The A, B, C and Ds of ALPHABET CITY (the “Not East Village” song”)
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.
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.
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.
- Aware, Beware, Caution, Death (EV Grieve)
- Adventurous, Brave, Crazy, Dead (City Data)
- Assault, Battery, Coma, Dead (City Data)
- Alright, Bad, Crazy, Death (WSJ)
- Alright, Brave, Crazy, Dead (The Deli)
- 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:
- Campos on 13th and 14th between B/C
- NYCHA LES II on 5/6 between B/C
- NYCHA LES III on 8th/9th between C/D)
- Two NYCHA rehab centers between 6/7 on C and East 4th between B/C.
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”.
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.
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”.