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  • New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore by Kara Murphy Schlichting
  • Thomas A. Rumney
New York Recentered: Building the Metropolis from the Shore. Kara Murphy Schlichting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2019. Pp. 319, photography, maps, notes. $40.00, cloth, ISBN 978-0-226-61302-4.

Perhaps too often, the first reaction to the publication of books about New York City could be "Not another one." Much has been written about the Big Apple, and clearly more will be written about this largest [End Page 259] of urban regions of the United States. What more could be said? Yet Kara Murphy Schlichting has an answer to this question, and she has written a readable, informative, thorough, and "different" examination of the growth and development of New York City and its massive expansion during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. Essential to this volume's "different" themes are the often dominating and always significant land, business, and community developments associated with the extensive shorelines and near-shorelines of the metropolitan region. This is a record of where, why, how, and by whom the shores of Westchester County, Long Island, and southwestern Connecticut stimulated and directed New York City's remarkable expansion.

By the 1820s New York City was on the verge of its massive territorial growth, population explosion, and economic development. This process would continue for the next 120 years, and more. It would also be driven by complex forces of spatial and other changes by a repeated series of innovations that included multiple additions to the region's landscapes of new transportation systems, industrial change, and many instances of political annexations. One regional characteristic that made these expansive energies quite different from other localities in New York City was the many islands, peninsulas, and divided political divisions that were in place before, during, and after this expansion started. These important land divisions and varied natural settings played both subtle and overt roles in the outward flow of the edges of the city, its demographic and economic diversifications, and both the creation of new urbanized communities and the alterations of already existing villages and towns that merged with and morphed into "the City."

Particularly significant in all these processes was the attraction, uses, and further developments of the complex series of coasts and edge areas along freshwater rivers, such as the East and Hudson Rivers, and shorelines bordering saltwater bodies, such as the Long Island Sound. The early importance of these various water-edges derived from economic uses (transportation and fishing mainly), recreational use developments (such as beach fronts, swimming, and boating), the potential (and later developed) creation of amusement parks and facilities, and the aesthetic values of scenery, privacy, and class separations of the more affluent individuals and groups that sought out lands and properties deemed to be better places to live, work, and play.

Very often, individual developers, planners, and landowners stood [End Page 260] out in this widening search for, use of, and ownership of waterfront lands. Among these then-famous people were the noted showman P. T. Barnum and the acclaimed piano manufacturer William Steinway. Both men differed as to their personal goals within these expansions, but they were also important leaders in that expansion. Barnum concentrated on his Bridgeport, Connecticut, home and not only attempted to stimulate that town's growth and well-being but also helped develop the railroad to move people and goods to and from his focus in Connecticut and the obvious sources of wealth and people in New York City. Steinway's piano manufacturing center in Manhattan had grown beyond the capability of that site. Thus, he sought and found new space for his factories and a company town in Queens along Long Island Sound. Not long after these efforts, New York City park commissioner Andrew Haswell Greene concluded that the city was rapidly outgrowing Manhattan Island. His attention and leadership, along with that of Frederick Law Olmstead, was directed toward the southern areas of Westchester County. These lands would eventually become the Bronx. Further land annexation expanded the Bronx as the city's crowded populations and neighborhoods spread northward and along both north...


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