By U. J. |
Baxter Street is located in the Five Points neighborhood, which was densely populated with people, structures and debris in the 1800s. The street is known to have housed African Americans, Irish, Italians, and other poor immigrants. These groups had fled their homes in Europe or the South to look for better lives in Baxter Street. However, the new destination did not solve their problems as there were many challenges in the streets of the Five Points, including violence and prostitution. There was also a lack of access to basic needs and social amenities; hence people suffered from diseases like tuberculosis. Five points was the most dangerous place to live in New York City as many of its inhabitants were associated with criminal enterprises (Asbury 2001).
The photographer and Danish immigrant Jacob Riis recorded life in the Five Points in his famous book How the Other Half Lives: Studies among the Tenements of New York (1890). Advances in flash photography around this time made it possible for him to take photographs depicting the sorry state of affairs encountered by poor people who lived in the New York slums. As shown in his his photographs, people lived desperate lives in the alleyways, tenements, and on street corners. Most of them squeezed into densely crowded apartments.
Today, the buildings that are situated along Baxter Street house very busy commercial enterprises such as shopping centers and restaurants. Unlike other areas of lower Manhattan, the environment that surrounds the street is very pleasant, as the trees around brings in good air. Columbus Park, which is busy with kids playing and benches for parents to relax on, is located in the center of Baxter Street and Mulberry street. (Riis 2012). There are various business enterprises, such as electronics shops, fish markets, beauty shops and dollar stores. Chinatown is nearby.
Not much remains of the old Baxter Street photographed by Jacob Riis when it was an area where diseases were caught, violence occurred everywhere you turned, there was prostitution, fighting over money, no food, water to drink only from the river, and no place to live for many except in the streets and alleyways. For the old Baxter Street, you need to examine Riis’s photographs or re-watch Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002).
Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2001. Print.
Riis, Jacob. How The Other Half Lives. Dover Publications, 2012. Print.