they are fresh from the old country out to the sidewalks to stand in front of restaurants greeting those who pass by in a classic bold Italian manner, making an often times successful attempt to coax potential customers inside.

The biggest time of year for the community is during September 13th through the 23rd. This is the time of the annual Feast of San Gennaro. It's been a tradition in Little Italy since 1926 and, over the ten day period, it attracts more than 3 million people. This ten day street party shuts down traffic which is rerouted to make room for the booths which house carnival games, food, and crafts as well as the thousands of revelers who party all day and night in the city that never sleeps.

Chinatown

Location: Chambers to Delancey and E B-way to B-way

Chinatown is a slice of the Orient in Manhattan. It’s an old neighborhood that is jammed with Chinese immigrants as well as Chinese Americans. Tourists flock to the neighborhood to see the unique store fronts that take on an oriental motif and are quickly disappointed because it's not as charming as it looks like in the movies. In short Chinatown is and always has been crowded, filthy, smelly, garish, mysterious, and alien. The Chinese here have a tightly knit community that is both traditional and Americanized as immigrant generations and those Chinese born in the United States tend to mix and clash at the same time.

The traditional Chinese community revolves around provincial organizations which consist of Chinese from a province, such as Guandong, who have organized to help other Cantonese to settle in the United States as well as to help organize and sponsor community events such as the famous Chinese New Year's Party and Parade. These organizations help to keep the population relatively insular and have been known in the past to facilitate organized crime in the neighborhood.

Along the crowded streets, curio shops, grocers, bargain clothing stores, and restaurants jam the buildings with a hodgepodge clutter of wares while the apartments above are typically in poor condition and cluttered with illegal immigrants that work for pennies in the underground sweatshops. This is evidence of the underworld and street gangs at work. They run the modern day slave labor trade, drug trade, and extortion rackets with an iron fist while the tourists and outsiders walk around the sidewalks oblivious – content to enjoy the street meat and cheap curios offered by the area’s retailers.

Two Bridges

Location: Brooklyn Bridge to Montgomery, St. James Pl to the river

Two Bridges is a poor to working class neighborhood dominated by public housing projects located between the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge, bordering the East River. This is where many of the victims of gentrification that have not been shoved off Manhattan entirely, have relocated. The neighborhood had been traditionally an Italian and Irish working class and poor area filled with crowded tenement slums and brothels. As it borders Chinatown, it would be under threat from being swallowed up entirely by that neighborhood but the large influx of Hispanic immigrants keeps that from happening. Despite trends in gentrification all over Manhattan the area remains a home to low- to moderate-income families and maintains a reputation for being gritty. However, because it also is a stone’s throw away from the Financial District and many of the city’s corporate powerhouse employers, horrible Wonder-bread white yuppie breeders brave enough to not let a little homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution, diversity, and crime scare them off, are flocking to the area in search of a bargain. It is only a matter of time before some ruthless real estate developer is successful enough in his bribing of the city’s zoning department to make the yuppie invasion a reality.

Financial District aka Downtown aka Wall Street

Location: Below Chambers

New York wouldn't be New York without its powerful Financial District and the New York Stock Exchange which has become synonymous with the famous street at its center - Wall Street. It got its name due to the unique conditions in this part of Lower Manhattan. This whole downtown district is the oldest part of the entire region and it's completely off the grid plan. The streets are narrow with many of them mere alleys which do not accomodate cars, many have no setbacks for the buildings and so in a few areas you'll be hard pressed to find sidewalks, and they are laid out in a very haphazard fashion. This gives the streets below only a sliver of skylight from above and makes the pedestrian below feel as though the walls of the buildings are closing in - hence the name Wall Street

The neighborhood has undergone some changes within the last decade or so. First off, within its borders is the site of the 9/11 attacks and the future site of the Freedom Tower. Secondly, since the attacks the city has tried to lure businesses back to the area and also has encouraged the conversion of offices into residences. Once only numbering around 15,000 residents before the attacks, the district now has over 56,000. Many have taken advantage of lower rents, prices and of course tax incentives to keep the area from becoming a permanent ghost town in the wake of the attacks. Still it's a large area for only 56,000 residents. Most businesses are open during the week so the neighborhood tends to be very quiet at night - even spooky as the looming walls take on a sinister bent under the pale moonlight.

Chat Rooms: Wall Street, South Street Seaport

TriBeCa

Location: Park Pl to Canal and B-way to the river

The Triangle Below Canal Street, from which TriBeCa was named, is actually a trapezoid bordered by Canal Street to the north, Barclay Street to the South, Broadway to the East, and the Hudson River to the West. Like SoHo, this area was one of the seediest, most undesirable places in New York until thirty years ago. Now the rich, famous, and influential of New York occupy the eclectic lofts, art galleries, chic boutiques, and dining establishments of the area.

The 19th century industrial buildings along TriBeCa's waterfront and streets have slowly been converted into expensive retail spaces and residences or torn down to make room for modern high rises and offices. However, recent city zoning policy changes prompted by the pesky Hollywood actors who live in the area and community activists concerned with preserving the cultural and architectural heritage of the city, have succeeded in making developers conform to the existing architectural standards of the neighborhood.

Within close proximity to City Hall and to the Financial District, the neighborhood is in the middle of everything in Lower Manhattan and it offers many amenities such as a riverside park along the waterfront and the old industrial piers have been converted for private and chartered yachts as well as for riverside water sports and floating beaches on wooden rafts.

The arrival of the shops and the rich and famous has driven rents and selling prices up to all-time highs. New York and international personalities and entertainers such as Robert DeNiro own restaurants, shops, lounges, and clubs in the area, making TriBeCa a favorite hang-out for celebrity hounds as well as contributing to the over-all burst of growth to the area. DeNiro is a huge proponent of the neighborhood, keeping his offices and residence here and starting an international film festival known as the TriBeCa Film Festival with other actors and filmmakers from the Hollywood set. The film festival now brings millions of revenue into the city and is considered one of the finest in the world.

Civic Center

Location: Vesey to Chambers and the river to B-way

In the very center of Lower Manhattan is the Civic Center, where most city and other government offices are located. Counted among the official buildings in the district are: City Hall, One Police Plaza, the Manhattan Municipal Building, and the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building. The architecture of the main buildings is classical in style, with dignified granite columns and stately staircases. They are located in the middle of a gorgeous plaza made into a park with the characteristic bench-lined wide walkways that dissect fenced in lawns that make up the city's plaza parks.

The neighborhood is largely commercial, not many residential buildings surround the area. The skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan tower over the area and those people who crowd the streets are mostly those whose employment is located here. Therefore, the area is crowded mostly on weekdays during business hours and shops restaurants and bars cater to that market.

Battery Park

Location: west of West Street

At the very tip of Manhattan Island is Battery Park and the Battery Park City development. The neighborhood is a revived upper-middle class to upper-class neighborhood with towering high rise apartments replacing some of the older warehouses and brick industrial buildings that are falling under the wrecking ball. However, many of the old buildings have been saved as inside them apartment lofts that go for hundreds of thousands and even millions as they have been renovated by top interior designer and architects. The center of the commercial and residential activity of the area is around Battery Park City which is a development on the very tip of Manhattan built on top of landfill material used from several construction sites over the years including the World Trade Center. Battery Park City features office towers, chic shopping, restaurants, movie theaters, bistros, bars, and luxury residential high-rises.

The attraction to the Battery Park area is obvious the view. Views from the surrounding structures include New York Bay and the Marina and Park at the tip of Manhattan and they are breathtaking. One can see the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Brooklyn, and New Jersey over the waters of New York Bay, the Hudson, and the East River, so it's easy to understand why this area is so much in demand.

The park first served as a military fort that protected New York Harbor in the 1800's in the War of 1812. The original fort is called Castle Clinton and sadly never saw any action. It's been used as a marine aquarium until the end of WWII and was scheduled for demolition, but was saved. Currently it's in use for outdoor concerts and it features beautiful gardens around it. The wide esplanade is a favorite with New Yorkers for its beautiful views of the harbor and one can always find people taking advantage of it.

Along the esplanade one will come upon the marina where the Staten Island Ferry and the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands have their docks. On the private side, many beautiful yachts rock peacefully at their docks. While further along industrial docks for fishing boats line the area.

The neighborhood is also very congested. In Battery Park itself, the Battery Tunnel that runs from South Brooklyn, the West Side Highway, and FDR Drive all run underneath in tunnels that spit out and converge just north of the park.

Related Pages

Chat Room Index, Manhattan Neighborhoods Map

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