The Evolving Demographics of MacDougal Street

During the 1920s the MacDougal Street area was home to a large number of Italian immigrants.  Beginning with the 1880s and leading up into the 1920s, over 50,000 Italians settled into MacDougal Street and the surrounding neighborhood, then known as the South Village (Brown, p. 1)  In fact, MacDougal Street was home to a village Italian organization Tiro a Segno, a rifle club where members met for social and business purposes (Brown, p. 42).  In examining demographics of the area it is important to look at the crime statistics as this part of Manhattan was an area that did have relations with the mob.  However much of the relationship was in regards to prohibition and the selling of illegal liquor, and then in the 60s the selling of heroin (Brown, p. 25).  However, by the end of the twentieth century the Italian population was slowly and steadily decreasing and by this point in time, the foreign-born population was very low (Brown, p. 9). 

It seems as though it has been a neighborhood that has for quite a while remained predominantly white.  However, by the time the beat movement had emerged and young talented artists were moving in due to the low rents, many African Americans made names for themselves on this street.  As this street provided a location for artistic expression, jazz and blues are two major types of music that emerged from the area, and with them artists like Miles Davis, who frequented the San Remo Café (  The importance of this type of music to the street can still be noticed today as Café Wha? and the Blue Note Jazz Club are still prominent attractions for New Yorkers to visit and enjoy some great music. 

The emergence of these jazz and blues musical venues serves to demonstrate how the neighborhood was changing by the middle of the century.  By this time the area was becoming more ethnically diverse, it was no longer home to just Italian Americans.  Although for much of America, the 50s and 60s were a turbulent time in terms of race, especially for African Americans, the liberal and free-spirited area of MacDougal street allowed the area to become more ethnically diverse and a place where white pioneers of the beat movement could listen to African Americans play their extraordinary bebop jazz (Kerouac). 

Although MacDougal Street has evolved since the 1920s, it still embodies similar characteristics.  It seems as though this street and the surrounding area have always been mostly inhabited by young people in their twenties and thirties.  Concurrently single people mainly occupy the area and few households contain children (Zillow).  It seems as though one could argue that its proximity to NYU may be a contributing factor as to why it is a location populated and frequented by young people.  However, I also think it is important to note that although during the early and mid twentieth century young artists moved in because rents were low, this is no longer the case.  Today, the village is a highly sought after neighborhood to live in in New York City and rents are no longer cheap, so the financial situation that people are in who live in the area now does not match the financial situation of people from the 1920s or 1950s. 

Additionally, today the area is mostly white with Asians composing the second largest ethnicity in the area (  However, like any area in New York City, this neighborhood contains many different ethnicities including Hispanic and African American (  It is apparent today that the street welcomes different ethnicities as it contains many different ethnic restaurants including those that serve Mexican cuisine, Mediterranean cuisine, Italian cuisine, American cuisine, and Vietnamese cuisine. 

It seems as though these demographics help to explain why MacDougal Street embodies the characteristics it does.  It seems as though there are two forces at work in both directions with young single people inhabiting the area and thus it is a more liberal area of nonconformity, but at the same time, this nonconformity is attracting young people.  The demographics of MacDougal Street and the surrounding area have evolved over time, but still today’s statistics share similarities to those from the early twentieth century.    


Brown, Mary Elizabeth. Italians of the South Village. New York: Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 2007. Print.

“Community District Profiles.” New York City Department of City Planning. NYC Government. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <;.

“Gore Vidal (1925 -2012) and Greenwich Village.” . Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, 03 2012. Web. 27 Oct 2012. <;.

“Greenwich Village Demographics.” Zillow. Demographic information comes from data in the 2000 U.S. Census. Web. 29 Oct 2012. <;.

 Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Penguin Books, 1955. Print.


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