Get us in your inbox

aerial nyc
Photograph: Shutterstock

Tour NYC's sites of struggle and resistance with this new guide

Forget the glitz of Fifth Avenue, this guide shines a light on awesome moments in NYC history.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver

The glowing lights of Times Square, the towering skyscrapers of midtown and the ritzy glamor of Fifth Avenue are oftentimes the only New York City people see, but those are only a tiny fraction of the make-up of NYC. There's so much more to this complicated and beautifully diverse city we have. These places don't represent the reality of life for most city residents, including people of color, immigrants, the working class and low-income families or those in the LGBTQ community.

That's why there was a need to turn the typical NYC guidebook on its head. A People’s Guide to New York City, which was just released in January, doesn't bother retracing the usual spots but delves deep into all five boroughs, their histories and their "sites of struggle and resistance instead of consumption, spectacle, glitz and glamor," according to co-author Carolina Bank Muñoz.

RECOMMENDED: The top five things you must do in NYC in 2022

"New Yorkers and tourists alike often center the history and culture of the city in Manhattan, but each of the boroughs is an equal contributor to the creation of New York City. Yet, most traditional guidebooks either exclude the 'outer boroughs' or relegate them to the back of the book. We invite readers to explore the whole city with us," Bank Muñoz tells us.

A People's Guide is part of a series that includes books on other locales including Los Angeles, San Fransisco and Boston, among others. The NYC guide is broken up by borough and features a map with several important key locations, an introductory summary of each borough's history and makeup, and finally, a breakdown of specific noteworthy spots complete with historic photos and contemporary art and snapshots.

"The story of NYC is frequently told through big money and larger-than-life characters, with a focus on individual fortunes or creativity," added co-author Penny Lewis. "Our book has some of that. But we want people to see the collective creativity, as well as the core public investments, that make NYC so special. We foreground the bottom-up, neighborhood, community action that shapes even the most famous and notable sites of the city. And the ways in which the civic and political engagement of New Yorkers has helped create vital institutions, like the one we all teach —CUNY—but also parks, hospitals, transit, that really make a people’s NYC possible."

Instead of recapping the book borough by borough, we asked the three authors, Bank Muñoz, Lewis and Emily Tumpson Molina, for their favorite places from A People's Guide to New York City. Here are their top picks:

1. The Weeksville Heritage Center in Crown Heights, Brooklyn

"The Weeksville Heritage Center is a treasure in itself, especially the four wood-framed, landmarked houses from the 1840s that you can tour, but even more impressive are all of the amazing sites in the neighborhood that tell the story of this culturally and economically rich freed Black community," Bank Muñoz says. 

2. The Domino Sugar Factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Marcy (@m_line2217)

"The Domino Sugar Factory tells us the story of the sugar barons and the intense competition in the industry at the end of the 20th century but also talks about how workers unionized and went on strike for better working conditions," Bank Muñoz tells us. "Today, most of the factory has been demolished and turned into condos, but a segment lives on."

3. Julio Rivera Corner in Jackson Heights, Queens

"This is one of the sites that most impacted me in Queens," Bank Muñoz says. "All in the Family’s Archie Bunker lives on in our imagination of working-class, white Queens, but today Queens is the most diverse borough in New York City. Julio Rivera was a gay, Puerto Rican New Yorker who was brutally murdered on July 2, 1990, by three local young, white men. It was not a unique incident in a neighborhood where at least a dozen gay men were killed between 1970-1990. NYC finally commemorated this history by officially naming 37th Avenue and 78th Street 'Julio Rivera Corner.'"

4. The Village East Cinema/Yiddish Rialto in Manhattan

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Katie McQue (@katiemcque)

"Learning about the Village East Cinema/Yiddish Rialto, and the history of Jewish theater in the neighborhood, helped me to see the long roots of theater arts in today’s East Village and see the small remnants of the Yiddishkeit that once flourished downtown," Lewis says. "The Village East is still there."

5. The site of the Renaissance Ballroom + Casino in Harlem

"A vanished site that once stood on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd at 137th street, this site tells a story of a vanished extraordinary cultural moment," Lewis added. "The first New York City theater financed and run by Black New Yorkers, the Renaissance Ballroom served as a center of theater and music performance, dancing and sports from 1921 through the 1960s. It was home court to the Harlem Rens, the basketball team that dominated the segregated leagues prior to the National Basketball Leagues integration in the 1940s. Today a condominium stands in its place."

6. The Louis Armstrong House in Corona, Queens

Tumpson Molina tells us that Louis Armstrong said that his song "What a Wonderful World" reminded him of this neighborhood. His home is on a modest block on 107th Street in Corona, where a lot of Black New Yorkers lived thanks to affordable, higher-quality suburban housing. This area was also not restricted by racial covenants that barred home sales to nonwhite people.

7. The Verrazzano Bridge

The Verrazzano Bridge has an interesting story of Italian American ethnic politics in NYC and for completely transforming the city, Tumpson Molina says. Most people just know that it connects Staten Island to Brooklyn but it was actually a major landmark in the struggle over the position of Italian Americans in NYC's racial and ethnic order. There was much debate in the 60s about whether to name it after Giovanni Da Verrazzano, who was said to be the first European to enter New York Harbor in 1524. And while ultimately, proponents successfully argued for the name, there were still racist remarks made about it and the massive amount of working-class Italian Americans who moved there in the decades following.

8. Yankee Stadium in the Bronx

This is where the Fania All-Stars sold out the stadium in August 1973 in one of the most significant moments in Latin music history," Tumpson Molina says. The concert represented a culmination of the salsa movement and the beginning of its spread worldwide. Fania was a small NYC music label that produced new sounds.

A People's Guide to New York City, which can be found on any online book store, provides so much information about sites you may not have heard about before or didn't give a second thought to—but should.

"We want New Yorkers and visitors to reflect on what makes a place or person 'significant' to our city, what those designations mean, and how they can force us into seeing our city in very narrow ways that can erase significant historical and contemporary lessons," Tumpson Molina says. "We are ultimately trying to provide an alternative to the voyeurism and spectacle of other tour guides that can reinforce some of the worst visions for our city as primarily a center of capital, commerce, and capital-C —and to highlight when, where, and how ordinary New Yorkers have resisted those visions and created a more people-centered city."

You can enjoy some of the guide online with a Black History (Virtual) Tour of NYC right here.

Popular on Time Out

    More on city identity

      You may also like
      You may also like