Growing up in Little Italy, Manhattan, New York, legendary director Martin Scorsese is still a resident of the area and a local who holds dear the Italian, historical past of the Bowery and expects it to remain intact. Here is how.
Scorsese fights for his beloved Little Italy
New York City is and has been a source of inspiration for artists of all sorts: the downtown area, or ‘Skid Row’, as it is known, runs through Chinatown, Little Italy, Nolita, SoHo and the East Village and tells a story steeped in crime and grit, of adventure and grim cityscapes that serve as a backdrop to so many of Martin Scorsese’s films, from Mean Streets to Gangs of New York.
The Bowery was once a drug addict and pusher-infested wasteland, which families would escape from at dusk. To get a picture of how the Bowery was, watch Downtown 81 starring renowned artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, an urban fairy tale that succeeds in describing the atmosphere of the Bowery in the 70s and 80s.
The vestiges of those times still remain in the Bowery, in the low skyline, the urban spaces, the community gardens that neighbours squatted on and established as free space for children to play. But it could soon all be a thing of the past as the area has recently been reshaped by luxury hotels and the characteristic Italian food shops have been replaced by trendy bars and restaurants pulling down block-by-block New York’s history.
A high-rise development plan in the Bowery was the last straw for the Italo-American director, who on March 13, wrote a letter to the city’s planning board criticising the Bowery’s gentrification. The plan would directly affect Elizabeth Street, which runs right through the area and is where Scorsese grew up, in the neighbourhood of Little Italy.
The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors has created a plan to preserve the neighbourhood by limiting new buildings to a height of 85 feet on both sides of the Bowery, but this of course might not be enough in the long run to preserve the entire area from becoming an open air shopping mall.
What is sure, though, is that Scorsese’s voice won’t be left unheard: if there is one person who knows New York’s history well it’s him, and you can bet he won’t stop giving it a voice in his films or stop fighting for it in real life.
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