Contested City: Art and Public History as Mediation at New York's Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (Humanities and Public Life) (Paperback)
2020 Brendan Gill Prize finalist
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 fourteen-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 accepted 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, Contested City bridges art, design, community activism, and urban history. This is a book for artists, planners, scholars, teachers, cultural institutions, and all those who seek to collaborate in new ways with communities.
About the Author
Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani is an artist, urban scholar, and curator pioneering public arts and urban research for community engagement. She is principal of the design and research studio Buscada, and teaches urban studies and public art at The New School. Gabrielle lives in New York City.
“Contested City is an important book for urban planners, historians, artists, and anyone who cares dee- ply about the redevelopment of older U.S. cities. Bendiner-Viani succeeds in delivering highly readable interdisciplinary scholarship that is simultaneously a historical meditation, a cautionary tale, and, most critically, an arts-meets-humanities-meets-urban planning how-to guide….This battle is not over, and Bendiner-Viani wants us to pay attention before it’s too late.”—Karilyn Crockett, MIT
“Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani’s book offers a compelling argument for what the arts and public humanities can bring to understanding and ameliorating real-world social problems but also makes an equally compelling case for the limits of what higher education can accomplish in its current form.”—Public Art Dialogue
“The author’s recipe for a bright outcome is also what constitutes her very distinctive methodology in the book and in her professional life. . . . The approach is both wonderful and subtle; it would be terrific if all of New York City’s mega projects could receive the same treatment as they proceed.”—City & Community
— City & Community