The Village Alliance and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) recently hosted their annual winter lecture, titled The Social Geography of Village Housing in the Sixties Westbeth, Private Developers and Public Housing for Artists, presented by Jeffrey Trask.
Trask took the audience on a fascinating journey examining how the once run down waterfront neighborhood of the West Village developed into a gentrified landscape of luxury lofts, architect-branded buildings and todays fashionable scene of bars restaurants and boutiques.
At the center of Trasks lecture was the development of the Westbeth Arts Center and artists residences in the late 60s, a time when the prospect of converting factories and loft spaces into artist residences and social housing was a radical idea, which sparked a revolution in ideas about the relationship between arts, urban planning and private real estate development at a time much of the West Village was gentrifying.
Trask illustrated the fiery debates which took place during the late sixties between controversial city planner Robert Moses, Mayor John Lindsay and urban activists led by the formidable Jane Jacobs, who would have turned 100 this year. Jacobs book, The Death & Life of Great American Cities was instrumental in turning public opinion against Mosess plans, coupled with her flair for leading highly effective and visual campaigns.
The legacy of those debates lives on to this day and will continue to influence planning policies well into the future, not only in New York but nationally too.
Jeffrey Trask is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Georgia State University and a historian of American cultural and intellectual history with a specialization in cities and the arts. His current research looks at the history of industrial aesthetics, examining the relationship between industry and labor, reformers and working-class families and the architects and engineers who developed landscapes of industrial capitalism.
A special thank you to the Westbeth Artists Community for providing the space and A/V for the lecture. Look out for the next Village Alliance & GVSHP event about Jane Jacobs taking place later this summer.