Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Today's 425

By popular demand, a summary of today's City in History: we talked briefly again about the "second wave" of immigration, which brought millions of east/east central europeans and southeast Europeans to the lower east side of New York. There were some questions about assimilation, i.e. whether today's New York City immigrants have the same burning desire to become Americanized, learn English, etc., as their predecessors. The answer to that is yes, and no...there is a six-year waiting list for free English classes, so the desire to learn is there, even if the money and resources are not. On the other hand, people are more able to keep up with things in the old country via the Internet, and often can work in their ethnic enclave rather than get out, e.g. Russians who work in Russian establishments in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. All the local institutions and businesses speak Russian there, and there is Russian-language media there, thus not so much need to leave there and socialize with non-Russians. So, yes, there is a desire to assimilate, yet also circumstances that permit people to remain in their own world within greater New York.

One of the consequences of the crowding of all these people into lower Manhattan was the (further)congestion of streets--then, as now, it's very hard to make your way above ground there. Thus was born the necessity of the underground, or subway. The city fathers decided that New York would have a subway in the early l890s, and employed mostly Italian unskilled labor to dig the tunnels. In October l904, what is now known as the Lexington Avenue Line debuted to great fanfare, and the subway was launched. Unlike most subways in Europe, you pay the same amount wherever you are going in the five boroughs, so there was now incentive to move out of crowded Manhattan into Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx. You would not be financially penalized on your commute to work from that is a great example of necessity--an immigrant influx--being the engine of invention(the subway).

We also looked at the three major New York newspapers, the New York Times, and then the two tabloid rags, the Daily News and the Rupert Murdoch vehicle, the Fox News of print, the New York Post. These are reliable guides to what is going on in the city today; which you prefer is a function of your tastes in media. If you'd rather see the New York Mayor referred to as "Mr. Bloomberg," you'll probably like the Times. If you like him as "Bloomie," the tabloids are your cup of tea.

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