Providing a fresh perspective is one of the biggest challenges for historians of New York City. Kara Murphy Schlichting, however, has managed to do just that in her recent book, New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore (University of Chicago Press, 2019). The book shifts our gaze away from Manhattan and towards the coastal periphery—where local planning initiatives, waterfront park building, the natural environment, and a growing leisure economy each had a stake in the regional development of New York City.
Schlichting’s regional and environmental approach frames New York’s extensive waterways as points of connection that unite, rather than divide, the urban core and periphery to one another. Residents of the Bronx in the nineteenth century organized groups like the Department of Street Improvements to ensure that their vision of urban expansion was realized, including implementing the grid-system to attract public and private investors from the urban core. Individuals along the East Bronx waterfront in the early-twentieth century similarly redefined the area according to their own wants and needs, converting temporary summer camp colonies into permanent bungalow communities outside, yet within reach, of Manhattan. By the 1930s, Robert Moses’ powerful State Parks Department, bolstered by New Deal and World’s Fair preparation funds, filled the natural marshlands of Flushing Meadows, connected Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx by constructing the Triborough Bridge, and lined area with new ‘modern’ recreational facilities. While differing in size and scope, each aforementioned case contributed to New York City’s conceptual and physical transition into a truly regional city.
Garrett Gutierrez is a Ph.D. Candidate of United States History at New York University. His research interests include urban/suburban history, race & ethnicity, informal economy, and youth subcultures.