- The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle over Harlem by Brian D. Goldstein
It is starting to seem as though the nineties killed the sixties rather than the eighties. Emerging scholarship on the so-called pragmatic compromises made by the left at the end of the millennium on many fronts, especially in our criminal justice system, is illuminating the creep of neoliberalism—and revealing that many of the central actors in this trajectory often felt themselves to be heirs to sixties idealism. Brian Goldstein's The Roots of Urban Renaissance contributes substantially to this emerging history. It is also a model for architectural and urban historians who seek to understand the complex relationship between our built environment and its social, political, and economic contexts.
The book focuses on citizen-led urban renewal efforts in Harlem in the 1960s and 1970s, which included occupation of spaces slated for redevelopment, squatting, and urban homesteading, and the gradual unraveling of these "urban visions" (8) by the year 2000. Its scope is ambitious. Goldstein bookends the study with a pair of projects that highlight the profound ideological changes that he charts in this forty-year span. The first is a series of designs proposed by the activist group the Architects' Renewal Committee in Harlem (ARCH) in 1966. Created with community input, the proposals suggested targeted rehabilitation as opposed to "slum clearance," so that residents could remain in their neighborhoods. The book ends with the construction of the Harlem U.S.A. shopping mall in 2000 and the Harlem Center [End Page 107] mixed-use retail/office building in 2002, both on 125th Street. To Goldstein, these projects signify the ascendancy of market-centered neoliberal ideology that Harlem and New York City political and social leaders embraced in the 1990s and early 2000s, and represents a "total eclipse of the radical ideal that the Architects Renewal Committee" had fought for (241).
Chapter 1 tells the story of the founding and early years of ARCH, a fascinating and little-known "design activism" (18) organization established by a young white architect, C. Richard Hatch, in 1964 to assist Harlem residents to produce their own urban renewal plans to counter the slum clearance efforts of the Robert Moses years. Chapter 2 charts the evolution of the organization through the late 1960s as Hatch was replaced by African American architect Max Bond Jr. in 1967, resulting in the addition of more African American board members with deep roots in the community, a stronger position in favor of community control and input, and a more confrontational stance toward outside forces, including Columbia University and municipal offices charged with urban development in Harlem.
These chapters reveal a wealth of primary research, including Goldstein's interview with Hatch in 2010, and the story of Bond's program to train black and Puerto Rican youth in the design fields through a summer program called Architecture in the Neighborhoods. At that time, ARCH counted "only 14 black architects in the states of New York and New Jersey combined" (71). These chapters show the extent to which architecture was a lightning rod for debates about race and power—a fact that may be widely accepted but that has been studied too little. Goldstein does an exemplary job of describing Bond's moving calls for a "black aesthetic" in architecture reflective of black values and black culture, and the book includes illustrations of several ARCH renderings from 1968 that propose an "African museum" and "soul food garden," and show Harlemites—some raising their fists to signal support for Black Power, others dressed in dashikis—making these public spaces their own. Discussion of these schemes makes a welcome addition to the literature. Urban histories and sociological studies of this era tend to reference architecture without grappling with the important ways in which design participated in these debates.
One critique I had...