Walking the Streets/Walking the Projects

Owen Hatherley


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Watkins Media Limited
11 June 2024
ISBN: 9781915672445
280 pages

From the publisher

A walk through the remnants of a social democratic America, and an argument about its future.

In the 1960s, a novel ideology about cities, and what was best for them, emerged in New York. Pushing against the state planning of the time, it held that cities were at their best when they were driven from the bottom-up and when organic, unplanned processes were allowed to run their course, in a spontaneous “ballet of the street”. Cities were at their worst, however, when the state stepped in, demolishing lively old neighbourhoods and erecting giant, sterile, empty “projects”. This book uses the method of this ideology — walking — to test how true it actually is about the “capital of the twentieth century”, New York City, with a brief interlude in the capital, Washington DC.

The “projects” that are walked in this book range from cultural complexes in Manhattan to New Deal-era public housing developments in Brooklyn, Harlem and Queens, from the social experiment of Roosevelt Island to Communist housing co-operatives in the Bronx, from the union-driven rebuilding of the Lower East Side to DC’s magnificent Metro. For all their many flaws, they prove that Americans could, in fact, plan and build fragments of a better society, which survive and sometimes thrive today in one of the unequal places on earth. Walking the Streets/Walking the Projects takes a hard look at these enclaves, and asks what a new generation of American socialists might be able to learn from them.