In June 2018, I got to live the urbanista dream–presenting at the Queens Museum’s scale model replica of New York City, the Panorama. As a speaker at the 2018 Open Engagement conference, I led participants through an hour-long virtual tour of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, as we walked above all of New York. Talking #SPURA at the panorama (“In the Same Room without Screaming”) was everything I hoped it would be – amazing to talk about collaborative public art practices and the depth of history, activism, and the long search for justice in that space.
Looking down, finding those few blocks at the end of the Williamsburg Bridge, we could still see, frozen in time, the many parking lots now being built up, the parking lots which had once been 14 square blocks of tenements demolished through urban renewal, the brutal policy championed by none other than the creator of the very panorama we stood on, Robert Moses. Being able to point out those tiny parking lots in the bottom right of this picture really helped make the point for all of us how complex and storied each one of the many blocks of this vast city are.
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Asking passersby on the street in Jamaica, she asked people to step into her make-shift photo studio for a portrait and to answer the question, “Where would you take me on a guided tour?” The work also brought into a new context the Intersection | Prospect Heights guidebooks–which when people perused them in Jamaica, elicited comments of “I know how that feels…” and “I go there to shop!” and of course, “I think gentrification is happening everywhere…”
The linkages across space, even in one city, were significant–and were echoed by where Jamaica residents would in fact, take someone on a tour. While Jamaica Ave got a lot of love, locales also ranged from the local pizza place to Paris, France. Lower Manhattan, going home to Rhode Island, or to the small town in Minnesota visited just once, also figured significantly in this imagined geography.
Intersection | Jamaica built on a much earlier work, Playground, in which Gabrielle asked people in East Harlem the very same question in 2002. One of those people had said he’d take her to Jamaica — and finally, in 2016, she got there.
I’d take you to Jamaica, Queens. 165th Street. I didn’t go to Jamaica Queens until I was like fourteen years old. But, Jamaica Queens is like home to me. Still, everybody there knows me, the people haven’t changed much.
– Pierre Rene, the Bedazzler
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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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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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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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The CNN next list TV show and blog made a great video about our recent project Layered SPURA. The video talks about the history of the area and then visual urbanist approach taken by Buscada in creating dialogue between communities in the area.
Getting interviewed on a cold February morning by the CNN crew.
The Layered SPURA / City Studio project, headed by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, explores this complex site using a hybrid approach of pedagogy, art and research, and involves long-term collaborations between Lower East Side community organizations and students in Bendiner-Viani’s City Studio, a part of the New School’s Urban Programs. The Layered SPURA exhibition, a culmination of four years of student, faculty, and community collaboration which appeared at the New School’s Sheila Johnson Design Center in Winter 2012, does not suggest solutions for a place beleaguered by top-down planning, but rather hopes to spur new conversations amongst people with different points of view about SPURA’s past, present and future.
Find out more about this project : Layered SPURA
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