Forty years ago, New York took ownership of a parcel of land on the Lower East Side for “slum clearance” and urban renewal – the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Few renewal projects have been so contested, and it was the largest undeveloped city-owned parcel of land south of 96th Street. The hopes, memories and meanings of this place are intertwined with the history of housing and politics on the Lower East Side and in New York at large. Many communities claimed this site and imagined divergent futures for it. Our Layered SPURA project created new spaces for dialogue about this future, through the City Studio class that Gabrielle created at the New School.
Gabrielle’s “City Studio : SPURA for the Public” in the Urban Studies department at the New School developed a new form of community-engagement and collaborative creation to better understand and make space for dialogue on a contested urban site.
Through deep collaborations with local activists and organizations including Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), the Pratt Center for Community Development, and City Lore and its Place Matters project, we developed a series of annual collaborative neighborhood-based exhibitions, which made space for dialogue in a neighborhood where this kind of space was sorely lacking.
The course considered this contested site and its history, while stressing engagement with the community planning process and the multiple Lower East Side communities. The class challenged students to understand histories of housing in New York City, theories of urban development and community participation, and asks them to engage in archival, ethnographic, visual and participatory research. Students developed careful and creative methods for researching SPURA and finally stretched that research to new realms by collectively making exhibitions which posed questions and help envision this site’s future.
Layered SPURA exhibitions and residencies included:
2012: Layered SPURA : Spurring conversations through visual urbanism, at the Aronson Gallery, Sheila Johnson Design Center, at the New School.
Fall 2011 : In residency at Creative Time’s Living as Form, in collaboration with Temporary Services & Bik van der Pol
Spring 2011: “(Re)Visiting SPURA” at Abrons Art Center, Henry Street Settlement
2010: “Exploring SPURA” at common room 2 gallery
2009: “Visualizing SPURA” at common room 2 gallery
Over the years, more than fifty students were part of the City Studio: David Braha, Oscar Brett, Sarah Charles, Lindsey Devers, Anastasia Ehrich, Debora Raquel Faria, Jamie Florence, Savannah Foster, Zachary Fried, Matt Fujibayashi, Romina Giel, Kara Gionfriddo, Joshua Guerra, Ernest Haines, Leijia Hanrahan, Anke Hendriks, Christopher Hepner, Jaclyn Hersh, Vinh Hua, Evan Iacoboni, Badrul Hisham Bin Ismail, Tori Kaplan, Cara Keller, Candace Kiersky, Eric Kim, Sohee Kim, Lila Knisely, John Lake, Michael Lawlor, Samantha Lewis, Rachael London, Hannah Lyons, Claudie Mabry, Stephanie Messer, Corey Mullee, Amy Nguyen, Beatriz Rodrigues Fernandes Pereira, Katherine Priebe, David Privat-Gilman, Ian Pugh, Adam Schleimer, Kaushal Shrestha, Kira Sirois, Lily Steedman, Matthew Taylor, Gabriel Tennen, Sam Washburn-Baroni, Brittney Williams, Emily Winkler-Morey, Nattaphat Wongweerachotkit, Alexander Wood, and Hannah Zingre.