Lower East Side Development Spells Decline of Old Jewish Power Brokers

Seward Park Project Signals End of Era in Old Neighborhood

Location, Location: The development of an unimpressive looking stretch of the lower East Side after decades of delay signals a political changing of the guard in the fast gentrifying area of Manhattan.
ari jankelowitz
Location, Location: The development of an unimpressive looking stretch of the lower East Side after decades of delay signals a political changing of the guard in the fast gentrifying area of Manhattan.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published March 04, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 6)

Bulldozed as part of a slum clearance project in 1967, the blocks between Grand Street and the Williamsburg Bridge had been torn up and then left to rot. When the old tenements that housed generations of immigrants were first pulled down and nearly 2,000 poor families were evicted, the plan was to build new low-income housing. Many of the middle-class Jews of nearby Grand Street, however, didn’t want more poor neighbors.

The fight over the Seward Park site wasn’t over whether the tract should be redeveloped. Everyone wanted to put something on the blighted block. No one could agree, however, on how much low-income housing should be included in the redevelopment plan. Advocates and opponents fought bitterly for decades. A community meeting on the issue in 2004 “turned into complete and utter chaos,” Berg recalls.

When Berg was elected to head the community board in 2008, he saw a political opening. The Grand Street co-ops were changing. The apartments once full of older Jews were turning over, the long-term residents being replaced with younger families.

Some of these new families were Jewish. Some, like Berg’s, were half Jewish. They were separated from their older neighbors by a generational and a cultural gulf.

With backing from the new residents, Berg shepherded through a compromise on the redevelopment plan that was approved by the community board and the New York City Council. With the support of an enthusiastic Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the long-delayed Seward Park redevelopment, as the plan for doing away with the parking lots is known, is finally moving forward. Proposals for the site are due from developers in May.

“The co-ops have changed a lot,” Berg said. “There were people that were really able to say, this one voice that’s been on Grand Street isn’t a monolithic voice anymore. We want to see progress on these lots.”


On a Monday morning in February, Nick Rhodes, 30, is walking his tiny black dog outside the Seward Park Cooperative, the Grand Street co-op complex closest to the redevelopment site. He’s drinking coffee from Pushcart Coffee, a hip coffee shop on East Broadway, and has a hip moustache that ends in a swirl.

Rhodes’s great grandfather lived on nearby Henry Street, but when he moved into the co-op eight years ago he says he was the youngest person on his floor by 50 years.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.