I covered a lot of ground in my States trip last week – the idea of course, it was a funded trip and I set out to make the money work hard, and me. I’ll talk about my New York days in this blog. The Detroit one might take much more time as there is so much to absorb from that experience! The main purpose of my visit to NYC was to meet potential PhD case study No Longer Empty. NLE works in empty spaces, programming art and education based around contemporary at commissions. It started in reaction to the economic collapse and the resulting fiscal uncertainty and the moral effect this was having at a social level. From a drive to do something out of the system, NLE’s mantra is to welcome people into a site through art, to make both accessible. NLE is working from borough to borough; the theme of each show will come from the local area, will commission local, national and international artists, and work with local community organisations. It aims to increase participation in art and culture and in civic participation and leave a legacy of a template for the community to continue to self-organise. New projects will follow in the autumn, in the meantime a book of the last four years is in the planning.
Predictably packed with tourists (and if you want to see expensive cameras in use, this is where you should be), the High Line was a treat. This grassroots-started project has become a destination green urban space, affording great views of the city and harbour, a place to sit, relax and socialise, and acts as an example of what a community of volunteers can achieve. I can see why other cities are wanting their own High Line; debates about the logic of copying one idea into another context and the deliberate rather than organic planning and agency of such a copy-cat project, this is an oasis in the city. The success is so much that on the one side of the High Line, expensive accommodation is popping up, testament to the increase in land values surround the track as well as the increase in place capital the area has ‘enjoyed’. On the other side of the High Line through, the side of the harbour, look down and you’ll see perhaps a more authentic image of what the place was like – these streets are holding off from gentrification. So far.
My photos of the High Line can be found here.
I popped in to see the American Institute of Architects centre off Washington Square – a pilgrimage from my time working with architecture centres in the UK. A large part of my work then was working in built environment education in schools and the now-cased Building Schools for the Future programme. Imagine my delight then when I see the focus of the exhibition was on the importance of school design.
My photos from AIA can be found here.
Despite the two volunteers blocking the doorway of Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (sat outside in the sun having lunch, fair enough…) once in, this was a charming place. Fittingly modest in its décor, this space is dedicated to the more underground or informal urban movements of NYC – from cycling to squatting, community gardening to art spaces. I can see potential for this place to become a valuable resource and archive of all things relocal and tactical urban.
My photos of the exhibition and space can be found here.
The 11th Street Community Garden was one of my most enjoyable meets in NYC. Its in Alphabet, where there are a number of similar spaces (MoRUS has a map of them for $5). 11th Street has been going for 23 years, has seen of an aggressive developer and in winning that battle secured land tenure (its now owned in trust by Bette Midler and part of Manhattan Land Trust), 30K worth of plants and free electricity for the space. At the time I visited the main team of Al and Kris (below) were waiting on the delivery of plants for the summer and looking forward to more days of gardening and evenings of social community events – a screen is often put up for film nights, with BBQ’s. The commitment Al and Kris have for the garden was evident, their enthusiasm infectious. I’d love to see the garden in full bloom and full swing.
My photos from the garden can be seen here.
I stayed in Buskwick in Brooklyn. Hipster central in one regard, with Roberta’s and the hipster shops around it; super friendly in the other, the chatty guy at the corner shop, the kids that stopped to talk to me about liquorice Rizlas, and my wonderful host, Toby from Kayo Dot who made me feel home from home; and scary on the other, getting a taxi to the airport in the morning rather than risk the walk to Myrtle for fear of being jumped. A place that I loved though – human, vital, industrial, a great mix.