On Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015, Students participating in an Urban Memory Project at Park Slope Collegiate Secondary School, presented their work in a formal exhibition as part of the school’s Performance Night. 2015 marked the 10th anniversary of UMP’s partnership with the school, and the eighth year UMP’s founder, Rebecca Krucoff, has worked with co-teacher Michael Salak of the PSC staff. It was another wonderful year full of research, photo, and interview documentation projects that we are eager to share with you. We are grateful to PSC’s principal, Jill Bloomberg, and all of the staff at the school for welcoming us into their community and supporting our work for so many years.
Brandon Edwards, class of 2015, wrote this year’s exhibition introduction, and it is with great pleasure that we share his words with you, here. We couldn’t have said it better, Brandon. We hope you enjoy Brandon’s words and the accompanying photos by his classmates. Thank you Brandon, and thank you to all of this year’s senior class!
Within the past few months of taking Brooklyn history, we’ve learned a great deal about the streets we walk, the buildings we live in, and the roads we travel; but most importantly, we learned about the factors that make Brooklyn, Brooklyn. We were given the opportunity to ask questions and unravel the answers that followed. Questions such as: “how do we see ourselves in relation to our neighborhood?” and “what aspects of our city we would want to change?” It’s incredible how accustomed we were to living in a city that up until this point, we knew little about. Fortunately enough, we were exposed to information that has been around us all along.
Our city is home to people of all ethnic backgrounds and economic make-ups. Whether or not we are aware of it, at some point we each start building our own private New York, a New York that is unique to each of us and that we individually find comfort in. Novelist Colson Whitehead once said, “You start building your private New York the first time you lay eyes on it. Maybe you were in a cab leaving the airport when the skyline first roused itself into view… There are eight million naked cities in this naked city– they dispute and disagree. The New York City you live in is not my New York City; how could it be?” (Whitehead, “City Limits,” in Colossus of New York), p. 4
We learned that a man named Robert Moses, was responsible for the public parks, pools, housing projects, roads and highways that we use every day. We learned how Moses used the power of eminent domain to move people out of their houses, the same way the city moved the residents of Prospect Heights out when the Barclays stadium was built. This is just one of the many ways we can link past events to the present day. Despite how controversial Moses’ actions were, he had a great part in building New York to become the city we call “home”.
Robert Moses once said, “If you want to build in a city as crowded as New York, you have to swing the meat axe.” This quote is the epitome of our essential questions for the course, “what is really the greater good? And what should be sacrificed in its name?” People in power, like Robert Moses, former mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg and current Mayor Bill de Blasio, have all taken courses of action that some, or many, believed to be detrimental to the development of the city. Men in power tend to make questionable decisions, and whether or not these decisions were thought out, they affect us all. When Moses built the roadways and forced people out of their homes; was the well-being of lower and middle class citizens taken into consideration then? Or when Bloomberg rezoned industrial communities into luxury housing? These are a few of many reasons why so many people feel that New York City is a place for the wealthy only, and until changes are made, there will be an ongoing struggle in society.
Eventually, each of us were given the assignment of researching a neighborhood in Brooklyn. Just like any other history course, we not only evaluated the past, but we were also pushed to consider how it affects the present and made us think about what course of action we could take towards a better future. Through thorough analysis, we were able to identify issues in our neighborhoods, both on a social and economic scale, issues that have plagued our city since before many of us were born, such as; the crack epidemic, education, crime, poverty and segregation. We interviewed people from our neighborhoods, discussed the controversial topic of gentrification and we took block portraits of the areas we were studying to better understand why each neighborhood is the way it is today. It was interesting to see how other people felt about the issues we were learning about in school; which is why this class was unique, we were able to really go out and link what we learned to the real world.
What also distinguished this class from our other class was the opportunity to communicate our ideas through photography; many of us had never taken a photography course before so this was definitely a new experience for each of us. By the end of this exhibit, you will have seen each of our individual interpretations of Brooklyn. Just as Colson Whitehead pushed us to realize our New Yorks, we hope this exhibit will encourage you to realize your own.
– Brandon, Edwards, Class of 2015, Park Slope Collegiate