On the Limits of Social Change Through Design

Ginia Bellafante looks at the fate of a public housing project conceived with much fanfare in the early 1970s by progressive architects following the theory of 'Defensible Space' authored by architect and planner Oscar Newman.
June 3, 2013, 10am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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"Mr. Newman’s work brought momentum to a movement, here and abroad, for more intimately conceived apartment buildings, especially for the poor, one of the most celebrated examples of which was Marcus Garvey Village, with 625 apartments, in Brownsville, Brooklyn," explains Bellafante. "Visiting Marcus Garvey today, it is nearly impossible to imagine the excitement that surrounded its groundbreaking 40 years ago, but it was born of thrilling alliances, as an exhibit at the Center for Architecture downtown, titled 'Low Rise High Density,' illustrates."

"The fate of Marcus Garvey Village is not addressed in the Center for Architecture’s show, but the sense of exuberant experimentation that attended the project could not insulate it from the problems of poverty that have troubled Brownsville for decades," Bellafante continues. "As one former official at the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development told me, Marcus Garvey actually makes the ailing towers of the Housing Authority so heavily concentrated in Brownsville 'look good.'”

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Published on Saturday, June 1, 2013 in The New York Times
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