Origin of The Term
In the original layout of Manhattan streets, north-south streets east of First Avenue were designated Avenue A, Avenue B, etc. In Midtown and north, Avenue A was eventually renamed as Beekman Place, Sutton Place, and York Avenue; Avenue B was renamed East End Avenue. (There were no avenues farther east in this part of the city.) Farther south, the avenues retained their letter designations.
The name 'Alphabet City' is thought to be of rather recent vintage, as the neighborhood was considered to be simply a part of the Lower East Side for much of its history. Urban historian Peter G. Rowe posits that the name only began to become used in the 1980s, when gentrification spread east from the Village. The term's first appearance in the New York Times is in a 1984 editorial penned by then mayor Ed Koch, appealing to the federal government to aid in fighting crime on the neighborhood's beleaguered streets:
The neighborhood, known as Alphabet City because of its lettered avenues that run easterly from First Avenue to the river, has for years been occupied by a stubbornly persistent plague of street dealers in narcotics whose flagrantly open drug dealing has destroyed the community life of the neighborhood.
A later 1984 Times article describes it using a number of names: "Younger artists... are moving downtown to an area variously referred to as Alphabetland, Alphabetville, or Alphabet City (Avenues A, B, C and so forth on the Lower East Side of Manhattan)".
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