In 1933 a citizen’s committee was organized in New York with the purpose of promoting the creation of a municipal housing authority empowered to use federal funds for low cost housing and “slum clearance”. Not surprisingly, it adopted the name The Slum Clearance Committee of New York. The committee’s main task was securing legislation permitting the creation of the municipal housing authority, which was accomplished successfully. This necessitated the preparation of informative data through new studies and use of existing material in order to locate sub-standard areas in the city as well as areas suitable for development of low-cost housing. In addition to the maps and charts prepared by the Slum Clearance Committee of New York, the book presents maps and charts of the Land Utilization Committee of the New York Building Congress. The latter are noted on the individual drawings included inside. An index map depicts 14 areas that were analyzed for clearance. A selection of maps illustrates data collection and analysis techniques used to determine suitability for clearance. These maps provide a window into some of the underlying assumptions of slum clearance.
In order to collect the necessary data, the Slum Clearance
Committee (SCC) formulated an agenda. Preliminary studies had eliminated all of the boroughs except Manhattan and Brooklyn from consideration in any plan of slum clearance and building of low-cost housing. Therefore SCC felt that further studies should be limited to those two boroughs. After consultations with social workers, real estate agents and other specialists, the committee designated 12 special study areas in Manhattan and Brooklyn, to which two more areas in Brooklyn were added. The 14 special study areas are shown in a map printed inside both the front and back cover of the book.
The first public presentation of the maps and charts prepared under the direction of SCC took place on April 3, 1934. All of them were displayed for unrestricted viewing, and some were projected on a screen with commentary by R. H. Shreve, Director of the SCC. The curators of this exhibit have chosen to present below several plates that illustrate interesting trends captured by the study. Only thumbnails of the plates are available due to copyright restrictions. The book and all the plates can be viewed in the Map Room in Olin Library.
This plate presents the population distribution in Manhattan by census tracts in 1930 as well as the population change trends from 1790-1930. It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the 19th century, the population of Manhattan comprised 83% of the total population of New York City, but only 27% in 1930, the absolute numbers declining by 400,000.
The speed with which Harlem has expanded may be noted from the two charts showing the distribution of African American population by Census tracts in 1920 and, later, 1930. Thus, in 1930 13 tracts averaged between 75% and 100% African Americans, where in 1920 only 4 tracts rated comparably. For instance, in 1920 Census Tract 235 had 80 African Americans per more than 10,000 people living there; in 1930, there were 8,000 African Americans in a population of 10,000, i.e. an increase of 1,000%
The plate reveals an interesting link between low rent areas and number of vehicular accident deaths. Especially for children under the age of 16, there are concentrations of death locations that are markedly paralleled by low income/rent areas. One notable exception was the Upper Harlem section, where there were numerous accidents, although it was not a low-rent area. The explanation of the SCC was that although the inhabitants, mostly African Americans, lived in “most unfavorable conditions”, they nevertheless paid higher rents. Analyzing the data, the committee came to the conclusion that the lack of recreation areas other than the streets was the main reason for those deaths. At the same time this presented an opportunity to improve conditions by the rearrangement of street patterns and the rerouting of traffic.
The following is a series of maps representing the housing study in areas No. 6, 7, and 8 (Manhattan Upper East Side, Harlem.) These maps are illustrations of the types of studies in all study areas. The study explored and gathered data about various social elements.
1. Condition of buildings – the Civil Works Administration provided staff assistants who conducted a house-to-house survey on behalf of the Tenement House Department, exploring the physical condition of the buildings.
2. Tenement House Violations – the Tenement House Department volunteered the information based on reports by its inspectors. Each dot on the map represents one violation of the Multiple Dwellings Law.
3. Kind of Dwellings – staff assistants from the Civil Works Administration conducted house-to-house surveys marking new-law and old-law tenements. The surveys did not include tenements over six-story high.
4. Residential Property Management – the map was created using Comptroller’s Office tax bill addresses and the land atlas of Manhattan. The Civil Works Administration provided staff assistants.
5. Height Area &Use Zoning – based on city charts obtained from the City Engineer’s Office.
Only thumbnails of the plates are available due to copyright restrictions. The plates can be viewed in the Map Room in Olin Library.
Slum Clearance Committee of New York. Plates 86-89, 91: Housing Study, Areas No.86-89, 91. In: Maps and Charts Prepared by the Slum Clearance Committee of New York, 1933-1934. Cornell University Library Collection.