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Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

What is different about LES tenements today?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7857 points ) February 10th, 2012

I’m doing a research paper about governmental neglect of immigrants and working class people during the Industrial Revolution.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a homework question.
During the Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age, the Lower East Side of Manhattan was the most densely populated place on the planet. Tenements were constantly at risk of fires, and the people were at risk for diseases from living so close together. 1 in 10 infants died in urban areas because of the dense living conditions.
The tenement buildings (though not disease-ridden) still exist today.
What changed that makes them less at risk for fire and disease, and why are they so sought after to live in today, when people hated living in them because they were so packed years ago?
What am I missing? Modern technology has helped us somewhat, but don’t the basics still remain?
I don’t need this info for my paper, I just want to know at this point. What changed about these tenements? New York City is still one of the densest cities in the world, just as it was during the Industrial Revolution even more so now. The apartment buildings are just as packed. What happened?

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7 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

I’ve never lived in this area, but I’ve read enough about “cold water walk-ups” to spot two huge improvements right there: Hot running water (and central heat) and elevators. Electricity and air conditioning would make another pair of colossal improvements.

I have a hard time believing that wooden structures “at risk for fire” from 100 years ago still exist in their current configuration in New York City. Perhaps someone can correct me on that if I’m wrong. My belief is that the buildings that existed 100 years ago have been replaced or have been modified beyond recognition from what used to be there.

marmoset's avatar

Nope, none of the basics remain. All of the U.S. is dramatically “less at risk for fire and disease” (changes in heating/lighting tech, vast changes in medicine and standards of living) and the LES is now one of the most desirable neighborhoods in NYC.

marmoset's avatar

Also (not that it’s relevant to the questions of fire or disease) I’m sure the apts are not as densely packed today as they were then. A 2BR floor-thru occupied now by one or two people would typically have housed a large family.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t know about New York but 19th century Glasgow had lots of tenement buildings that were put up to house immigrants to the city. These were small apartments that were terribly overcrowded with whole families living in one room and with lodgers taken in to help pay the rent. The flats had few amenities, the toilets were shared among families and there were no baths or running hot water. Heating was from coal fires.

People were keen to get away from these flats and after the Second World War when new housing estates and new towns were built in the countryside they left in hundreds of thousands. Most of the old tenements were demolished before it was realised that they could be converted into desirable homes. These old tenements, when sand blasted, were lovely buildings of red or honey coloured sandstone and by converting three flats into two and installing modern conveniences the flats were readily made into desirable homes in desirable city centre locations. New York seems to have been similar

Nullo's avatar

Check out Pruitt-Igoe. It’s a bit dated – they blew it up in the… 70s, I think. A good example of how it can still go wrong.

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auhsojsa's avatar

I think LES is kind of a lifestyle these days. But even LES people can afford iPods and stuff like that, because computer equipment is almost a necessity in America if anyones going to move forward.

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