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Shame, shame, shame: shame on Little Italy


Fat Guy
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That is certainly one explanation and may be an element in the development of immigrant ethnic "enclaves" although I think it is a relatively minor one. That is not to deny that "racial steering" has occurred and may still occur or that recent immigrants may have difficulty entering the American mainstream. I think the main reason sizable numbers of recent immigrants create "enclaves" is that they are more comfortable in a culture that is familiar with ready access to their own cultural needs. More important even than restaurants are the shops such as the small food markets that sell familiar products that lend comfort and access to financial and other sources geared specifically towards them. As the recent immigrants children begin to assimilate into the American culture at large, they begin to disperse. So long as the immigration pattern remains strong the ethnic neighborhoods will thrive. Once that dissipates it only becomes a matter of time for the ethnic neighborhood to deteriorate. I think this clearly happened to Little Italy and similar Italian neighborhoods. A more generalized discussion of this phenomenon is probably beyond the scope of this topic unless it relates directly back to the deterioration of Little Italy as discussed here.

Well, if you look into the sociological and demographic research done on cities, including NYC, you'll find that the research supports what I'm saying about the formation of ethnic neighborhoods. Structural constraints limit where people can settle more than their preferences do. There are a lot of studies on this, but I'll just quote this bit from the abstract of the first one that came up for me (From "Race and Ethnicity in Housing: Turnover in NYC, 1978-1987"):

The findings suggest the presence of structural constraints in the housing market which effectively channel racial/ethnic groups to separate neighborhoods. The overall results are reminiscent of early studies of neighborhood transition by Duncan and Duncan (1957) and Taeuber and Taeuber (1965), and show that little progress has been made in achieving equality in housing or informal social contact between racial/ethnic groups.

And that's just one study, that's a bit old at this point. Anyway, I think it's widely known by those who study cities that this is what happens much more often than people freely choosing which areas they want to live in. But the reason I want to point out how this happened in the first place is to say that segregated neighborhoods with a bunch of ethnically-similar restaraunts are not a sign of progress, but of problems and inequality. That is directly related to the issue of ethnic neighborhood deterioration because, well, should we really be trying to encouage segregation? It seems a bit to me like getting nostalgic about colonization or other unsavory periods and practices in US history.

Your points are well taken. I think John L. addressed some up-topic as well. Sure most people who wind up in ethnic neighborhoods would rather have the means to be in more upscale locations as per John's Asian example, but the reason they tend to concentrate in specific neighborhoods is still due to familiarity - with people already there as well as customs. of course, it also has to be a neighborhood that they can afford so the choices are indeed limited as you pointed out.

The second part of your post is quite right. It is certainly not a bad thing for the people who grew out of their neighborhoods. I am one of them. Segregation, especially forced cannot be defended nor am I wont to do so. However, something special is lost or diminished when these cultural icons are lost. They are part of one's identity. What people including myself are bemoaning here is not that the neighborhood has "gone downhill" or even that it has been replaced by different ethnic groups each of which are doing what those before have done. What we are bemoaning is the loss of a particular quality and identity. Who will replace DePaolo's when that wonderful institution eventually gives way or becomes something different than what made it great? Or Esposito's Pork Store in Brooklyn? or others, whatever the ethnic origin? In this particular discussion it happens to be the Italians of Manhattan's Little Italy but the questions can apply to any recently assimilated culture. However, while the convergence of ethnic homogeneity in an area may very well be signs of "problems and inequality" I don't believe that it is necessarily so. It is if those neighborhoods are closed off to others or egress from those neighborhoods is closed off to those who comprise it. Fortunately I think that while still present in various parts of the country and city it is less so than it was in the past.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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This is starting to veer off topic but I would say that you are not looking at the whole picture. The studies to which you refer, I believe deal with patterns of movement after initial immigration.

You also use the term "segregated neighborhoods."

Racism plays a role in restricting choices and opportunity. Let's not blow it way out of proportion though. The fact remains that a primary reason Little Italy's are disappearing is a lack of influx of poor Italians combined with a movement of Italian Americans from poorer "enclaves" to wealthier areas. Interestingly there are wealthier enclaves of Italians in Westchester and Long Island proving my point that people poor or rich and in between tend to migrate to places where there are others like them.

The race issue doesn't play well here either--there happen to be neighborhoods in the suburbs that are mostly populated by African Americans--New Rochelle for example--who are wealthy.

It is far too simple to say that ghettos or ethnic neighborhoods in America are the result of the factors that created European ghettos such as those prior to WWII.

I also believe you are really talking about red lining which is a real estate practice motivated not so much by racism as greed. You also seem to be confusing segregation as a major reason for ethnic neighborhoods. these neighborhoods exist due to many reasons--this is a complex issue--in most cases not as a result of some sort of forced segregation.

For example there are neighborhoods in Manhattan populated by people who have come from the same town in the Dominican republic.

Even using the term "colonization" in the context of this discussion is hugely off base and just plain wrong.

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JohnL, I disagree. The one study I referred to was about patterns after initial immigration, but there is certainly evidence indicating the same thing happened during initial immigration. Also, the point about there being wealthier ethnic enclaves misses the point that those areas also result from racial steering. Since you referred to wealthy black suburbs, I'll point out that in the book "Red Lines, Black Spaces," the author demonstrates how a black middle-class suburb formed not from choice, but because redlining practices and other structural constraints prohibited buying in other areas. People bought in Nepperham (now Runyon Heights) not because of commonalities with other residents, but because that's where they had to buy. There are plenty of interviews with residents which support the fact that wealth does not equate freedom of choice. This is institutional racism, which is still racism even when it's not "personal."

Edited by plk (log)
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While this discussion is quite interesting, worthy of discussion and heretofore has been pertinent to the topic, it is becoming increasingly more marginal to it. As such this avenue is closed unless it can be explicitly brought to bear on the apparent deterioration of the quality of the Italian-American food in Little Italy.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Agreed Doc.

Little Italy in Manhattan once had around 70,000 inhabitants of Italian extraction in the twenties. The current figure is around 5,000.

No wonder the restaurant/food scene is fading.

I would imagine that the first wave of immigrants came from Southern Italy which would account for the proliferation of restaurants serving Neopolitan cuisine.

This would also account for the fact that most Americans at one time were most likely to be exposed to this cuisine. As best as I can recall other Italian cuisines came later or seemed to.

The Arthur Avenue neighborhood is still thriving but it is not what it once was as it is probably experiencing the same dynamic that the Manhattan Little Italy is going through.

I wonder how long it will be until all that is left is a plaque.

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I was excited to explore Little Italy - I just moved to New York from Montreal last month - and I have to say, it was extremely disappointing. I walked there today, hoping not to dine but to find incredible ingredients imported from Tuscany, Piemonte, Sicily etc. but from what I discovered there were two shops, mostly filled with fresh pasta offerings and lunch items "to go". It seems if you hang sausages from the ceiling it at least looks authentic. And of course on the way there, since it was a rather nice day, the sidewalks were overtaken by the outdoor tables of the Italian restaurants - I am honestly not sure what was worse - the faux Pho Vietnamese restaurant I ate lunch at (remarkably the worst thing I have pretty much ever eaten - since when does Bun come with stir fried peppers on top?) or the flourescent red sauce on every single dish on every table that I squeezed by on the sidewalk. I doubt any Italian would touch that stuff either - oh my!!!

It is often hard not to compare but Little Italy in Montreal is thriving - for a bilingual city, Italian is the first language spoken there. From the cappucino sport's clubs to the Jean Talon outdoor Market where there chefs from surrounding restaurants actually shop for the night's menu, it has really captured the heart of what Little Italy should be. They show the F1 races at any hour and if Ferrari wins you hear it across the Island. From what I could tell, sadly, the LI in NYC is just like the one in Toronto - labelled as such on a map for historical purposes with one or two red, white, and green flags still trying to hold post. I guess I'll have to get my fresh mozarella from whole foods :wink:

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you should have come here first.

there is one wonderful Italian food store in Little Italy...DiPaolo's.

otherwise it's a joke.

however, there's one excellent Italian restaurant (Peasant) and three decent ones (Bread, Cafe Falai and Epistrophy) in what was historically Little Italy and is now known as NoLIta.

Peasant is on the east side of Elizabeth between Spring and Prince. Cafe Falai is on the east side of Lafayette between Spring and Prince, Bread is on the south side of Spring between Elizabeth and Mott (you might be able to enter through its garden on Kenmare as well) and Epistrophy is on the east side of Mott between Spring and Kenmare.

DiPaolo's is on the corner of Mott and Grand and they have excellent mozzarella.

P.S. Montreal's Little Italy is fabulous....picturesque too.

Edited by Nathan (log)
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you should have come here first.

there is one wonderful Italian food store in Little Italy...DiPaolo's.

otherwise it's a joke.

however, there's one excellent Italian restaurant (Peasant) and three decent ones (Bread, Cafe Falai and Epistrophy) in what was historically Little Italy and is now known as NoLIta.

Peasant is on the east side of Elizabeth between Spring and Prince.  Cafe Falai is on the east side of Lafayette between Spring and Prince, Bread is on the south side of Spring between Elizabeth and Mott (you might be able to enter through its garden on Kenmare as well) and Epistrophy is on the east side of Mott between Spring and Kenmare.

DiPaolo's is on the corner of Mott and Grand and they have excellent mozzarella.

P.S.  Montreal's Little Italy is fabulous....picturesque too.

I went out to explore the LES, which took me into Chinatown and then into Litte Italy. Coincidentally I noticed this topic posted and felt it was very relevant to my thoughts as I was dodging the Italian suited individuals accosting people on nearly every corner (all 4 at least). Thanks for the restos and DiPaolo's suggestions - I have them noted and will stop by on my next pilgrimage...

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I was excited to explore Little Italy - I just moved to New York from Montreal last month - and I have to say, it was extremely disappointing.  I walked there today, hoping not to dine but to find incredible ingredients imported from Tuscany, Piemonte, Sicily etc. but from what I discovered there were two shops, mostly filled with fresh pasta offerings and lunch items "to go".  It seems if you hang sausages from the ceiling it at least looks authentic.  And of course on the way there, since it was a rather nice day, the sidewalks were overtaken by the outdoor tables of the Italian restaurants - I am honestly not sure what was worse - the faux Pho Vietnamese restaurant I ate lunch at (remarkably the worst thing I have pretty much ever eaten - since when does Bun come with stir fried peppers on top?) or the flourescent red sauce on every single dish on every table that I squeezed by on the sidewalk.  I doubt any Italian would touch that stuff either - oh my!!!

It is often hard not to compare but Little Italy in Montreal is thriving - for a bilingual city, Italian is the first language spoken there.  From the cappucino sport's clubs to the Jean Talon outdoor Market where there chefs from surrounding restaurants actually shop for the night's menu, it has really captured the heart of what Little Italy should be.  They show the F1 races at any hour and if Ferrari wins you hear it across the Island.  From what I could tell, sadly, the LI in NYC is just like the one in Toronto - labelled as such on a map for historical purposes with one or two red, white, and green flags still trying to hold post.  I guess I'll have to get my fresh mozarella from whole foods  :wink:

It's interesting that when people move to/visit NYC, they're often taken aback that some restaurants don't meet the standards of "their" origin city. NYC has over 15,000 restaurants and you walk into one and expect it to be great?

Little Italy ain't what it once was and hasn't been for 30 years. And if the true nature of a good Italian restaurant is that they show F1 races at all hours, well...

No doubt that everything in Montreal is better, but get some guidance from these here boards, shop at the greenmarkets, and in no time you might find something that meets your standards!

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I was excited to explore Little Italy - I just moved to New York from Montreal last month - and I have to say, it was extremely disappointing.  I walked there today, hoping not to dine but to find incredible ingredients imported from Tuscany, Piemonte, Sicily etc. but from what I discovered there were two shops, mostly filled with fresh pasta offerings and lunch items "to go".  It seems if you hang sausages from the ceiling it at least looks authentic.  And of course on the way there, since it was a rather nice day, the sidewalks were overtaken by the outdoor tables of the Italian restaurants - I am honestly not sure what was worse - the faux Pho Vietnamese restaurant I ate lunch at (remarkably the worst thing I have pretty much ever eaten - since when does Bun come with stir fried peppers on top?) or the flourescent red sauce on every single dish on every table that I squeezed by on the sidewalk.  I doubt any Italian would touch that stuff either - oh my!!!

It is often hard not to compare but Little Italy in Montreal is thriving - for a bilingual city, Italian is the first language spoken there.  From the cappucino sport's clubs to the Jean Talon outdoor Market where there chefs from surrounding restaurants actually shop for the night's menu, it has really captured the heart of what Little Italy should be.  They show the F1 races at any hour and if Ferrari wins you hear it across the Island.  From what I could tell, sadly, the LI in NYC is just like the one in Toronto - labelled as such on a map for historical purposes with one or two red, white, and green flags still trying to hold post.  I guess I'll have to get my fresh mozarella from whole foods  :wink:

It's interesting that when people move to/visit NYC, they're often taken aback that some restaurants don't meet the standards of "their" origin city. NYC has over 15,000 restaurants and you walk into one and expect it to be great?

Little Italy ain't what it once was and hasn't been for 30 years. And if the true nature of a good Italian restaurant is that they show F1 races at all hours, well...

No doubt that everything in Montreal is better, but get some guidance from these here boards, shop at the greenmarkets, and in no time you might find something that meets your standards!

Well I think everyone uses what they are familiar with as a point of comparison not matter where they move from - for better or worse. I have been reading about the NYC restaurant scene for a few years now - between the NY Times, Andrea Strong's Strong Buzz and the whatever else I could get my hands on online and in magazine stores - so I am not sure it is unreasonable to expect it to live up to all the hype - that is the downside of being a city with huge restaurant/chef exposure.

BTW - the places in Little Italy that show the F1 are not the restaurants - it was too merely point out that the community in Little Italy is stronger beyond just the restaurants (which in part contributes to the quality of their restaurants) - it isn't a tourist area nor do they strive to make it one, it is a home to the people who are working hard to preserve their culture - they bleed Ferrari red!

Remember this was a thread about Little Italy and it was by coincidence that I happened to walk through it and see this posted on the same day, it isn't a dish on the NYC restaurant scene at all. And not everything in Montreal is better - that would be a very single minded assumption on my part - because every city is unique and exciting in its own right. For one thing there are not 15,000+ restaurants to explore (we could not publish a Time Out book dedicated to Eating and Drinking that would be more than 30 pages), there are number of restaurants but once you find "the best of", that dwindles the overall opportunities very quickly and any new ones opening seem to be recycled chefs with less than original ideas. I have eaten amazing Indian, Spanish, Japanese, and Thai food here (so far) and I am looking forward to many more memorable meals (but on the downside I have also had 2 of the worst meals in my life here - but I fully understand that comes with the territory). I am equipped with resources (the Time Out book, Best of New York and Cheap Eats issues and of course this board) and I know there will be many more restaurants that will become places cravings are made of - I am just not sure many of those will necessarily be found in Little Italy (nor is that the place where I can catch much missed F1 races)...

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