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. Bridging art, design, activism, and urban history, this is a book for everyone who seeks to make their own city more just.
For forty years, as New York’s Lower East Side went from disinvested to gentrified, residents lived with a wound at the heart of the neighborhood, a wasteland of vacant lots known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Most of the buildings on the 14-square-block area were condemned in 1967, displacing thousands of low-income people of color with the promise that they would soon return to new housing--housing that never came. Over decades, efforts to keep out affordable housing sparked deep-rooted enmity and stalled development, making SPURA a dramatic study of failed urban renewal, as well as a microcosm epitomizing the greatest challenges faced by American cities since World War II.
Artist and urban scholar Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani was invited to enter this tense community to support a new approach to planning, which she did using collaboration, community organizing, public history and public art. Having engaged her students at the New School in a multi-year collaboration with community activists, the exhibitions and guided tours of her “Layered SPURA” project provided crucial new opportunities for dialogue about the past, present and future of the neighborhood.
Simultaneously revealing the incredible stories of community and activism at SPURA and shedding light on the importance of collaborative creative public projects in the complex city, Contested City: Art and Public History as Mediation at New York’s Seward Park Urban Renewal Area bridges art, design, community activism, and urban history. This is a book for artists, planners, teachers, cultural institutions, and all those who seek to collaborate in new ways with communities; it is also for everyone who seeks to make their own city more just.