Intersection | Prospect Heights returns this month with a panel discussion and series of tours to launch Our Places, a new booklet presenting stories and concerns of current and former neighbors, tracking development and demographic change, and looking at how it plays out on our streets. What is the future of Prospect Heights and our city?
Find out more at : inter-section.org
‘It was not about money’ : An Intersection | Prospect Heights discussion
June 15, 7-8:30pm
@ Information Commons Lab, Brooklyn Public Library, Grand Army Plaza
Talking with organizers, politicians and planners about the experience of change in Prospect Heights, and what it implies for neighborhoods across the city facing large-scale development. How do we preserve community?
Speakers include Letitia James, NYC Public Advocate, Thomas Angotti (Hunter College, CUNY), Deb Howard (IMPACCT), Regina Cahill (North Flatbush BID) and Catherine Green (ARTs East New York).
Moderated by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani (Buscada) and Gib Veconi (PHNDC).
Guided tours : June 11 & June 18
Meet @ Met Food, 632 Vanderbilt Ave., between Park Place & Prospect Place
Join us for creative walking tours telling the new and old Intersection stories in sites around the neighborhood. How these are similar or different to your own stories?
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We installed almost 20 Intersection|Prospect Heights popup exhibitions in everyday places all around Prospect Heights. These included the supermarket, the library, the hardware store, dry cleaners and bars, among other places. One of the highlights of the project was forming relationships with these businesses and the ways that they came to host the project, and in many sites, to really support it, look out for it, and feel proud of it.
Met Food. The place that kept me going in my research, which David told me “talks more about the sense of community” than anywhere else, and the place to which I was most thrilled to see these stories and photographs brought back, almost 15 years later. Frank and Abdul, community-builders, and incredibly supportive people in this project. Not to mention hosts who on our guided tours provided all participants with bananas. Amazing.
Kimchi Grill, where our neighborhood stories were right next to another essential – hot sauce.
COLOR Bklyn. They shared their last months on Washington Avenue with us, and valiantly put the project out on the street everyday, protecting it from wind and rain, and helping us to engage people passing by on the street.
Brooklyn Public Library. One of the most wonderful parts of this project was working with BPL, and finding all the synergies between Intersection and all the amazing initiatives going on at BPL – from the Brooklyn Transitions series to the Brooklyn Collection to Our Streets, Our Stories, and beyond. The installation above was in the Central Branch’s children’s room, where we got some of the most heartfelt stories contributed, including the one below.
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There’s much to say on the kinds of experiences we had and the kinds of conversations we were privileged to be a part of, but for now – we thought you’d like to see a little of what the process of bringing the project to the public was like. A few of our favorite moments of making it happen, in pictures.
Reconnecting with our tour guides from 15 years ago. Here Mike Halkias of the Usual reads his own guide, and remarks on how much more hair he has in the cover picture.
Receiving the printers proofs for all six of our guidebooks – seeing them all together finally, in living color. Holding the dummy proofs in our hands – feeling what the guides might really feel like – one of the best days of 2015.
The guides and pop-up exhibitions come together – with places for people to leave their own stories.
Thrilling to bring one of our very favorite images back to the neighborhood. We’ve loved this boy since Gabrielle photographed him at the Conrad McRae basketball tournament at the Dean Street playground in 2002.
Installation began at Brooklyn Public Library – and shortly after setting down our first pop-up, it was so gratifying to see this man be the first to pick up a guidebook.
Once people started to pick up those guides, the pop-ups needed to be refilled regularly – much to our delight. While the installations at BPL and Met Food needed to be refilled most often, all of the locations required our regular trips around the neighborhood with the artists’ best friend, a shopping cart. Public art is glamorous – and we were happy for a very mild autumn!
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Embedding Histories in a Changing Prospect Heights, by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani
Engaging Change & Displacement – One Story at a Time in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, an interview with Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani
Atlantic Yards Report
Intersection/Prospect Heights project aims to start dialogue on neighborhood change
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A year ago, I thought to myself, “it’s time to go back to the supermarket!” Not just any supermarket. No – a supermarket on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, around which a neighborhood has changed dramatically. I was thinking about how we critically need nuanced conversations on sense of place, community representation, displacement and sustainability. Prospect Heights is a microcosm of the gentrification and large-scale development pressures facing Brooklyn today, with a marked decrease in African American residents over the past fifteen years, and a marked increase in residents with incomes over $100,000. Over the next ten years, as the Atlantic Yards and infill developments come to completion, the population will be up to 70% larger.
What does all this mean? How do we talk about it, argue about it, and even laugh and cry about it? This October, using the deep ethnographic and photographic work I began 15 years ago with the Guided Tours project, Buscada, in partnership with PHNDC and the Brooklyn Public Library, are set to launch a new public art & dialogue project to do just that.
Intersection | Prospect Heights is a series of unofficial, idiosyncratic and personal guidebooks, popup exhibitions around the neighborhood (especially at the supermarket!), creative walks, and public dialogues. We hope you’ll take part in the project to travel back in time, back to the supermarket, and laugh and cry with us – about the past and future of Prospect Heights, as well as that of other neighborhoods around the city facing these same pressures.
More info coming soon – but mark your calendars for the project opening & our first public dialogue on October 7th, 6:30pm!
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If there were one thing that talks more about this community than anything else, it’s probably the supermarket, you know? Because of the people that are there and what they try to do. They do it to make money, granted, but they do it because they seem very happy to be here…concerned about people, concerned about delivering service to the neighborhood–to the whole neighborhood. It’s not that they came in and decided, ‘Oh, we’re getting rid of the Goya stuff here, you know? We’re going upscale.’ No. Still got ham hocks there. It’s what made this neighborhood for us. 25 years ago we got very lucky on the house, but really it’s the fact that it’s a comfortably mixed neighborhood. Now… I can’t pull down my veil of ignorance… Yeah, I’m part of the dominant society, but it just feels to me like a comfortably mixed neighborhood.
In 2001, I began a project in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, which I called Guided Tours. In this work I asked neighborhood residents to take me on tour of “their” Prospect Heights. I was interested in understanding people’s experiences of their everyday neighborhoods, and had a feeling that within very common spaces very complex ideas about identity, neighborhood and the world were getting worked out. That work became the basis for my dissertation, Guided Tours: The Layered Dynamics of Self, Place and Image in Two American Neighborhoods, and for journal articles in Space & Culture and Society & Space, as well as spurring me to ask similar questions in a neighborhood across the country, in Oakland, CA.
In this work, I considered the powerful potential for dialogue through photographs of the everyday, and how bringing people’s everyday worlds back to them might allow them to see those spaces in new ways. Now, I’m returning to this body of work to think about how an archive of the everyday from more than thirteen years ago might help the community talk about the incredible gentrification and change (not least due to the Atlantic Yards / Barclay’s development) that has happened in this neighborhood in the intervening years.
I’m beginning this process by making a selection of the work available online, and through a series of forthcoming blog posts as a way to think about this archive in new ways. As a start, above is a photograph of Met Foods from 2005, with a thought from one of my tour guides that explains how a supermarket might help us begin to talk about the complexity and detail of gentrification and housing segregation in New York.
See the selected archive online : Guided Tours : Prospect Heights.
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Two years ago, in March of 2012, we launched the Triangle Fire Open Museum, following up on our Triangle Fire Open Archive project, initiated for the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911. There were many critical parts of this project for us – not least the politics of understanding why a tragedy of one hundred years ago still speaks eloquently about critical questions of immigrants’, women’s and workers’ rights today. We’ve talked about this a great deal, in the projects, and in our writing about the Open Archive and Museum – such as our post on Urban Omnibus – but another critical element of the project is one we speak about less often, and yet is an element which informs all of our work in which we ask members of the public to collaborate : caring for the objects, ideas and memories entrusted to us, and making worthy homes for those precious contributions, which value, honor, and protect them. I recently found this clip from CUNY TV (in which I’ve inadvertently been given a new job title!) in which we talk about that idea, and how it was made manifest in the Open Archive and Open Museum.
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I was both thrilled and stumped when Radhika Subramaniam and Margot Bouman asked me to contribute to “Masterpieces of Everyday New York: Objects as Story”, the exhibition now on view at Parsons Sheila Johnson Design Center. Why? Thrilled because I’m a New Yorker, born and bred, I live here now, teach students about cities, and generally have taken New York as a part of my being and birthright. Thrilled because I make photographic and urbanist projects that are all about objects and the emotional meanings vested in objects and buildings – like our Triangle Fire Open Archive and Open Museum, and my Guided Tours and SPURA projects. Thrilled because I loved the British Museum & BBC series, A History of the World in 100 Objects, which Radhika and Margot acknowledge as inspiration for this exhibition. But stumped too, because how could I possibly narrow down the number of objects in this city which have been meaningful to me – and the number I find to be important to tell the city’s own story as intertwined with my own? And of course, to be brutally honest, I wanted to pick something really good.
But what? And how to make it something that only I could really write about? I mulled it over and over, and then, clear as day it came to me. A photograph I had written about before in drafts of my dissertation, diaries, and other places, as the way I imagine New York in my mind’s eye, though daily experience often contradicts it. This photograph of my mother and I standing at a phone booth on Kenmare Street in the early 1980s was taken by my father, and long ago, taken by me out of our family collection and carried with me on trips far and away as a way of remembering home. In this way, my nomination of the phone booth was a double object – both the photograph and the once-ubiquitous phone booths of New York themselves. You can read my full contribution below.
The intertwining of 62 objects keenly felt by their nominators and observers can be seen at Parsons’ Sheila Johnson Design Center until September 4th, 2013.
This is a double object. It is both the phone booth pictured (the kind you now see on city streets denuded of their telephones) and it is the photograph itself.
This picture of my mother and me was taken by my father on the corner of Kenmare and Mulberry Streets in the early 1980s. And somehow, this picture has become my image of New York. It is not just the New York of my childhood, but rather this image persists as the way I think of New York now, though I live here still, and can see for myself that this reality is long gone. In my mind, New York is somewhat grey, Datsuns and Plymouths dot the streets, and the sidewalk is patterned with dropped chewing gum (this last may in fact be true.)
Looking at this photograph, I think of both the phone booth and the mother and child using it. Here, we are joined at the booth with our matching umbrellas, but as I got older, phone booths allowed me to stretch that distance between us. I remember my mother’s repeated refrain, as I traveled far to school on my own at age 11 : “Be sure you always have a quarter with you to call if you need me.”
This arrangement seems almost impossible to imagine now, when people give their children cell phones in elementary school. To suggest that a child might roam New York with but a quarter in her pocket as a way to call home (and with no way to call her!) would be unthinkable to many parents I now know.
As I became a teenager, the phone booth was less the way I called home, and more the way I called friends: beeping my first boyfriend from phone booths (so self-important, and so terribly high-tech at the time), and learning the special code (now long forgotten) one could use to find the unlisted phone booth’s number, so someone could call you back.
These ubiquitous booths weren’t beautiful, nor did they always work, but they provided a (sometimes false) sense of privacy in public for conversations, scribbling messages, drunkenness, exhaustion.
New York’s public phone booths waned as my own participation with the public world grew. Now, as an adult, out in the world, and thinking about how my young son will one day call me, these private little spaces from which to reach out to others in the midst of a public street are now only husks, replaced by devices in our pockets, which people imagine envelop them in privacy, but mostly create intersecting bubbles of sound and chatter as we walk down the street.
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The RFP for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA) site has gone out, the bids from developers are coming in, and it is possible that new things will happen at the SPURA site. My article “Layered SPURA : Spurring Conversations through Visual Urbanism” featured in Radical History Review asks some questions about this process : What of the site’s history? What of the ongoing need for affordable housing? What of the need for thoughtful architecture in the building of all housing? Will these things be heeded in this process? How can thinking these through, and new ways of thinking about contested space, help inform the way we think about and plan for SPURA? “Layered SPURA” explores my four-year visual urbanist project on SPURA, a collaboration with students and community groups to use creative practice to ask complex questions and to reconsider the city.
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As we get ready to think about the next steps in the Triangle Fire Open Archive and Open Museum projects, I’m looking back at the article I published on Urban Omnibus last fall, “Making Meaning Together : The Triangle Fire Open Archive and Open Museum.”
The piece was about our projects, temporary and permanent memorials, and how to continue ephemeral work – and whether this is an oxymoron. Stay tuned for new and ongoing versions of this ephemeral-archival work.
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