Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Battle with the Slum > Page 11
Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914).  The Battle with the Slum.  1902.

Page 11
force you to give bail to answer for the assault… I must be off. Let those stay… for whom it is an easy matter to get contracts for building temples, clearing rivers, constructing harbors, cleansing sewers, etc.” 1 Not even in the boss and his pull can we claim exclusive right.
  Rome had its walls, as New York has its rivers, and they played a like part in penning up the crowds. Within space became scarce and dear, and when there was no longer room to build in rows where the poor lived, they put the houses on top of one another. That is the first chapter of the story of the tenement everywhere. Gibbon quotes the architect Vitruvius, who lived in the Augustan age, as complaining of “the common though inconvenient practice of raising houses to a considerable height in the air. But the loftiness of the buildings, which often consisted of hasty work and insufficient material, was the cause of frequent and fatal accidents, and it was repeatedly enacted by Augustus as well as by Nero that the height of private dwellings should not exceed the measure of seventy feet above the ground.”
  “Repeatedly” suggests that the jerry-builder was a hard nut to crack then as now. As to Nero’s edict, New York enacted it for its own protection in our own generation.
Note 1. Satire III, Juvenal. [ back ]



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