How Immersive Oral Histories Can Shape The Future of Neighborhoods – Next City

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How Immersive Oral Histories Can Shape The Future of Neighborhoods

April 14, 2021

As a neighborhood gentrifies, newcomers rarely explore or address the needs of long-time residents who have lived there for years.

In the late ’60s, for example, the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), a neighborhood on the Lower East Side of New York City, existed in disarray. In 1967 most of the buildings in a 14-block radius were condemned, which resulted in the displacement of low-income residents, most of whom were people of color. Promises of new, affordable housing never came to fruition – developers were not interested in building these sorts of units. What resulted was 40 years of disuse and hostility regarding unfulfilled commitments and increasing gentrification.

Prior to the 2015 construction of Essex Crossing, a new, multi-use development in SPURA that finally included affordable housing, Buscada solicited immersive oral histories as a way to shape the future of the neighborhood. Through their Layered SPURA project, Buscada used stories from both former and current residents to highlight the complexities of the area and its numerous imagined futures.

“Many communities claimed this site and imagined divergent futures for it,” Buscada's website says. “Our Layered SPURA project created new spaces for dialogue about this future.”

In this webinar, Bendiner-Viani and Panchal will discuss how Buscada engaged and collaborated with SPURA community members to create a valuable and productive conversation between organizations and their communities.

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Urbanist, curator and artist Dr. Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani is the founder of Buscada, which creates vital spaces for dialogue to foster more just cities by fusing art, design and research. Gabrielle is the author of Contested City: Art and Public History as Mediation at New York's Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (University of Iowa Press, 2019) — a finalist for the Municipal Art Society’s Brendan Gill Prize — and teaches urban studies at Bryn Mawr College & the New School.

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Kaushik Panchal is a designer and strategist who creates simple, compelling, tactile experiences for a wide range of media including interactive TV, web, print, and exhibition design. He is principal of Buscada, and over two decades has worked with companies including BBC, Apple and Yahoo, as well as with arts and education organizations such as MIT, Scholastic, PBS, the SVA, and the Center for Architecture.

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