350 pages, 37 b/w photos
With pigs roaming the streets and cows foraging in the Battery, antebellum Manhattan would have been unrecognizable to inhabitants of today's sprawling metropolis. Fruits and vegetables came from small market gardens in the city, and manure piled high on streets and docks was gold to nearby farmers. But as Catherine McNeur reveals in this environmental history of Gotham, a battle to control the boundaries between city and country was already being waged, and the winners would take dramatic steps to outlaw New York's wild side.
Between 1815 and 1865, as city blocks encroached on farmland and undeveloped space to accommodate an exploding population, prosperous New Yorkers and their poorer neighbors developed very different ideas about what the city environment should contain. With Manhattan's image, health, and property values on their minds, the upper classes fought to eliminate urban agriculture and livestock, upgrade sanitation, build new neighborhoods, demolish shantytowns, create parks, and generally improve the sights and smells of city living. Poor New Yorkers, especially immigrants, resisted many of these changes, which threatened their way of life.
By the time the Civil War erupted, bourgeois reform appeared to be succeeding. City government promised to regulate what seemed most ungovernable about urban habitation: the scourge of epidemics and fires, unending filth, and deepening poverty. Yet in privileging the priorities of well-heeled New Yorkers, Manhattan was tamed at the cost of amplifying environmental and economic disparities, as the Draft Riots of 1863 would soon demonstrate.
"Tells an odd story in lively prose. This book implicitly alludes to the urban revival now stretching from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Me., but whatever your thoughts on brewpubs and bike lanes, you probably haven't read a municipal history that has a mayor 'ready to tackle the hog problem.' [...] The city McNeur depicts in Taming Manhattan is the pestiferous obverse of the belle epoque city of Henry James and Edith Wharton that sits comfortably in many imaginations. McNeur's town is a 'veritable manure factory' in which some 10,000 horses each deposit up to 40 pounds of manure a day, while the East River serves as a repository for human waste [...] [Taming Manhattan] is a smart book that engages in the old-fashioned business of trying to harvest lessons for the present from the past."
– Alexander Nazaryan, The New York Times
"[A] fine book which make[s] a real contribution to urban biography."
– Joseph Rykwert, The Times Literary Supplement
"Nearly two centuries before the Occupy Movement, New Yorkers rich and poor clashed over what shape their young city should take. In this superb history, McNeur recovers the bitter battles over feral hogs and untamed dogs, public parks, safe and pure food, effective sanitation, and the fate of the underclass. Making a safer and cleaner city for some, she concludes, also created a shadow city of poverty and filth for others. Taming Manhattan is a thrilling, vivid expedition into Gotham's wild and often violent past."
– Matthew Klingle, author of Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle
"In the decades before the Civil War, New York was rapidly becoming the largest and most important city in the western hemisphere. But mad dogs and wild pigs roamed its streets; garbage heaps, squatters, and shantytowns were commonplace; parks and public open spaces were practically non-existent; and epidemic disease was a constant threat. Catherine McNeur's Taming Manhattan tells us how New York was literally cleaned up and transformed from a health hazard to an emerging world city. And she does it with beautiful prose, careful research, and persuasive argument. Altogether an excellent book."
– Kenneth T. Jackson, editor of The Encyclopedia of New York City
1. Mad Dogs and Loose Hogs
2. Unequally Green
3. The Dung Heap of the Universe
4. Hog Wash and Swill Milk
5. Clearing the Lungs of the City
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Catherine McNeur is Assistant Professor of History at Portland State University.