Thursday, February 19, 2015

Urban film series at CUNY

The first film in the Rights to the City Film Series at City University of New York's Center for Place, Culture and Politics was screened on Tuesday February 17. It was followed by a discussion with the filmmaker, and the entire event was sobering and illuminating. I will post a follow-up as soon as I can.

The series examines inequitable development patterns in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Newark, Detroit and Istanbul. It will continue on March 5 at 7:00PM with a presentation of "Rezoning Harlem." Like the rest of films in the series, it will be followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers and CUNY faculty and students.

All films are free and open to the public. They will be shown in the Doctoral Students’ Council Lounge (365 Fifth Avenue, Room 5414 ) unless noted otherwise.

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My Brooklyn
February 17, 7:00 PM

Skylight Room, Graduate Center, CUNY.

Panel: Kelly Anderson, filmmaker; Sharon Zukin (Naked City: The Death and Life of Authentic Urban Places; Professor at CUNY); CUNY Doctoral Candidate Sara Martucci.
A documentary about Director Kelly Anderson’s personal journey, as a Brooklyn gentrifier, to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood along lines of race and class. The story begins when Anderson moves to Brooklyn in 1988, lured by cheap rents and bohemian culture. By Michael Bloomberg’s election as mayor in 2001, a massive speculative real estate boom is rapidly altering the neighborhoods she has come to call home. She watches as an explosion of luxury housing and chain store development spurs bitter conflict over who has a right to live in the city and to determine its future. While some people view these development patterns as ultimately revitalizing the city, to others, they are erasing the eclectic urban fabric, economic and racial diversity, creative alternative culture, and unique local economies that drew them to Brooklyn in the first place. It seems that no less than the city’s soul is at stake.

Rezoning Harlem
March 5, 7:00PM

Panel: Tamara Gubernat, Tom Agnotti, a member of the Harlem community, and moderator Pilar Ortiz.

Follows longtime members of the Harlem community as they fight a 2008 rezoning that threatens to erase the history and culture of their legendary neighborhood and replace it with luxury housing, offices, and big-box retail. A shocking expose of how a group of ordinary citizens, who are passionate about the future of one of the city’s most treasured neighborhoods, are systematically shut out of the city’s decision-making process, revealing New York City’s broken public review system and provoking discussion on what we can do about it.

The Rink
March 26, 7:00PM

Panel: Sarah Friedland, Ryan Joseph, and CalvinJohn Smiley. Moderator: Brenden Beck
Branch Brook Park Roller Rink, located in Newark, NJ, is one of the few remaining urban rinks of its kind. This concrete structure is nestled in a public park bordered by public housing and a highway. Upon first glance, the exterior resembles a fallout shelter; however, the streamers and lights of the interior are reminiscent of 1970s roller discos. This 55 minute documentary depicts a space cherished by skaters and a city struggling to move beyond its past and forge a new narrative amidst contemporary social issues.

Ecumenopolis: City Without Limits
April 16, 7:00PM

Panel: Imre Azam, Duygu Parmaksizoglu, Josh Scannell.

Tells the story of Istanbul on a neo-liberal course to destruction. It follows the story of a migrant family from the demolition of their neighborhood to their on-going struggle for housing rights. The film takes a look at the city on a macro level and through the eyes of experts, going from the tops of mushrooming skyscrapers to the depths of the railway tunnel under the Bosphorous strait; from the historic neighborhoods in the south to the forests in the north. It’s an Istanbul going from 15 million to 30 million. It’s an Istanbul going from 2 million cars to 8 million. It’s the Istanbul of the future that will soon engulf the entire region. It’s an Istanbul you have never seen before.

Rerooting the Motor City: Notes on a City in Transformation
May 7, 7:00PM

Panel: Filmmakers Adrienne Silverman and Nadia Mohamed; CUNY scholars Cindi Katz, Amanda Matles, and Bronwyn Dobchuk-Land.
How are Detroiters responding to the localized failures of post-industrial global capitalism? How are they re-mediating the frontier mythologies perpetuated by the mainstream media that complement “creative class” policy promotion? With a critical lens on race and class dynamics, this documentary weaves together segments on Detroit’s labor history, the budding urban agriculture movement, a critical look at philanthro-capitalism and its relationship to redevelopment as well as media (mis)representations of a city in transformation.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The overlooked truth of the mixed-use neighborhood

The electronic age has helped me manage the paper overload on my desk, but only a little. Yesterday, at the bottom of a long neglected stack of newspaper and magazine clippings, I came across an article in the Albany Times Union from a few years ago. Entitled "Long walk home," it cited a poll that found that 58 percent of Americans would like to live in neighborhoods with stores. "So why haven't they been built?" asks the article by the always dependable Chris Churchill.

The question has become a well-worn one in urban planning circles. Ditto for the answers commonly proffered: zoning laws need to be relaxed, planners and developers need to be more sensitive to the needs of citizens, yada yada yada. The first answer is true enough: we're never going to attain walkability as long as zoning codes require segregated uses, large lots, and other pedestrian-hostile features.
Credit: Philip Kamrass, Times Union
But the second answer is mostly untrue, as unintentionally demonstrated by the photographs accompanying the article. They show an older mixed-use neighborhood in Schenectady that clearly didn't come about through a formal planning and development process. The neighborhood was birthed organically, through an ad hoc process initiated and controlled by neighborhood residents themselves. The commercial uses were not planned; they came about as the citizens made their neighborhood into what they thought it needed to be. They didn't wait for developers; they did it themselves.

A formal planning and development process can give us mixed uses, but it can't give us the kind of neighborhoods we most need. It can give us contrived architecture, chain stores, and predictability, but it can't give us authenticity. Nor, I would argue, is it likely to impart local economic benefit. Formal development doesn't generate wealth for the people already living in a neighborhood; instead, it replaces them with a different group of people who acquired their wealth elsewhere. The residents who remain may have a newfound convenience of walking to a chain store, but that store sends wealth out of the community every day.

What will it take for more mixed-use neighborhoods to be built? Less zoning, fewer developers, and more mom and pop.