Ned Pearlstein, Berkeley CA

In 1937, when I was just seven years old, my family moved from 92st Street, between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues, to an apartment at 50 West 90th Street. It was a major move for me, since I found myself plunged into the midst of changing environment, thanks to the New Deal. Two things, especially, struck me.

One was the destruction of the old El (elevated subway line) running up and down Columbus Avenue. The El had been a corridor of shadows, darkness, and death. I saw my first deadly accident under the El – a young man killed when struck by a car. Since I always associated the El with that unpleasant event, imagine my pleasure when the snake-like beast came down and the sun shown again on the avenue. Columbus Avenue came to life, free of the horrible sounds of fast-moving trains rumbling overhead on battered old tracks.

The second benefit of the move was Works Progress Administration (WPA) workers laying water and gas lines down my block. It was as if a playground suddenly appeared outside my front door! We kids had the great pleasure of climbing massive hills of old dirt and clambering over stacks of lumber, pipes and other debris generated by the project. Little did I know that kids all over New York were enjoying the same thing, as the WPA renovated the city’s infrastructure from one borough to another.

These events and activities made me feel that I was a part of a society on the move. I grew up feeling very optimistic about my neighborhood and my city. The public works of the New Deal right under my nose introduced me to what a decent government could accomplish.

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