The (Pretty Gross) Reason Why NYC’s Stoops Were a Necessity

published Feb 22, 2023
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The stoops on brownstones are one of the most iconic architectural features of the Big Apple, and NYC just wouldn’t feel like NYC without them. But do you know why the city even has stoops in the first place?

Dutch settlers originally built the stoop (the Dutch word for staircase) because flooding is a regular problem in below-sea-level Netherlands. But while water wasn’t as much of an issue in Manhattan, something stinkier was.

According to TikTok content creator Ariel Viera, there was a hidden benefit to being higher up. In his video, he explains that stoops kept homeowners farther away from horse manure and the rats, flies, and diseases that the fecal matter brought with it.

Before there were cars and subways, there were 200,000 horses filling the streets of New York City, and with them came five million pounds of manure daily. A 2009 issue of The New Yorker described life in 1800s NYC:

“In vacant lots, horse manure was piled as high as sixty feet. It lined city streets like banks of snow. In the summer time, it stank to the heavens; when the rains came a soup stream of horse manure flooded the crosswalks and seeped into people’s basement.”

The poop problem was so bad, it was predicted that “by 1930, horse manure would reach the level of Manhattan’s third-story windows.”

Credit: VDB Photos/Shutterstock

Vera adds that some staircases even had features where you could scrape off the manure from under your shoe before entering your home.

Today, the stoop is no longer just a part of the house meant for dirty work. It’s become a feature in the everyday life of New Yorkers, even appearing regularly in television shows like “Sesame Street” and “Hey Arnold!” and films such as “Do The Right Thing.” With outdoor space at a premium, the stoop is a gathering place, and during the 2020 lockdown, became an even more integral part of community in New York.