Open City: Blogging Urban Change

Organizing Fellows

“One of the reasons why the Open City Fellowship with the Asian American Writers Workshop appeals to me is how this project defines itself through, and by intersections: the project is a space where writing, the city, and oral history meet. Also, as a recent transplant to New York, I hope that the project will deepen my knowledge of the complex—even competing—stakes and stories that have molded the various communities that Open City fellows will follow throughout the year.”

Cristiana Baik currently resides in Brooklyn, New York. As an undergraduate at the University of Chicago, she concentrated in Anthropology and Gender Studies. She received her MFA in Creative Writing (2009), and is currently a graduate assistant, student at NYU. Her work has been published in various literary magazines, including American Letters & Commentary, Jacket Magazine, the Boston Review, and Conjunctions, and her chapbook The Victory of the Strange Heart Beating, was published by Blue Hour Press in 2009.

It was in Chicago that Cristiana first became interested in issues of urban planning. As a college student, she studied and lived in South Africa and Israel, to get a broader sense of how land distribution and power politics creates different forms of consciousness. She continued with her work, when she became a project management associate at the Los Angeles Community Design Center (now Abode Communities), a nonprofit affordable housing developer and architecture firm. She worked on various issues at LACDC, from relocation, mixed income housing, to demographic research.

“Over the last 15 years, I’ve worked on many projects about neighborhood change. I’m especially excited by Open City and the chance to be part of this creative group. I’m looking forward to talking to people in these three neighborhoods to uncover their stories.”

Jerome Chou is the Director of Programs at the Design Trust for Public Space, a nonprofit dedicated to improving New York City’s public realm. Prior to joining the Design Trust, Jerome worked at Field Operations as a project manager on Freshkills Park; as a community planner for Baltimore City Department of Planning; as an organizer for ACORN and the Working Families Party; and as an assistant editor with the nonprofit publisher The New Press. He has degrees in Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

Jerome has organized and produced numerous public space interventions. Most recently, in response to budget cuts in 2009 that eliminated Sunday public library services throughout Brooklyn, he helped create Branch, a temporary Sunday library in a parking lot in Fort Greene.

“Open City is a truly original and inspiring opportunity to explore the inner lives of these complex and changing neighborhoods. As a novelist, I can’t imagine richer territory than the topics of gentrification, development, and urban change; they get to the very heart of who we are and the way we live. I expect the stories I collect through Open City to bring new depth and perspective to the imagined lives of my characters—to their histories, mythologies, and geographies—for years to come.”

Deanna Fei is the author of the novel A Thread of Sky (Penguin Press, 2010), the story of a family of six Chinese American women who reunite for a tour of their ancestral home. The New York Times Book Review calls it “timeless and of the moment,” while the Chicago Tribune says, “This is one of those rare novels that delivers on the promise of its opening pages. This summer, no smart woman should leave on vacation without it.” A Thread of Sky was recently named a New York Times Editors’ Choice and an Indie Next Notable Book.

Deanna was born in Flushing, New York, and has lived in Beijing and Shanghai, China. A graduate of Amherst College and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she has received a Fulbright Grant, a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and a Chinese Cultural Scholarship. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she teaches in public schools and is at work on a new novel. To read her blog, reviews, and more, visit

“Open City is a declaration that somehow the young Latino and Asian skateboarders that I see hitting the pavement everyday in Sunset Park are connected to the wheels of the shopping carts full of empty beer bottles and cans pushed around by hard-working Chinese elderly folks on my block. Perhaps, a conversation needs to be had between 5th avenue with street-food vendors selling fresh fruit, grilled corn, and trays of churros, and 8th avenue, with squid balls, fried noodles, and pickled eggs…”

Peggy Lee resides in Sunset Park, Brooklyn where the neighbor’s cursed rooster crows at 5:30 in the morning, a neighborhood cat ritually pisses at her window, and she has had many Tecate-driven conversations interrogating “life” on her roof top over-looking the Upper New York Bay and Lady Liberty. It is home. Her sensitivities to location, space, place, threaded by sonic experience are owed to her erratic moving history. Peggy admits being touched deeply by the lagging grunge scene she experienced in St. Louis and later, the hip hop circuits of LA & the Bay Area. She loves how questions about her childhood begin with “military brat or foster care?” Neither. She graduated with her M.A. in Performance Studies from New York University and a B.A. in Feminist Studies at University of California, Santa Barbara. She is a poet, performer, youth worker, and hustling, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed writer in New York City.

Peggy is part of Oh! Industry, a “no-brow” online magazine dedicated to the trends, catastrophes, and melodies of popular culture, as well as, an online source and voice for what is queer and Asian.

“Somewhere between the lamenter’s stasis and the amnesiac’s surge, there is a knotty and live encounter with the gentrification of this city and being witness and participant to it as an Asian American. I joined this project to arrive at that meaty place, to ask questions, to complicate the conversations about identity and change, and to simultaneously and collectively archive what is thinning and disappearing alongside what is emerging anew.”

From Kabul to Elmhurst, from rural Massachusetts to the East Village, Sahar Muradi writes to make sense of a snaking path. She is co-editor of One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Afghan American Literature (University of Arkansas Press, 2010) and on the editorial board of the forthcoming Boundaries and Borders, An Anthology of Women of Color.  For several years she worked in the nonprofit sector in Afghanistan, and most recently ran a high school youth development program in NYC, including at Pace High School in Chinatown. She received her MPA in international development from NYU and her BA in creative writing from Hampshire College.

Much of Sahar’s writing focuses on themes of home and identity. As an immigrant living in a city of immigrants and within a neighborhood where urban development is uprooting the re-rooted, she is especially interested in the layering of displacement experiences and the role of writing in reconciling those experiences.

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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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