Small Town In Town: Preserving Public Housing in New York City
By: Jessica Smith
This fall, as part of the Documentation and Interpretation course in Pratt Institute’s Historic Preservation program, five graduate students (including myself) were given a project that involved researching five of New York’s public housing developments on the Lower East Side. We were each assigned one site that included the Smith Houses, the LaGuardia Houses, the Baruch Houses, the Wald Houses, and Jacob Riis Houses. The project had two objectives: one was to provide research and consultation for the New York Environmental Law and Justice Project (NYELJP) who, in November, brought a lawsuit against the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) in an attempt to stop their recently proposed Land Lease plan.
Our role was to look at the issue from a historic preservation perspective and determine if any additional measures could be taken to allow a more public review using preservation. The second objective worked in tandem with the first, in that, it sought to provide us with experience in writing and submitting an application for a National Register of Historic Places designation. Since the five sites were constructed between 1949 and 1959, all were potentially eligible for a National Register designation, which then would provide additional protection under a Section 106 review. In addition to the National Register application, we created a website titled “Small Town In Town” that compiled all of our research on these five sites in hopes of creating even more public awareness and fostering community pride about these developments.
Image (below): Modern Housing by Catherine Bauer, p. 179