SEWARD PARK URBAN RENEWAL AREA (SPURA)
The Seward Park Urban Renewal Area, better known to Lower East Side residents as SPURA, is the last remaining large parcel of publicly owned land in lower Manhattan. Its use has been contested for over 40 years with various schemes, proposals, and ideas put forth, protested, fought over, and ultimately stalled until earlier this year.
When we were initially asked to take part in Living As Form, we were excited about the possibility of doing a project around SPURA and what it could be. We quickly found out that enormous efforts to fight for socially just development – that includes job creation, low income housing, and neighborhood beautification – of the site has been in the works by various organizations for some time. We felt that anything we did would be redundant at best, and ill informed and damaging at worst. We quickly decided to alter our plans and do a project that could celebrate what the LES has been and what people are fighting for it to remain.
The following is a round up of some of the work done in relation to SPURA by several of the people, organizations, and groups involved with MARKET.
SPURA & THE CITY STUDIO
Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, Buscada & The New School’s Urban Studies program
More than forty years ago, New York City took ownership of an area on New York City’s Lower East Side for “slum clearance” and urban renewal. This is SPURA, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area. Few renewal projects have been so contested, and very few of the originally-planned buildings were ever built. It remains the largest undeveloped city-owned parcel of land south of 96th Street. Many people were once displaced from the site, some now live on it, and many people live in the blocks around it. Many different communities claim SPURA, and imagine different futures for it.
Four years ago, Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, a professor of Urban Studies at the New School and co-founder of the interdisciplinary practice Buscada [www.buscada.com], began the “City Studio” project to consider this contested site and its history, while stressing engagement with the community planning process and the multiple Lower East Side communities. She has taught the City Studio class to challenge students to understand histories of housing in New York City, theories of urban development and community participation, and to engage in archival, ethnographic, visual and participatory research. [http://buscada.com/project/visualizing-spura/]
We hope that City Studio can help people with divergent points of view come together in conversation about SPURA’s future. In our residence at MARKET, we continue to present and explore the multiple stories of SPURA, so that these may inform the complex planning process. Please visit us to tell your own SPURA stories, to talk with each other at our booth, and to ask questions about what this means for the neighborhood.
From lots of angles, New York City is the picture perfect post-industrial renaissance story. The tools of urban revitalization developed here — loft liv- ing, cool cities, big subsidies to global managers in finance, law, and consulting — have been ex- ported to cities across the earth. But even though you can eat a $300 meal on Clinton Street, the transformation of Manhattan isn’t quite done. A bit further south from the new boutique hotels and rising luxury condominiums of the Lower East Side, past Delancey Street, an older and battlemarked landscape waits to be remade by a glassy wave of new construction.
Last century, there was an open and pub- lic struggle for control of New York City. On one hand, masterplanned superprojects done in con- sultation with big business were spreading. On the other, activist residents were getting good at us- ing tools of public participation from hearings to street protests to crash the political viability of ur- ban development. Battle lines of race, class, and religion were drawn on maps and tested in court. The new city making its way towards SPURA may be seductively smooth on the surface, but it’s built over fragmented terrain.