New York City: Affordable Housing and Cultural Epicenter

Photo via QMA “Red-Lines” exhibition, 2009.

New York City is chock full of museums. Chock full of museums featuring exhibits that draw directly from the financial crisis and how it has affected affordable housing across the country.  Here are five of our favorites. If you know of any others, please add on to the list! We’d love tips.

  1. Foreclosed: Documents from the American Housing Crisis
    The Alice Austen House Museum on Staten Island is currently displaying photographs that highlight the on-going foreclosure crisis. Though it primarily focuses on the single-family world, it highlights the widespread eviction and housing deterioration that has taken place since 2008. The exhibit closes in a couple days, so be sure to hop on that free ferry right away!
  2. Activist New York
    The Museum of the City of New York’s exhibition Activist New York is the inaugural exhibition in the new Puffin Foundation Gallery, which is dedicated to celebrating the ways in which New Yorkers have banded together to exercise their power to shape their city. New York City’s vibrant activist history has been shaped significantly by the decades-long fight to preserve affordable housing. We love this for obvious reasons.
  3. Re-Housing the American Dream
    The Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition on the five neighborhoods most impacted by the foreclosure crisis is presented in conjunction with Columbia Urban Planning students. Students worked together with planning experts (architects, affordable housing practitioners, community lenders, etc) to design innovative solutions for struggling neighborhoods. One of their solutions looks quite a bit like an interim facility
  4. Tracking the Credit Crisis
    The Museum of American Finance is located on Wall Street, in the belly of the beast. This exhibit, Tracking the Credit Crisis, follows the origins of the financial meltdown in 2008 and what has since been done to combat it, including the bank bailout and Obama’s stimulus package. Though this is not explicitly linked to New York City housing, the credit crisis is deeply entwined in the work that we do, as it has its base in the irresponsible lending and systematic overleveraging that have decimated housing stock across the country. Check it out.
  5. Housing is a Human Right
    Housing is a Human Right is an on-going portrait to document the struggle for home. Much of their work is a story-telling project displayed on their website, but they also put up temporary exhibitions in unconventional locations, like storage pods or laundromats. This project specifically focuses on the individuals who are dealing with the ramifications of the foreclosure crisis, on the ground. They also aim to inspire grassroots housing activism across the country.

These five projects are really just the tip of the iceberg. Anyone interested in the history of housing in New York City should visit the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, which celebrates New York City’s immigrant history with a display of an early immigrant home. We love the Studio Museum in Harlem, El Museo del Barrio, the Queens Museum, and the Brooklyn Museum, because these are all community centered institutions that draw deeply from the neighborhoods in which they are based. We believe that housing and community are tightly linked, and that we have a lot to learn about what kind of housing we need by learning about the communities we aim to serve.

Finally, this post is primarily about current exhibitions, but we’re endlessly saddened that the Red Line Housing Crisis Learning Center, presented in collaboration between the QMA and the Center for Urban Pedagogy, is not a permanent exhibition. In the midst of the Subprime Meltdown, artist and graphic designed Damon Rich created works to enrich the “urgent conversation about how our society finances its living environments.” Though the exhibit is gone, you can check out pictures from our favorite part at the Queens Museum’s Flickr. In these pictures, the artist displayed every building in foreclosure at that time on the Panorama of the City of New York. This amazing visual tool really drove home the impact that foreclosure had on New York City in 2009. It’d be incredible to see it today.

Edit: June 28th, 2012. We’ve just learned about The Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, a history museum of local grassroots activism at 155 Avenue C between 9th and 10th Street. Set to open at the end of July, this new museum will host several different types of tours which aim to celebrate this history of squatting and the history of community gardens in New York City’s Lower East Side. The museum will display photographs of old squats during all stages of renovations as well as vacant, rubble-strewn lots and their transformation into vibrant community gardens. There will also be video screenings in the museum detailing community efforts to transform spaces in the Lower East Side into the artistic and deeply historic neighborhood that it is today. Be sure to pass by and experience this rich history of the city!