Contested City

Art & Public History as Mediation at New York’s Seward Park Urban Renewal Area

2020 Brendan Gill Prize Finalist & Special Honoree 
Revealing the untold stories of fifty years of community activism at the controversial Seward Park Urban Renewal Area on New York’s Lower East Side, Contested City sheds light on the importance of collaborative creative public projects in this complex place. A unique and humane book that bridges art, design, activism, and urban history, Contested City is for artists, urbanists, planners, teachers, activists, and cultural institutions, and anyone who wants to make their own neighborhood more just.

Get Contested City from your local bookstore,, Amazon, direct from U Iowa Press, Waterstones (in the UK), or get a great used copy from Abe Books

Contested City: Art & Public History as Mediation at New York’s Seward Park Urban Renewal Area by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani was published in 2019 by the University of Iowa Press.

"We are proud to honor Contested City with special designation for its use of the historic record to inform our lives in the present.”
Brendan Gill Prize Jury
Municipal Art Society

Never-before seen images inside Contested City

What people are saying:

“This underdeveloped piece of downtown Manhattan has long confounded New Yorkers. With scholarly rigor and deep respect for community, Dr. Bendiner-Viani uncovers its secrets at last. Her research has resonance for controversial ‘urban renewal’ projects everywhere.”
— Ada Calhoun, author St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street


“Bendiner-Viani has written an exemplary, must read study of long-term neighborhood activism and engaged teaching. Her rigorous, absorbing prose gives witness to and unpacks what it means to organize for people’s place-making and the ongoing fight against rapacious urban bullying and paranoid racial politics.”
— Jack Tchen, Inaugural Clement Price Chair of Public History and Humanities, Rutgers-Newark

“Contested City is a welcome sounding board for artists, designers, planners, educators, and others seeking to alter landscapes of power everywhere. Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani critically orients readers to how stories, conflicts, and cities shape one another, while demonstrating how art and design can supplement self-government ‘without claiming centrality,’ and how making things that ‘don’t tell you what to think’ can be helpful for all of us.”
— Damon Rich, urban designer, 2017 MacArthur Fellow

“Displacement is one of the most critical issues of our time. Bendiner-Viani brings her expertise in environmental psychology and urban history to this highly accessible and provocative book that explores art, community, and student engagement. Focused on NYC, the issues and practices described in this book are widely applicable in cities across the globe.”
— Yolanda Chávez Leyva, Director of the Institute of Oral History & Borderlands Public History Lab, University of Texas at El Paso

Gabrielle's great-grandmother, Josephine Coccaro, painted SPURA long before Gabrielle knew it,  with an unusual view of St Mary's church, the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge and housing all around. 

In the media ::

“The work is exquisite, because Bendiner-Viani weaves the community’s voices of SPURA throughout the book. So that the community is not just being written about, but writing themselves into the work. I felt like I knew them all by the end of reading this.” 
— Prithi Kanakamedala, Gotham Center for New York City History 

“An eye-opening view of both a part of the city that is often overlooked, the presence — and haunting — of the past, and captivating ways to take action: by walking, talking, making, and returning. ”
— Julia Foulkes, Public Seminar

“It stands as a model that other people can point to,” said Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, an urban studies scholar and author of Contested City, a book on the history of the Lower East Side’s urban renewal programs and the protests that sprung from them. “That’s a powerful thing.”
— Elizabeth Kim, Gothamist

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