Open City: Blogging Urban Change
Festival of Ideas (1): Foto-jog
By Cristiana Baik


The city. . . does not tell its past, but contains it like the line of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.

— Italo Calvino, from INVISIBLE CITIES

Here is a foto-collage from this past weekend’s Festival of Ideas for the New City (May 4th-8th), which I hope many of you had a chance to attend! The Asian American Writers Workshop (in collaboration with the Museum of the Chinese in America) kicked it off this Saturday morning with readings from a gamut of writers (I had a chance to read a collaborative project with the terrific poet, R.A. Villanueva).

Even in the midst of finals and the onslaught of proposals and papers, I found myself happy, relaxed, and grateful this past Saturday. Why? Because! The weather finally felt like spring, there was a team of wonderful writers abounding, and most importantly, a warm audience wanted to spend their Saturday morning with us. Some were friends, some were supporters of writers, but most were just people who were curious to hear what “narrative remappings” in Chinatown meant.

After the reading, I had a chance to interview New York City-based author, Ed Lin. More about this interview, his thoughts on a changing Chinatown, and clips in an upcoming post.

A few of these images are not from the festival itself, but from a walk I took the previous day. The Sunshine Hotel, one of the last “flophouse” hotels in the Bowery, is about a ten minute walk from where I work. Ron and I had been swapping a few emails about the Bowery to help jump-start ideas for our collaborative poem (the jump-start also included a two hour walk around Chinatown, and re-reading Italo Calvino’s luminous Invisible Cities.)

There is no way that anyone should romanticize the Sunshine Hotel — inside, the ceilings of rooms are made out of chicken wire, the rooms themselves are no bigger than medium-sized office cubicles, and for much of the 20th century, it was part of what was known as NYC’s skid row — but despite the sad, hard stories that these walls might hold, it still represents a different time in the city. It is now bizarre to walk down a street that is so rapidly erasing any trace of the fact that it once provided homes for those least able to afford one.

Similar to the experience I had when I walked passed the Music Palace, when I got to 241 Bowery, what I found were remnants of a functional building boarded up (with the exception of the doorway). Next to the Sunshine Hotel stood the gleaming white panels of the New Museum. Awkwardly sandwiched between the boarded up flophouse and the museum were two young men painting a front board panel of what (I gathered) used to be a part of the Sunshine Hotel. Chalked on the black board were the streaking, stenciled words: “Steaks, Burger, Milkshakes” etc. And when I asked the painters if they knew how to buzz in, to get into the hotel, they shrugged and said, “We’re only painting this thing, we have no idea what it is.”


The rest of the fotos were taken on Saturday, late afternoon, at the Festival. I moseyed around Rivington Street (the festival was a moving exhibit, with art stalls lined up on Bowery. These photos were taken on Rivington, between Chrystie and Bowery).

Some of the things we found: functional water fountains made out of bright orange road cones, a layered train of a dress made out of plastic and trash, and a tennis net made out of construction “netting”.

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About Open City
Open City: Blogging Urban Change is an interdisciplinary neighborhood blog and community project coordinated by the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Five commissioned writers, called Organizing Fellows, are working with community organizations and neighborhood folks in Manhattan’s Chinatown/Lower East Side (LES), Flushing, Queens, and Sunset Park, Brooklyn to collect oral histories and interviews, offer commentary about gentrification, neighborhood change, and produce new creative work around these themes. Read more.
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Featured Profile
CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities was formed in 1986 (formerly known as the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence) as a response to an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes both in New York City and around the country (which included violence by police officers against Asians).
They have two offices – one in Manhattan’s Chinatown (which houses the Chinatown Tenants Union, and the new Asian Youth in Action organizing project) and the Youth Leadership Project office in the Bronx – and have members from all over the city. Over the years, CAAAV’s main campaigns have focused on community-based organizing work rooted in Asian immigrant and refugee communities. Although their advocacy and organizing work is focused mainly in Manhattan’s Chinatown and the northwest Bronx, CAAAV’s work also touches upon larger issues (such as affordable housing, war, and immigration) shaping communities all over the world: “Our work is primarily centered around issues facing New Yorkers, but always with a global analysis.”
CAAAV’s mission is to organize and build the power of working-class Asian immigrants, refugees, and youth to change concrete conditions and participate in a broader social justice movement. In the past, CAAAV’s work included organizing South Asian taxi drivers, Korean women workers, and Filipina domestic workers. Several of these organizing projects have gone on to become their own organizations, such as the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and Domestic Workers United. CAAAV’s current work focus on three different program areas: Read more.

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Community Announcements
Manhattan CB3 Land Use, Zoning, Public & Private Housing Committee
Monday, May 2 at 6:30 pm -- Rutgers Community Center, Gymnasium - 200 Madison Street (btwn Rutgers & Pike Sts)

Brooklyn CB7, Land Use/Landmarks Committee Regular meeting
Continued discussion on potential 8th Avenue rezoning

Manhattan CB3 Economic Development Committee Tuesday, May 3 at 6:30pm -- Community Board 3 Office - 59 East 4th Street (btwn 2nd Ave & Bowery)

Read more.

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