Author Archives: Ben S.

Post-Site Visit Reflection

It was interesting meeting a NYCHA representative, property manager Cyriaca Decaille, and learning about how the people in the Farragut Houses live. I didn’t know, for instance, that their rent was tied to their income, and I didn’t know that there was a long waiting list to get into the projects. It was also really interesting going inside a building and seeing a lobby. I found it kind of depressing. I live in a kind of “project” myself—Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan, much in the news lately—but our lobbies and hallways are much more inviting.

I enjoyed learning about the services available to the Farragut Houses residents, everything from tutoring to elder care. I was impressed—though not surprised—to hear about all the work that goes into maintaining a complex of this size. Ms. Decaille answered a wide variety of questions about everything from safety to apartment sizes to education in the area, all of which gave me a fuller understanding of the community. Unfortunately she was not able to answer my questions about public transportation in the neighborhood (she said, “I don’t know; I drive!”). I had hoped to find out which subways stations most residents used, whether they commuted to work by subway, whether they tended to work in Brooklyn, Manhattan, or another borough, whether the local stations were convenient, and whether the neighborhood was well served by public transportation. Although these questions weren’t answered, the visit was enlightening in other ways.

One thing I’m very interested in, in addition to transportation (my hobby!), is gentrification, the sharp divide between rich and poor—seen so clearly in the Farragut Houses/Vinegar Hill/DUMBO neighborhood. Ms. Decaille addressed some of this when she talked about the availability of jobs, the neighborhood schools, the lack of a nearby supermarket (something I had already read about in The New York Times), and the sharp dividing line between rich and poor neighborhoods. We also heard about it in the WNYC radio program we listened to and many articles exist online, including one in the New York Daily News titled “Life of Poverty and Fear in Brooklyn Housing Project for Those in Shadow of Wealth.” This is a problem throughout the city, and an issue I care about deeply myself. I hope the residents of Farragut Houses and their wealthy DUMBO neighbors can find ways of bridging the divide.

Five Questions

  1. Redefine your topic as narrowly as possible.

My topic is transportation over time to the area around the Farragut Houses, specifically Vinegar Hill and downtown Brooklyn. My specific focus is rapid transit.

  1. What have you learned about the topic? Be sure you can document & cite sources.

I’ve learned that even before the Farragut Houses were opened in 1952, the F train served the area with a stop at York Street, the same stop as it is today. The station opened on April 9, 1936. Another nearby station, High Street, opened in 1933. The R train to Lawrence Street, now part of J Street–Metrotech, opened as part of the BMT line on March 11, 1920. The IRT first came to Borough Hall, Brooklyn, in 1908. The subway system opened in Manhattan on October 27, 1904. Before the underground trains were built, the city, including downtown Brooklyn, was served by elevated lines. The first el opened for business on July 1, 1868, going from Dey Street to 29th Street in Manhattan on a single track. The first el came to downtown Brooklyn in 1885. I can document sources for all this information.

  1. What do you want to say about the topic?

I want to demonstrate the importance of transportation in urban development. A vibrant rapid transit network is the lifeblood of a city. New York City, including downtown Brooklyn, developed around the subway system. But how effective is transportation to the area around Farragut Houses today? Once the city tore down the old el, did transportation become better or worse? How well does the current rapid transit system serve the residents of the Farragut Houses? How well does it serve the wealthier residents in the surrounding neighborhoods?

  1. What do you still need to do/know/research to accomplish #3?
  • I still need to gather old transportation maps showing every year from the late 1880s until today.
  • I still need to collect more newspaper and/or magazine articles about rapid transit in New York City from the days of the el through the building of the subway through today.
  • I still to do more research on the situation today to understand how well the current subway system serves the Farragut Houses neighborhood.
  1. What is your game plan?
  • I plan to return to both the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library to continue looking at maps and newspaper clippings.
  • I plan to do a lot more online research, because much of this material is available in digital formats.
  • In addition to the newspapers available in the BPL “morgue,” I will research New York City newspaper archives, particularly The New York Times, looking for material about public transportation.
  • I will also search the archives looking for material about urban development and about the effect of transportation availability on urban neighborhoods.
  • I will look for books about urban development and transportation.




Post-Visit Reflection: New York Public Library

I really enjoyed our visit to the New York Public Library map room. I’d been to the library many times, of course, but I’d never been to the map room before. I didn’t even know it existed!

I looked at many different maps of the area around the Farragut Houses, generally known as DUMBO, downtown Brooklyn, and/or Vinegar Hill. I found lots of interesting information about the street layout and how it changed over the years. The most interesting thing actually was the fact that it didn’t change very much until the Farragut Houses were constructed.  At that point, the neighborhood was demolished. Streets disappeared, were deleted, replaced by superblocks.

I didn’t find a lot of new information about transportation to the area—the main topic of my research project—because transit maps were not made available to us during our visit to the library. I did find one page in one book relating to the subway system, however, a map showing plans for the second system, the city’s planned expansion of the subway right before the Great Depression. The Depression derailed the plans, and then World War II killed them entirely: there were no workers around to do the building and all available iron and steel was needed for the war effort. One part of the planned system, the Second Avenue subway, is still under construction today.

It was very meaningful to me to be surrounded by all those maps, the physical record of our changing city. I find maps—especially paper maps—fascinating, almost poetic, a way to be in touch with history. I’m glad I discovered the NYPL map room. I’m sure I’ll return.

Pre-Site Visit Reflection NYPL

I’m looking forward to our visit to the New York Public Library map room. I’m very fond of that library; when I was a kid I used to sit on the steps and talk to the lions, Patience and Fortitude. I got a library card as soon as I could print my first name, though I mainly went to my local branches to take out books. I’m also looking forward to the visit because I’ve never been to the map room and I’ve always liked looking at maps. I really like geography so I find looking at old maps very interesting. I collect city maps whenever I travel—and of course I collect subway/metro/underground maps.

Matthew Allen Knutzen’s article, “Unbinding the Atlas: Moving the NYPL Map Collection Beyond Digitization,” was fascinating. I hadn’t thought much—at all—before about the process of digitizing paper maps. It’s an amazing project: not just simply putting maps online, but coordinating them with all sorts of other data about the region displayed and making them searchable not just by area names but by coordinates of longitude and latitude. That means it will be possible to find a map of a region even if the region had a different name or was still unnamed. It will be possible to visualize the changes in a region over time. An earlier project discussed, Building a Globally Distributed Historical Sheet Map Collection—“centered on a set of 776 topographic maps published in multiple editions by the Austro-

Hungarian Empire from 1877 to 1914”—would have been incredibly useful for another class I’m taking right now on immigration history. My own ancestors came from the Austro-Hungarian Empire during exactly those years.

It will be interesting to see the NYPL’s map collection, hundreds of thousands of maps spanning centuries—and it’s exciting to think that in the future I’ll be able to search many (most? all?) of this material online.