The Making of New York’s Avenue of the Americas: Transnational Circuits of Urban Renewal

Monday, January 6, 2020: 11:40 AM
Bowery (Sheraton New York)
Marcio Siwi, Towson University
This paper explores the renaming and revitalization of Manhattan’s Avenue of the Americas, one of New York’s lesser-known post-WWII urban renewal projects. It pays close attention to a group of influential New Yorkers affiliated with the Avenue of the Americas Association and their efforts to transform their favorite Avenue into a more attractive space for middle and upper class residents (and shoppers) while simultaneously turning the Avenue into the political, commercial, and cultural capital of the Western Hemisphere – both physically and symbolically. Put another way, in the years following the Second World War, leading New Yorkers set out to enhance the profitability of the Avenue of the Americas and turn it into a permanent symbol of “inter-American unity and solidarity.”

Using a transnational perspective, the paper argues that the transformation of the Avenue of the Americas must be understood in relation to the growing involvement of leading New York reformers in Latin America, especially São Paulo. Specifically, the paper illustrates how New York urban reformers’ perception of São Paulo as a rising city (and thus a potential rival) and that of Brazil (and Latin America) as important allies to the United States served as catalysts for further growth in New York as these actors – especially Robert Moses and Nelson Rockefeller – strove to maintain the city’s global dominance. By focusing on the networks of exchange between São Paulo and New York, and taking seriously the multidirectional flows of influence between these two cities, this paper sheds fresh light on the ideological origins of New York’s urban renewal projects while not losing sight of how average New Yorkers responded to elite visions of the city.