“A Scene in Shantytown, New York” appearing in the March 4, 1880 edition of the New York Daily Graphic, via Wikimedia Commons
Following the October stock market crash of 1929, there was an unprecedented number of people in the U.S. without homes or jobs. And as the Great Depression set in, demand grew and the overflow became far too overwhelming and unmanageable for government resources to manage. Homeless people in large cities began to build their own houses out of found materials, and some even built more permanent structures from brick. Small shanty towns—later named Hoovervilles after President Hoover—began to spring up in vacant lots, public land and empty alleys. Three of these pop-up villages were located in New York City, the largest of which was on what is now Central Park’s Great Lawn.
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Squatters Colony, Red Hook Recreation Area, September 12, 1934, Courtesy of NYC Parks
Today, New York City’s rising cost of living has made affordable housing one of the most pressing issues of our time. But long before our current housing crisis–and even before the advent of “affordable housing” itself–Depression-era New Yorkers created not only their own homes, but also their own functioning communities, on the city’s parkland. From Central Park to City Island, Redhook to Riverside Park, these tent cities, hard-luck towns, Hoovervilles, and boxcar colonies proliferated throughout New York. Ahead, see some amazing archival photos of these communities and learn the human side of their existence.
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When the Great Depression hit, homelessness exploded, leaving most cities ill prepared to house this growing population. As 6sqft previously reported, “Homeless people in large cities began to build their own houses out of found materials, and some even built more permanent structures from brick. Small shanty towns—later named Hoovervilles after President Hoover—began to spring up in vacant lots, public land and empty alleys.”
The largest such settlement was on Central Park’s great lawn, but smaller Hoovervilles popped up elsewhere, especially in Inwood and the Bronx, where many working-class New Yorkers had moved to follow north the construction of the subway. At Spuyten Duyvil Road and 225th Street there was a Boxcar Village, a collection of 40 boxcars where rent was $3 a month to live four men to a car.
The full history, this way