Decoding New York

Little Italy: Evolution

From Decoding New York

Little Italy
* Evolution
* Here v. There
* Economy
* What's Real
* Evolution
* Here v. There
* Economy
* What's Real
* Photo Gallery
* Sources

Little Italy, in its decorated glory of red, white and green,the colors of the Italian flag, is the way it is because of the people that live, work or simply stroll through the neighborhood.

Since there's really no new Italian immigration to keep Little Italy alive, small businesses (restaurants, stores, shops) taken over that role. Little Italy is known for its Italian eateries which range anywhere from cuisines including pasta to long established pizzerias to cafes and bakeries. Many people are attracted to Little Italy for the guaranteed quality of traditional food served here. Stores and shops in Little Italy are centered on Italian goods. Many products are imported directly from Italy such as certain cooking utensils and ingredients, music, and books. In these cases, managers and owners of these businesses are responsible for change, affecting both the quality and quantity of Italian associations and goods. They determine what they will sell, which determines what products will show up in Little Italy. They are responsible for decorating their stores in select styles in an attempt to attract customers. The more authentic and Italian looking the shop/restaurant appears, usually the greater amount of business is drawn in. As a result, the more Italian looking Little Italy becomes. Businesses try to capture the Italian feeling through methods of patriotic color displays, Italian writing/signs, or even through music.

Little Italy. New York Times Articles on a family run business. Photo by Samantha Lau

In direct relation to businesses bringing change to Little Italy, tourists are largely responsible as well. Little Italy has largely become a commercial district, catering to many passing tourists. With tourists come the opening of gift shops for Little Italy souvenirs. With tourists come demand for Italian supplies. Businesses will thus alter what they do or sell in order to please the tourists. Therefore, what the tourists want, Little Italy will try to provide.

Churches and old architecture preserve the Italian spirit of the neighborhood. These historical buildings and landmarks create much of the aesthetic atmosphere of the community. They shape Little Italy's past and future. Much of Little Italy's history can be derived from observations of the surrounding buildings. Take, for example, the old New York Police Headquarters on Centre Street, which clearly signifies a transition in time. In the past, the police department provided order for the Italian immigrants. Today, the police department has been renovated into apartments for residential living, including non-Italians. In this case, the residents influence Little Italy. Their needs are considered in Little Italy's makeup. The churches must cater to the religious views of the people in the vicinity.

Chinese immigration is changing the ethnic makeup. Today, seeing Chinese and Italians walking along the streets of Little Italy is relatively common. The fact that Chinatown borders Little Italy has impacted its ethnic makeup. Chinese immigrants have forced the size of Little Italy to shrink as Chinatown gradually expands.

Little Italy. Chinatown spreading into Little Italy. Photo by Samantha Lau

The government also plays a role in changing Little Italy and its ethnic makeup. Without government enforcement in the protection of certain buildings, it is quite possible that Little Italy would have continued shrinking until its disappearance. However, the shrinking Italian population in Little Italy is a result of government action or lack of action. By passing an immigration quota law, the government reduced and essentially cut off the influx of Italian immigrants that would have settled in the area. Furthermore, the rising rental rates have caused the cost of living in Little Italy to become too expensive for many to continue. Increasing rents are driving many people out of Little Italy. According to those who have stayed, a change they would like to see is for government to control living costs in terms of rent.

Change is brought about by many factors. Little Italy changes as a result of the combined effects of all its people and institutions.

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