Category Archives: Blog

Capital City of Contraband: How a Railroad Made and Unmade an Ethiopian City

Historical photo of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, undated.
Historical photo of the Ethiopia-Djibouti railway, undated. From the Director of the Chemin de Her Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway Company.

The Ethiopia-Djibouti railway has been compared by residents of of Dire Dawa to the Nile in Egypt—like the Nile, the train was a trading route, a mode of connection, a source of livelihood, a resource. Just as cities can be born based on natural geography, at the mouths of rivers and at ports, infrastructure creates new focal points in the built environment for urban life to develop and flourish. The railway infrastructure altered the geography of the region and provided a connective route across another man-made creation—the border between Ethiopia and Djibouti. 

Continue reading

Book Launch | Who Cleans the Park? 12/04 Monday | 6pm


Featuring UDL Director Gianpaolo Baiocchi….

Book Launch| Who Cleans the Park?

12/04 Monday | 6pm,

20 Cooper Square, 5th Floor Conference Room

NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge invites you to join for the launch event of John Krinsky and Maud Simonet’s new book Who Cleans the Park? Public Work and Urban Governance in New York City. Author John Krinsky will be present in conversation with Penny Lewis and Gianpaolo Baiocchi.

Continue reading

Capital Sinks: Urban Eco-Resilience In the Face of Capitalist Power Structures

“What should cities of the future look like?”

This was one of the questions posed by Ashley Dawson, an author and member of a panel on Friday, November 3, 2017 panel, Urban Futures. The conversation, held at the CUNY graduate center, was sponsored by The Center for the Humanities. Kendra Sullivan, the associate director of The Center for the Humanities, kicked off the event by introducing the speakers. The panel also featured architect Catherine Seavitt, environmental activist Mychal Johnson, and urban theorist/author David Harvey. The discussion centered around the current and “extreme” state of cities, the progress that has or hasn’t been made since Hurricane Sandy, and what prospects for radical transformation lie in the cities of the future. 

November 3, 2017 panel, "Urban Futures" at the CUNY Graduate Center.
November 3, 2017 panel, “Urban Futures” at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Continue reading

The Outer City: Laïcité and Lack in France’s Postcolonial Banlieues

“Territories have geographic, economic, political, and cultural centers, and suburbs are their nerve endings. They are as fragile as any entity that has grown too quickly; they nourish fantasy and reinforce a good number of questions concerning our time.”

– Cyrus Cornut, Voyage En Peripherie (Journey on the Outskirts)

City Center, Paris
City Center, Paris (All photos by author)

A month after 9/11, a soccer match was held in Paris between France and Algeria. It was October 2001, but this was the first face-off between the two countries since Algerian independence in 1962. Yet, the game became monumental for another reason. It was cut short when thousands of North African-French youths stormed the field, booing and some chanting, “Bin Laden!” [1].

Years later, Fouad Ben Ahmed recalled the event in an open letter he wrote to then-President François Hollande, following the 2015 attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. (That year, two brothers forced their way into the newspaper offices, killing 12 people and injuring 11 others in a shooting spree claimed by ISIS). In his letter, Ben Ahmed identified himself as a banlieue resident and addressed his community’s joblessness and collective withdrawal. “The problem was before our eyes,” he wrote. “But instead of asking good questions, we chose stigmatization, refusal of the other. The split was born on that day, the feeling of rejection by the political class, when we could have asked other questions: What’s wrong? What’s the problem?”
Continue reading

“El Barrio No Se Vende!”: Righteous Uproar at an East Harlem Rezoning Hearing

East Harlem Neighborhood Study Rezoning Proposal
Source: NYC Department of City Planning

At noon on October 11th, a hearing was held at New York City Hall to discuss the proposed rezoning of Manhattan’s East Harlem. The widely controversial plan, which calls for the upzoning of a 96 square block of the neighborhood also known as El Barrio, makes way for an astonishing 122,000 square feet for new restaurants and stores, 275,000 square feet of new industrial and office space, as well as 3,500 new apartment units. Despite ongoing backlash from El Barrio residents who fear that an remodeling of the working class, historically Latino neighborhood would displace longtime residents and destroy the character of the community, the plan was approved by the City Planning Commission nine days before the hearing. 

Naturally, gaggles of protesters waited outside the gates of City Hall prior to the event, many holding signs with slogans like “East Harlem is Not For Sale!” and “Mayor De Blasio, What’s in Your Wallet?” Protesters from groups like the Community Voices Heard (CVH) and the People’s Congress of Resistance made the rounds handing out literature detailing their opposition to the plan. One particularly striking piece featured the headline “TIME TO FIGHT BACK! Federal gov’t lets Puerto Rico starve – NYC gov’t drives Boricuas, poor people out of El Barrio with ‘rezoning’ plan.” Continue reading

After-Effects of the High Line

“After-Effects of the High Line” was held on Oct. 24 in Cooper Square at NYU. Throughout the evening, urban scholars and social theorists engaged with questions of hyper-gentrification surrounding one of New York City’s most modern landmarks. The self-moderated panel discussion featured brief presentations by the University of Oregon’s Christoph Lindner, Queens College/CUNY Graduate Center’s Brian Rosa and Queensborough Community College’s Julia Rothenberg before fielding audience questions and debate. Each offered invigorating insight into qualities of a place often perceived simply, as a pleasant public good.  

After-Effects of the High Line
After-Effects of the High Line discussion on October 24, 2017

Lindner opened the evening by noting that the public and academic response to the High Line has been generally celebratory. From tourist site ratings to environmental and economic development groups, the High Line has been lauded as an exceptional example of infrastructural reuse. However, Lindner and Rosa’s co-edited book, Deconstructing the High Line: Postindustrial Urbanism and the Rise of the Elevated Park, encourages a more critical engagement with the space. The Tuesday evening event, Lindner said, was about “bringing together a group of people to be difficult about the High Line.”

Continue reading

The Future of The Hole: New York City’s Most Forlorn Bordertown

Situated in a grim, nondescript corner of the wealthiest city in America, miles away from the shining skyscrapers of Park Avenue and the cocktail parties of Wall Street, there is a place known simply as “The Hole.”

The geographic boundaries of the Hole, from Google Maps
The geographic boundaries of the Hole, from Google Maps

Long known as body dumping ground for mobsters, the Hole lies far below grade level, lacks basic 21st century necessities like plumbing and street drainage, and is scarred by various failed and/or incomplete attempts at development and improvement. In the middle of a rapidly progressing metropolis, the Hole remains a fascinating example of a land that time seems to have forgotten — and one whose attempts to modernize have been fraught with corruption, neglect, and general dysfunction.

Continue reading

Criminalizing Dance & Movements Against Police Brutality On Screen: GET LITE and WHOSE STREETS at City Lore

The Lower East Side’s City Lore gallery exhibits and “preserves the grassroots, cultural heritage of NYC” through art showings and screenings. They recently hosted two important films on interrelated themes affecting the lives of young people of color.  They screened ‘GET LITE on June 17th, 2017 on a dance subculture; as well as that of WHOSE STREETS on October 11th, 2017 on the organization behind the Black Lives Matter movement and quality of life policing.  

WHOSE STREETS? Documentary

GET LITE exhibits the art of litefeet, “Litefeet is the new American dance; a dance done by hustlers and dreamers qua criminals; a dance of ambition and talent… a dance of underprivileged youth looking for a break in a city that criminalizes their movements”. “WHOSE STREETS” is a first-hand exposè of the continued police violence which followed the murder of teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th 2014.  Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis feature several of the voices involved in the initial rise of the prominent Black Lives Matter movement.  While WHOSE STREETS reshapes the narrative of mainstream media by focusing on the glaring malpractice of the police force in Ferguson, Missouri and highlighting the immense accomplishments of grassroots organizing, GET LITE uses the art form of Litefeet to frame a conversation on the criminalization of non-white youth in New York city.

Continue reading

After/Life Tells Untold Stories of the ’67 Detroit Rebellion

From friend of the UDL, Kristin Horton:

After/Life is a new play about the ’67 Detroit rebellion that braids together oral histories with archival materials, poetry, song, and dance, and is the first theatrical accounting of the rebellion told with a focus on the experiences of women and girls. Lisa Biggs developed and produced the script in Detroit, Michigan, under the direction of Kristin Horton, Associate Professor of Theatre Practice at New York University’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study. After/Life was performed the last two weeks of July 2017 in conjunction with several community commemoration events that marked the fiftieth anniversary of the rebellion. Here Biggs and Horton discuss how the decision to offer the piece as a site for community commemoration shaped the content and aesthetic choices of the production.

Kristin Horton: Lisa, how did After/Life begin?

Lisa Biggs: When I moved to Michigan in 2013 from Chicago, Illinois, I knew very little Michigan history. That fall, stories about the collapse of the auto industry, police brutality, mortgage crisis and water shut offs, the emergency management situation, the poor conditions of the roads and schools across the state dominated the news. Michiganders around me specifically identified the issues of police brutality, workplace and housing discrimination, and nonresponsive elected officials as contributing factors to the historic and contemporary conditions….

Read the full interview here.

Latino City: A Book Talk with Dr. Llana Barber

From our friends at NYU’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis:

Join Dr. Llana Barber to discuss her just-released book “Latino City” which interweaves the histories of urban crisis in U.S. cities and imperial migration from Latin America. Pushed to migrate by political and economic circumstances shaped by the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America, poor and working-class Latinos then had to reckon with the segregation, joblessness, disinvestment, and profound stigma that plagued U.S. cities during the crisis era, particularly in the Rust Belt. For many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans, there was no “American Dream” awaiting them in Lawrence; instead, Latinos struggled to build lives for themselves in the ruins of industrial America.

October 25, 2017
20 Cooper Square, 4th Floor

Full details here


Peter Moskowitz discusses How to Kill a City

What is perhaps most remarkable about Peter Moskowitz’s book, How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood is its accessibility and simplicity. Moskowitz joined the Urban Democracy Lab for a discussion on October 4, 2017. He presented on his new book, answered questions, and led a discussion on gentrification and housing justice movements.

How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz. Nation Books, 2017.

Gentrification is a notoriously nebulous, complicated, and heated topic that is difficult to define and link historically. It is also something that is necessarily defined in terms of place, because it is so specific to the space that it is occurring in, and yet it is universal and follows similar patterns in many cities across the United States and the world. It is also, as Moskowitz shows clearly, a violent act, predicated on systems of oppression and colonization that have persisted for centuries. As Moskowitz says with regards to New York City, his hometown, “It became clear that for most poor New Yorkers, gentrification wasn’t about some ethereal change in neighborhood character. It was about mass evictions, about violence, about the decimation of decades-old cultures” (4).

Continue reading

Discussing the Legacy of Jane Jacobs

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City directed by Matt Tyrnauer was release in the spring of 2017. The film details the life and work of the author and activist Jane Jacobs. After seeing Citizen Jane at IFC this summer, Gallatin Students and Urban Democracy Lab Student Advisory Board members Arielle Hersh and Luis Aguasviva sat down to discuss the film and the contradictory legacies of Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses. The film can currently be watched on Amazon Video or iTunes.

Mrs. Jane Jacobs, chairman of the Comm. to save the West Village holds up documentary evidence at press conference at Lions Head Restaurant at Hudson & Charles Sts. Credit: Library of Congress
Mrs. Jane Jacobs holds up documentary evidence at press conference at Lions Head Restaurant at Hudson & Charles Sts. Credit: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Luis Aguasviva (LA): Let’s begin by addressing the narrative presented in Citizen Jane Jane: The Battle for the City of Jane Jacobs (the hero) vs. Robert Moses (the villain).

Arielle Hersh (AH): Yeah, it’s very prevalent.

LA: It was framed as a David vs. Goliath story. The film directly attributes Robert Moses’s “demise” to Jacobs’s organizing efforts that stop Moses’s building projects in Washington Square Park and the West Village.

AH: I definitely agree that it oversimplifies what’s going on and breaks it down into that dichotomy, but at the same time I felt like it was a really good lens for someone coming to this story for the first time. It’s kind of the way I was introduced to urban planning – I remember hearing the story and seeing it set up as “Moses bad, Jacobs good, they go to battle, Jacobs wins, now we have planning.” We know that that’s not really what happened, but if you’re framing it for someone who isn’t really familiar with the story or with Jacobs, then it seemed like a good primer.

Continue reading