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Greene Street: A Long History of a Short Block

NYU’s Development Research Institute (DRI) is proud to announce the launch of the Greene Street Project. The project, based on the academic paper, A Long History of a Short Block: Four Centuries of Development Surprises on a Single Stretch of a New York City Street, is a study of the historic development of the 486-feet strip of pavement, today known as Greene Street, between Houston and Prince Streets in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, New York. Today, the block is one of the richest in the city and the world.

While economic development is typically analyzed at the national level, DRI’s findings in relation to the Greene Street Project point to the importance of understanding what is happening within smaller sub-national units, like cities, and even neighborhoods. We find that development involves many changes in production as comparative advantage evolves, and that these changes are typically unexpected by policy-planners. If economic growth indeed has a large component for increases in productivity through reallocation and innovation, we argue that a detailed understanding of development at the micro-level is crucial for us to understand development at the national level.

2 Market Value of Real Estate, Greene Street Block 5 Sectoral Shares on the Block with Residents 1834 - 2014

The Greene Street Project includes an interactive online portal that allows users to trace the development trajectory of Greene Street over four centuries, offering:

  • Easy to use annotated timeline interface, offering users a guided tour through hundreds of years of history of this block of New York City, aided by photographs, maps, newspaper articles, survey data, and more.
  • An interactive “Then & Now” section, allowing users to compare and contrast pictures of particular sections of the block from as far back as 1933, to the present day.
  • A detailed “Maps” section, which allows users to explore the block’s cartography across different eras.
  • A “Data” section that gives users the chance to evaluate everything from the typical occupations of Greene Street residents from 1834-1881, to the evolving market value of Greene Street real estate over four centuries.

The Greene Street project was researched, developed, and written by William Easterly, Laura Freschi, and Steven Pennings at New York University’s Development Research Institute. Research assistance for the project was provided by Marina Kosyachenko, Lauren Hanson, and Fred Rossoff. Further research, web content, web design, and production were conducted by Madeline Blount. Click to explore the website.

Funding for this project was generously provided by the John Templeton Foundation.

Map of Brothels: The brothels of Greene Street, and the nearby theatres and hotels. Every red point is a brothel on the block either in 1870, 1880, or both. Part of wards 5, 6, 8 & 14, New York City. (G.W. Bromley & Co., civil engineers. Published by Geo. W. Bromley & E. Robinson, 1879). Data from Gilfoyle, Timothy. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790- 1920 WW Norton & Company: New York, 1994.

Map of Brothels: The brothels of Greene Street, and the nearby theatres and hotels. Every red point is a brothel on the block either in 1870, 1880, or both. Part of wards 5, 6, 8 & 14, New York City. (G.W. Bromley & Co., civil engineers. Published by Geo. W. Bromley & E. Robinson, 1879). Data from Gilfoyle, Timothy. City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790- 1920 WW Norton & Company: New York, 1994.

The Gentleman's Companion: a pocket guidebook to nightlife in New York in 1870. Greene Street had so many brothels that the area was described as a "sink of iniquity." Found in New York Times.

The Gentleman’s Companion: a pocket guidebook to nightlife in New York in 1870. Greene Street had so many brothels that the area was described as a “sink of iniquity.” Found in New York Times.

Garment Industry and Infrastructure: The block was 0.7 miles from the White Star Line at Pier 45, which traveled from Liverpool to New York, stopping in Ireland. These ships often brought immigrants from Europe and took goods from New York on the route back. The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique at Pier 42 travelled to Le Havre in France; the Pacific Mail Steamship Company at Pier 34 shipped to Panama and onto the San Francisco, and then on to Asia. Map of New York City, by Rand McNally and Company, 1897. David Rumsey.

Garment Industry and Infrastructure: The block was 0.7 miles from the White Star Line at Pier 45, which traveled from Liverpool to New York, stopping in Ireland. These ships often brought immigrants from Europe and took goods from New York on the route back. The Compagnie Générale Transatlantique at Pier 42 travelled to Le Havre in France; the Pacific Mail Steamship Company at Pier 34 shipped to Panama and onto the San Francisco, and then on to Asia. Map of New York City, by Rand McNally and Company, 1897. David Rumsey.

Immigration and Labor: The factories are connected to Little Italy and the Lower East Side by new streetcar lines, allowing Italian and Russian Jewish laborers to flock to work on Greene Street. Italian women bring with them a tradition of sewing and embroidery, and many Russian immigrants are also tailors or milliners.   The red (B) areas are Russian Jews, and the brown (C) areas are Italian. This “Ethnic Map” was commissioned by the Joint Legislative Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, and later used by State Senator Clayton Lusk to track suspected radicals.

Immigration and Labor: The factories are connected to Little Italy and the Lower East Side by new streetcar lines, allowing Italian and Russian Jewish laborers to flock to work on Greene Street. Italian women bring with them a tradition of sewing and embroidery, and many Russian immigrants are also tailors or milliners. The red (B) areas are Russian Jews, and the brown (C) areas are Italian. This “Ethnic Map” was commissioned by the Joint Legislative Committee Investigating Seditious Activities, and later used by State Senator Clayton Lusk to track suspected radicals.

Decay and Planning: A 3D map showing the proposed development of the LOMEX, with the Greene Street block marked.

Decay and Planning: A 3D map showing the proposed development of the LOMEX, with the Greene Street block marked.

Urban developers and architects in the 1945 Holden-McLaughlin Plan labeled Greene Street and the SoHo vicinity as an “Obsolete Area.” Their report claims: "None of the present buildings in the block are really worth preserving. This is a clear case calling for complete demolition and complete replacement." Holden-McLaughlin Plan, 1945. Found in Schwartz, Joel. The New York Approach: Robert Moses, Urban Liberals, and Redevelopment of the Inner City. Ohio State University Press: 1993, 148.

Urban developers and architects in the 1945 Holden-McLaughlin Plan labeled Greene Street and the SoHo vicinity as an “Obsolete Area.” Their report claims: “None of the present buildings in the block are really worth preserving. This is a clear case calling for complete demolition and complete replacement.”
Holden-McLaughlin Plan, 1945. Found in Schwartz, Joel. The New York Approach: Robert Moses, Urban Liberals, and Redevelopment of the Inner City. Ohio State University Press: 1993, 148.

The Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic -- derided by Moses as “a bunch of mothers” -- successfully fought for a ban of automobile traffic through Washington Square Park.  Neighborhood activists then formed The Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The group included Jane Jacobs, the urban activist who gained national attention for her advocacy of mixed-use spaces, high-density neighborhoods, and bottom-up community planning in her book The Death and Life of American Cities in 1961. The Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic -- derided by Moses as “a bunch of mothers” -- successfully fought for a ban of automobile traffic through Washington Square Park.  Neighborhood activists then formed The Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The group included Jane Jacobs, the urban activist who gained national attention for her advocacy of mixed-use spaces, high-density neighborhoods, and bottom-up community planning in her book The Death and Life of American Cities in 1961. Jane Jacobs at press conference, 1961. Stanziola, Phil. Library of Congress.

The Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic — derided by Moses as “a bunch of mothers” — successfully fought for a ban of automobile traffic through Washington Square Park. Neighborhood activists then formed The Joint Committee to Stop the Lower Manhattan Expressway. The group included Jane Jacobs, the urban activist who gained national attention for her advocacy of mixed-use spaces, high-density neighborhoods, and bottom-up community planning in her book The Death and Life of American Cities in 1961. Jane Jacobs at press conference, 1961. Stanziola, Phil. Library of Congress.

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1969 (Moratorium), offset lithograph. Found on Artnet.

Jasper Johns, Flag, 1969 (Moratorium), offset lithograph. Found on Artnet.

From Life magazine, SoHo Artist Association Records, Clippings 1970-1978. Archives of American Art.

From Life magazine, SoHo Artist Association Records, Clippings 1970-1978. Archives of American Art.


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