Thursday, September 13, 2012

Welcome to NYCHALand!

This blog is dedicated to the NYC of our hearts, minds, and souls as much as to the real city of metal, concrete, and pavement.

One of the fun things about this blog is exploring the undiscovered places -- both literal and figurative -- that exist within the city we love. Cities within the city, if you will, that thrive around us, next to us, and in which many of us live too.

But there is one city within NYC that most readers of this blog don't know about, including yours truly. It's a place that almost 92% of New Yorkers -- let alone tourists -- never go to. It's a city that exists in many neighborhoods but is separate from just about all of them. And it certainly doesn't thrive.

It's called NYCHALand -- otherwise known as "the projects", those enclaves of poverty.

NYCHA is short for New York City Housing Authority which runs all of the public housing projects across the five boroughs. It houses over 400,000 people, almost 8% of the entire city's population, but those are just the official figures; unofficially almost 600,000 people live there. 

Think about that for a second: while 8% might not be a huge share of the city's people and 400,000 a small slice of the 8 million plus folks in this town, NYCHALand houses more people than New Orleans or St. Louis. In fact, you could transport the entire population of the state of Wyoming into NYCHALand and still have room left over for more people. It's that big.

The Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, one of the bigger neighborhoods in NYCHALand.
The projects have long been a controversial aspect of American urban policy. Initially they were seen as an improvement over the slums and tenements that used to warehouse the poor, places where people could live in a certain amount of dignity while they worked themselves into the middle class. But it all went wrong: the projects basically became exactly what they were might to replace, and became new warehouses for the poor. Few worked themselves into the middle, instead caught in a cycle of dependency on city housing and services, members of the permanent underclass. The projects became havens for gangs and drug dealers and violence. The sound of gunshots became a daily a occurrence for the young and old alike who lived there. When one thought of the projects, one could only think of menace.

The "projects" became a symbol for everything that was wrong with 20th century compassion.  If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the projects seemed like their final destination.

Many cities in the last decade tore their projects down and developed new housing policies to deal with the poor. But here in NYC, the projects remain. NYCHALand exists today much as it did forty, thirty years ago. Over the last 20 years, people have talked about how NYC has come back, better than ever, from the turbulent time of the 1970s and 1980s. Yet when you go to NYCHALand, it's like stepping into a time machine back to that time in the city's history that so many of us want to forget. 

However, NYCHALand might not be much longer. This long, very informative article from this week's New York magazine tells us about ideas some have to permanently change the landscape of the projects. The costs of maintaining them has ballooned and many are saying that perhaps it's time NYC develop a 21st century housing policy.

But what will that look like? What will happen to the people who, as miserable a place NYCHALand is for most, feel like it's the best home they could hope to have? Will a new housing policy for the poor help or hurt them? 

In the years to come, NYCHALand might became yet another relic of the city's past, a place most of have never gone to and hope never to go to but that will be, for good or for ill, a city within a city that was part of the character of the greatest city in the world.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please keep it civil, intelligent, and expletive-free. Otherwise, opine away.