Investigating Urban Renewal in the Lower East Side
In collaboration with the Theories of Urban Practice Program at Parsons School of Design and 596 Acres.
Incoming and returning students from the Theories of Urban Practice MA program worked on an intensive one-week workshop based in the SPURA site in the Lower East Side, edging Chinatown. The workshop, lead by Sam Stein and Drew Tucker, with community partner 596 Acres and Cooper Square Committee, focussed on the contemporary redevelopment of the SPURA site that was also part of a never completed urban renewal plan. This was a way to question and engage with many critical issues of urbanism in New York City: land, housing, politics, governance, gentrification, and the constant redesigning of the city. The workshop ended with an exhibition showcasing the student’s findings and interpretation of this complicated site on Governor’s Island in the Spontaneous Interventions space with community partner 596 Acres.
This exhibit highlights the contradiction of urban renewal as both a specific historical moment and an ongoing social process. We envision urban renewal as a layered process: a continuum in constant flux, not an event with a definitive beginnings and endings. This creates an opening for us to reflect on various possibilities for urban renewal’s futures.
The expansive and changing nature of urban renewal creates many opportunities for intervention. The SPURA site, with its own complex and resilient history, offers a space for transformation. Nearby, Cooper Square provides an alternative scenario with a very different outcome.
Through this research and design process, we have raised a number of questions:
• Who makes a community?
• Who is urban renewal?
• What happened between Seward Park, SPURA and Essex Crossing?
• What are the tensions, dynamics, voices and realities that shape SPURA, both spatially and temporally?
• Who benefited from SPURA’s 40-year ‘vacancy’ and who will benefit from its future development?
This work brings to light the complex, overlapping layers that form the city by mapping its past, present, and future on three interactive layers: federal legislation; local actors and institutions; and personal accounts. Building on the possibilities for intervention, we open up a dialogue for the future and the timeline diverges in infinite directions.