East Village is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan. Its boundary to the north is Gramercy Park and Stuyvesant Town, to the south by the Lower East Side, and to the east by the East River. Generally, although definitions vary on the neighborhood’s exact street boundaries, the East Village is considered to be the area east of Broadway to the East River, between 14th Street and Houston Street.
The area was once generally considered to be part of the Lower East Side, but began to develop its own identity and culture in the late 1960s, when many artists, musicians, students and hippies began to move into the area, attracted by cheap rents and the base of Beatniks who had lived there since the 1950s. The neighborhood has become a center of the counterculture in New York, and is known as the birthplace and historical home of many artistic movements, including punk rock and the Nuyorican literary movement. It has also been the site of protests and riots.
East Village is still known for its diverse community, vibrant nightlife and artistic sensibility, although in recent decades it has been argued that gentrification has changed the character of the neighborhood. The East Village contains several smaller vibrant communities, each with its own character.
Alphabet City, comprising nearly two-thirds of the East Village, was once the archetype of a dangerous New York City neighborhood. Its turn-around was cause for The New York Times to observe in 2005 that Alphabet City went “from a drug-infested no man’s land to the epicenter of downtown cool.” Its name comes from Avenues A, B, C, and D, the only avenues in Manhattan to have single-letter names. It is bordered by Houston Street to the south and 14th Street to the north. Landmarks within Alphabet City include Tompkins Square Park and the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. This part of the neighborhood has long been an ethnic enclave for Manhattan’s German, Polish, Hispanic, and Jewish populations. Crime went up in the area in the late 20th century but then declined in the 21st century, as the area became gentrified.
Loisaida is a term derived from the Latino, and especially Nuyorican, pronunciation of “Lower East Side”. The term was originally coined by poet/activist, Bittman “Bimbo” Rivas in his 1974 poem “Loisaida”. Loisaida Avenue is now an alternative name for Avenue C in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York City, whose population has largely been Hispanic (mainly Nuyorican) since the late 1960s. During the 1980s many of the old, vacant, tenement buildings in this area became inhabited by squatters.
In Alphabet City, Eighth Street becomes St. Marks Place east of Third Avenue. It once had the cachet of Sutton Place, and was known as a secluded rich enclave in Manhattan, but by the 1850s had become a place for boarding houses and a German immigrant community. It is named after St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, which was built on Stuyvesant Street but is now on 10th Street. St. Marks Place once began at the intersection of the Bowery and Stuyvesant Street, but today the street runs from Third Avenue to Avenue A. Japanese street culture and a Japanese expatriate scene forms in the noodle shops and bars that line the street, also home to an aged punk culture and CBGB’s new store. It is home to one of the only Automats in New York City (it has since closed). St. Marks Place is along the “Mosaic Trail”, a trail of 80 mosaic-encrusted lampposts that runs from Broadway down Eighth Street to Avenue A, to Fourth Street and then back to Eighth Street. The project was undertaken by East Village public artist Jim Power, known as the “Mosaic Man”.
The Bowery, former home to the punk-rock nightclub CBGB that closed in 2006, was once known for its many homeless shelters, drug rehabilitation centers and bars. The phrase “On the Bowery”, which has since fallen into disuse, was a generic way to say one was down-and-out.
Today, the Bowery has become a boulevard of new luxury condominiums. It is the location of the Bowery Poetry Club, contributing to the neighborhood’s reputation as a place for artistic pursuit; artists Amiri Baraka and Taylor Mead held regular readings and performances in the space.
Redevelopment of the avenue from flophouses to luxury condominiums has met resistance from long-term residents, who agree the neighborhood has improved but its unique, gritty character is disappearing.
New York University
Along with gentrification, the East Village has seen an increase in the number of buildings owned and maintained by New York University, particularly dormitories for undergraduate students, and this influx has given rise to conflict between the community and the university.
St. Ann’s Church, a rusticated-stone structure with a Romanesque Revival tower on East 12th Street that dated to 1847, was sold to NYU to make way for a 26-story, 700-bed dormitory. After community protest, the university promised to protect and maintain the church’s original facade; and so it did, literally, by having the facade stand alone in front of the building, now the tallest structure in the area. According to many residents, NYU’s alteration and demolition of historic buildings, such as the Peter Cooper Post Office, is spoiling the physical and socio-economic landscape that makes this neighborhood so interesting and attractive.
NYU has often been at odds with residents of both the East and West Villages due to its expansive development plans; urban preservationist Jane Jacobs battled the school in the 1960s. “She spoke of how universities and hospitals often had a special kind of hubris reflected in the fact that they often thought it was OK to destroy a neighborhood to suit their needs,” said Andrew Berman of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.
The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded in 1859 by entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Cooper and located on Cooper Square, is one of the most selective colleges in the world, and formerly offered tuition-free programs in engineering, art and architecture. Its Great Hall is famous as a platform for historic speeches, notably Abraham Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech, and its New Academic Building is the first in New York City to achieve LEED Platinum Status.
According to 2000 census figures provided by the New York City Department of City Planning, which includes the Lower East Side in its calculation, the neighborhood was 35% Asian, 28% non-Hispanic white, 27% Hispanic and 7% black.
On October 9, 1966, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, held the first recorded outdoor chanting session of the Hare Krishna mantra outside of the Indian subcontinent at Tompkins Square Park. This is considered the founding of the Hare Krishna religion in the United States, and the large tree close to the center of the Park is demarcated as a special religious site for Krishna adherents. The late poet Allen Ginsberg, who lived and died in the East Village, attended the ceremony.
Several Roman Catholic churches in the East Village have fallen victim to financial hardship in the last decade. Unable or unwilling to maintain them, the Roman Catholic Church has shuttered St. Mary’s Help of Christians on East 12th Street, as well as St. Ann’s. There has recently been much controversy over St. Brigid’s, the historic parish on Tompkins Square Park. One of the mainstays that remains active is St. Stanislaus, just steps from Tompkins Square Park.
Tompkins Square Park
Tompkins Square Park is a 10.5 acres (42,000 m2) public park in the Alphabet City section of the East Village neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City. Square in shape, it is bounded on the north by East 10th Street, on the east by Avenue B, on the south by East 7th Street, and on the west by Avenue A. St. Marks Place abuts the park to the west.
East River Park
The park is 57 acres (230,000 m2) and runs between the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive and the East River from Montgomery Street to East 12th Street. It was designed in the 1930s by Robert Moses, who wanted to ensure there was parkland on the Lower East Side. In 2010, construction was completed on the East River Promenade, which now runs from East 12th Street to Grand Street and continues to be expanded south.
There are reportedly over 640 community gardens in New York City—gardens run by local collectives within the neighborhood who are responsible for the gardens’ upkeep—and an estimated 10 percent of those are located on the Lower East Side and East Village alone.
Open Road Park
A former cemetery and bus depot, Open Road Park is a garden and a playground occupying the width of a city block.
Tower of Toys on Avenue B
The Avenue B and 6th Street Community Garden is one of the neighborhood’s more notable for a now-removed outdoor sculpture, the Tower of Toys, designed by artist and long-time garden gate-keeper Eddie Boros. Boros died April 27, 2007. The Tower was controversial in the neighborhood; some viewed it as a masterpiece, others as an eyesore. It was a makeshift structure, 65 feet high, assembled of wooden planks. The “toys” suspended from it were an amalgamation of fanciful objects found on the street (Boros was a strong voice for reusing and recycling). The fantastical, childlike feeling of this installation was fitting, considering that the garden boasts a children’s adventure playground and garden. The tower appeared in the opening credits for the television show NYPD Blue and also appears in the musical Rent. In May 2008, it was dismantled. According to NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, the tower was rotting and thus a safety hazard. Its removal was seen by some as a symbol of the neighborhood’s fading past.
Toyota Children’s Learning Garden
Located at 603 East 11th Street, the Toyota Children’s Learning Garden is not technically a community garden, but it also fails to fit in the park category. Designed by landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh, the garden opened in May 2008 as part of the New York Restoration Project and is designed to teach children about plants.
La Plaza Cultural
La Plaza Cultural de Armando Perez (La Plaza Cultural) is a community garden, open-air theater and green space in the East Village