Harlem children playing leap-frog in 1930.

If you ask a New Yorker where they are from, chances are they will identify themselves by their neighborhood, not the city itself. A neighborhood is a reflection of a person’s beliefs, values and culture. Density and the small public spaces f, urban neighborhoods create a strong sense of community, often centered around the activities of children at play, school, and with family. Neighborhoods also serve as ethnic enclaves for immigrants. They are places of cultural familiarity where shopkeepers speak the same language and sell foods from the homeland, while providing access to jobs and comforts in a new environment. They also house places of worship, places of recreation, and places of civic activity.


East 100th Street residents stand in doorways of a block in
East Harlem, New York, 1966.

A city can be seen as a world of small neighborhoods characterized by personal relationships with family, friends, neighbors, storekeepers, and even acquaintances one encounters over periods of time on public streets. Streets provide places for vendors
to peddle goods, adults to gather, and teenagers to hang out. The streets, sidewalks, and neighborhood parks have served as playgrounds for children, especially during the early 20th century, when children played stickball, hopscotch, jump rope, and tag on the streets. The neighborhood barbershops, beauty parlors and stores serve as places to meet and discuss gossip, ideas, and politics. Neighborhood streets can be the scene of turf wars between gangs as well as staging grounds for protests.



This kosher meat market on the Lower East Side of Manhattan
was one of many stores that catered to the needs of the Jewish
community, c. 1958. It and many other buildings were
condemned to make way for the Samuel Gompers Houses,
a public housing project named after the founder of the American
Federation of Labor.

Racial segregation, which often correlates with higher rates of crime and poorer social services, is still the norm for most urban neighborhoods. A recent study of Chicago by Robert J. Sampson and Stephen W. Raudenbush found that neighborhood residents of all races perceived more social disorder in their neighborhood when African-Americans or the poor lived in that neighborhood. Yet even though neighborhoods reflect the social problems cities must confront and overcome, they are also the building blocks for the civic activism needed to tackle them.

South Asians in Jackson Heights, Queens, 2006.”


Children playing in a street with an opened hydrant, New York, c.