From the sky, New York City seems endless. Grid lines and structures of all kinds are seen. Many photographers have captured the city from above and done it justice. But I want to talk to about a group of structures rarely spoken of and much less captured cinematically.
See those brown towers dominating the waterfront? Those are publically developed and built housing complexes managed (or rather mismanaged) by the largest public housing system in the Western Hemisphere. The New York City Housing Authority, better known as NYCHA, houses nearly 600,000 residents citywide. Nearly 80% reside in the 132 residential towers that were built between 1935-1965. The projects, as they’re colloquially known, are a staple of mid 20th century architecture. Pioneering the concepts of the superblock and the modernist notion of vertical utility, NYCHA was established in the highest intention of public good and social order- yet they became associated with crime, corruption, racism, mismanagement, and poverty. We could discuss these reason into the night, but I want to discuss the importance of public housing in NYC. Both architecturally, for better or worst, and as a need for residents in regards to housing.
In 2018, NYCHA finds itself at a crisis as their units are falling apart. Lead paint, broken elevators, deferred maintenance spanning forty years, and political apathy have placed NYCHA’s future in jeopardy. Cinematically, they’re just a part of the city’s landscape as the landmarks that dot IG daily. To understand NYCHA we’ll have to go back to 1934 where an ambitious mayor, Jacob Riis’s photographs, an angry socialist, the Great Depression, and an eviction crisis gave birth to NYCHA.
Taken on August 22, 2018 on a Lumix Lx100
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