Research

THE ROOTS OF URBAN RENAISSANCE: GENTRIFICATION AND THE STRUGGLE OVER HARLEM

Brian Goldstein’s forthcoming book, The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem, examines Harlem, America’s most famous neighborhood, during a period of tremendous change. This research connects the ambitious, often radical social movements that arose in the 1960s—especially the Black Power movement—with the increasingly privatized and economically gentrified reality that marked Harlem and similar neighborhoods by the turn of the millennium. Indeed, the Harlem of the new century—with large-scale commercial development on 125th Street and new middle-class housing in its neighborhoods—was not imposed on an unwitting neighborhood by outsiders, this book argues, but grew from the very movements that had emerged decades earlier to give Harlemites new control over their community. Gentrification resulted from transformations at the global, national, and municipal levels, but so too did residents themselves produce the landscape that observers called Harlem’s “second renaissance.”

This research explores the history of community development corporations, little-known community organizations, self-help housing efforts, and an array of imaginative residents who acted as their own architects and planners—in many cases without professional training. Through a social, political, and architectural history of their struggle to determine the future of one place, this project explains the broader story of the emergence of community-based organizations as major players in contemporary urban development; the changing ideas of what it meant to improve a community; the lasting, often ironic spatial consequences of 1960s-era demands for participatory democracy; and the unexpected, radical roots of the phenomena that today characterize the neoliberal city.

 

REHABBING HOUSING, REHABBING PEOPLE: THE POLITICS AND AESTHETICS OF POSTWAR HOUSING REHABILITATION

Two new projects build on this research. The first focuses on the aesthetics and racial politics of housing rehabilitation in the 1960s by exploring a federal government-funded rehab project on Harlem’s West 114th Street. Tentatively titled “Rehabbing Housing, Rehabbing People,” this project will examine the history of rehabilitation, a common approach at midcentury that has thus far received little sustained attention. Contemporary accounts of the West 114th Street project, including a lushly photographed book called The House on W. 114th Street and a documentary film by the Maysles Brothers, emphasized that rehabilitating these tenements would also rehabilitate the primarily African American families who lived in them. This project will argue that this approach shared much of the paternalism and architectural determinism of “slum clearance,” though with different means and ends. While often described—both then and now—as a sensitive alternative to top-down, clearance-oriented redevelopment, this research suggests a more nuanced reading of postwar housing rehabilitation.

 

J. MAX BOND, JR. AND THE RESHAPING OF THE MODERN BUILT ENVIRONMENT

The second ongoing project is a study of the intersection of race and the modern built environment, centered on J. Max Bond, Jr., an eminent, extraordinarily influential, yet largely unstudied American architect in the post-World War II era. Bond was a son of a famed African American family, a Harvard graduate, an expatriate in Ghana, a civil rights activist, an innovative educator, and a designer of international renown. Throughout his career, during which he was one of relatively few architects of color in the U.S., he pursued alternatives to the dominant modes of twentieth-century architecture, planning, and development, seeking to eschew the Eurocentric models that he saw as ubiquitous in the American landscape. In examining Bond’s rich and varied life, this project asks what the history of the modern city looks like when seen through the eyes of one of the most prominent African Americans to shape it. Answering that question will tell a transnational, alternative history of modern architecture and urbanism, one that expands understanding of the interactions between identity and designed form.