The A, B, C and Ds of ALPHABET CITY (the “Not East Village” song”)

August 28, 2015 - City / Culture / New York

Two years ago when I first moved to New York, Avenues A, B, C and D were talked about as if they were apart of the East Village. And I happily went along not knowing better.

The more I became acquainted with my neighborhood; chatting with neighbors and locals, the more I realized that Avenues A through D aren’t really part of the “Village”, and the “East Village” as we know it to be today was concocted by real estate agents in the early 80s (edit: actually, the “East Village” moniker has existed since the 1960s) to make the East Side more palatable to potential renters and buyers.

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Avenue A, B, C, and D are Alphabet City, the neighborhood immortalized by the popular Broadway shows Rent and Avenue Q and before that, the setting for “Hair”. It’s just plainly incorrect for anyone to say they live in East Village when they reside on east of First Avenue (thus A, B, C, D is Alphabet City). Not only is it incorrect and historically disrespectful, the whole push that the “East Village” includes all Avenues east of 1st is perpetuating genetrification.

As I continue to find my way in the city, I now tell those that ask that I live in Alphabet City, so as not to further the “East Village” sprawl.

The “East Village sprawl” impacts Avenue C in particular. Way back in the day, parts of what is now known as the East Village and Alphabet City were clumped all together as the Lower East Side Pangea. The area was known for its German, Polish, Hispanic, Italian, Chinese and Jewish immigrant populations — not to mention the street culture that developed here. Many Puerto Ricans pronounce “Lower East Side” as “Loisaida.” and Avenue C is now officially known as Loisaida as a tribute to that heritage.

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Don’t Go East of First Avenue

A catchy anecdote about Alphabet City developed due to the area’s dangerous history of drugs and violence. Depending on who you ask, or which you thought was the most clever, each lettered Avenue represented a worsening situation as you ventured east.

  1. Aware, Beware, Caution, Death (EV Grieve)
  2. Adventurous, Brave, Crazy, Dead (City Data)
  3. Assault, Battery, Coma, Dead (City Data)
  4. Alright, Bad, Crazy, Death (WSJ)
  5. Alright, Brave, Crazy, Dead (The Deli)
  6. A-Okay, Be Careful, Caution, Danger (New York is Not Scary)

More Like “AMAZING BRUNCH and CAPPUCCINOS!”

Today, the “ABCD” anecdote doesn’t hold any longer. There’s nothing to talk about or fear walking along Avenue A or Avenue B — there are NYU students jogging, small dogs yipping, major bank chains and strollers all up and down Avenue A and B.

Depending on what you consider safe and how exposed you are to city living, Avenue C isn’t anything to fear (from my perspective). Though Avenue C has been in transition for more than a decade, its reputation of being “too east” still holds because of the housing projects dotting the area:

There’s also some negative preconceptions to the historical Puerto-Rican presence on Avenue C. Even with housing projects and racism, Avenue C doesn’t live up to the “caution” or “crazy” anymore, but more “condos,” “casual dining,” “craft cocktails,” and “cappuccinos”.

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Avenue D Hangs On

Avenue D, as any version of the above jingles suggest, maintains some of the threat-level from decades ago. Despite the gentrification that continues west of D, that avenue is the only one that remains similar to the 1970s and 1980s due to the current concentration of crimes found in the area (but that’s relative) and Jacob Riis housing projects that’s shielded from the gentrification. Jacob Riis runs along D and spans entirely from East 6th to East 13th street.

Heatmap Crime Map of Alphabet City in New York City

The image above is a heatmap of crime in Alphabet City from Jan 1, 2015 = June 30, 2015 from NYC.gov.

Whatever the case, maintaining “Alphabet City” isn’t just doing so in name, but there’s a real history associated to this part of the city. And when the name is gone, a lot of the rich stories that made the area what it is, will disappear too.

I’s really unfortunate that we’re not more aware of how the “East Village” came to be, if more knew that the boundaries were just real estate gerrymandering, we’d have more of a chance or preserving “Alphabet City”.

› tags: 1980s / Alphabet City / Avenue A / Avenue B / Avenue C / Avenue D / City Living / crime / Displacement / East Village / Gentrification / loisaida / Lower East Side / New York City / NYCHA / Real Estate /

Comments

  1. […] example, a recent Lyft Line from Avenue C and East 11th in Alphabet City to Madison Square Garden cost us $6 (before tip). That’s compared to $5.50 for the subway. […]

  2. Miriam says:

    The term “East Village” is older than the 80’s. It may have been coined by the real estate business, but in the late 60’s it was used to refer to the entire Lower East Side between Houston St. and 14th St., including Alphabet City. Not only was Alphabet City part of the East Village, but the East Village was part of the Lower East Side. The East Village Other was a newspaper for hardcore counterculturists.

    That was when Alphabet City was the setting for “Hair.”

    Two copy-editing points:

    1. The Nuyorican term is “Loisaida,” not “Loisiada.” Try pronouncing them.

    2. “Avenue D, as any version of the above jingles suggest, maintains none of the threat-level from decades ago.”

    You probably mean “maintains the threat level from decades ago.”

    “that avenue only remains similar to the 1970s and 1980s due to the cureent concentration of crimes found on the avenue (but that’s relative) and Jacob Riis housing projects”

    Strike out “only” and correct the spelling of “cureent.”

    • stuarte says:

      Hi Miriam,

      Yes — some of that information I learned about after this post and hadn’t had the chance to update. Will make some updates based on your comments. Thanks

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