- On Our Cover for 7.2
The Mulberry Bend. Jacob Riis devoted a full chapter of How the Other Half Lives (1890)1 to this notorious section of lower Manhattan, the “foul core of New York slums.” Disgusted, diverted, and dismayed in turn, Riis narrates the world the 1890 map on our cover cheerily plots in bright pink; winding streets with little air and less light, buildings jammed onto tiny parcels of land. The map gives the location of fire hydrants, where Riis describes the encounter, like something out of Stephen Crane’s Maggie, of “a really pretty girl with a string of amber beads twisted artlessly in the knot of her raven hair” and her “rude swain.” Balancing anecdote with numbers both large and small—figures of infant mortality or temporary residents
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squeezed into squalid rooms—Riis sketches the “Bend,” seeking to record the reality of human suffering but often reflecting his own outraged sensibilities as much as the outrageous living conditions in the “Bend.” Like the photograph of Mulberry Bend Riis includes in How the Other Half Lives, our cover image offers another way to see, or not, how people inhabit the world.
Within a decade, the version of the “Bend” represented in the map would be gone. The New York State Small Parks Act of 1887 authorized the seizure of private property to improve living conditions in overcrowded urban areas and, by 1890, plans were underway—and already opposed—to locate a park at Mulberry Bend. Better known for his work on Central and Prospect Parks, Calvert Vaux was involved in the park’s planning. The park opened in 1897.
1. Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives. Ed. Halia R. Diner. New York: Norton, 2009.