The Layered SPURA Cards & Guided Tours are our core interactive projects to engage participants in the many histories, stories, and dreams embedded in the highly contested Seward Park Urban Renewal Area on New York’s Lower East Side. Created from the archives, photographs, and interviews of Gabrielle’s long-time work at SPURA, the Layered SPURA Cards invite individuals to piece together complicated stories. In the Layered SPURA Guided Tours, we read the cards together, so that participants gain a deeper sense of community and the activism-centered stories that bridge art, history, and imagined futures. During the participatory walks, each participant takes a card – a cue card, really – and in doing so takes stewardship of a voice from a portion of SPURA history, later reading that voice aloud on the walk. Special guests from SPURA’s long-time housing activist community often join the tours, and each tour culminates with a conversation about this old, new, place.
For forty years, Lower East Side residents lived with a wound at the heart of the neighborhood, a series of vacant lots known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Efforts to keep out affordable housing sparked deep-rooted enmity and stalled development, making SPURA a dramatic example of failed urban renewal. Now Essex Crossing, one of the city’s largest developments, is rising on this site. We began working at SPURA in 2008 to support a new approach to planning through collaboration, public history, and social practice, and that work resulted in the Layered SPURA exhibitions, our book Contested City, our exhibition Keep Me Nearby, as well as the ongoing “Layered SPURA” Guided Tours.
Over the years, the Tours have guided over 100 participants–from teenagers to seniors–to use their bodies, their voices, and their capacity for dialogue to understand the contested urban past, present, and future(s) on the Lower East Side.
Collections of the Cards have often been provided for the public to take away from our exhibitions, so that visitors are able to walk out into the neighborhood, and read them on the street to help them see a small slice of the place’s complexity.