This image shows a streetscape of traffic and 3-5 story commercial buildings on Atlantic Avenue. This busy thruway marks the border between Cypress Hills and East New York, and serves as a major commercial street and commuter artery for the communities. Image Credit: Kristen Hackett
In the Fall of 2016, I was invited to teach an Environmental Psychology Course at the The New School. As an PhD student in an Environmental Psychology Program, I was thrilled – excited to compose a course that shared the theoretical perspective that had become home to me, and to share my research and interests on Environmental Psychology with students. In addition to introducing them to the syllabus and requirements of the course, in the first couple of weeks, I also introduced them to the ‘Walking in My Shoes’ Project, which was narrowly conceived at the time as a oral history project take place in and with residents of East New York and Cypress Hills.
Below is a draft of the syllabus and a draft of the WIMS project proposal I shared with the class in those first few weeks.
In August of 2016, the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation held a ‘researcher meeting’ at their Fulton-Street office, off the Cleveland Stop on the J Train. The community had been banding together over the last year to contest the Mayor’s rezoning plan for the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the rezoning had recently been made official, having successfully navigated the ULURP process. The researcher meeting was a response to this reality – and the desire to have people documenting how the rezoning took place in Cypress Hills and East New York – the neighborhoods targeted by the rezoning. Documentation was seen as a means of resisting the rezoning in their neighborhood and others across the city which were being considered for the same fate and identifying specific policy positions that might help keep people in their homes and in their community. Researchers from ANHD, Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Pratt Center for Community Development and more were in attendance.
I went into this meeting wanting to do oral histories with residents in the community. I saw this approach as a means to understand and elaborate the the complex relations that existed between community members and their place – an angle I felt the City nor mainstream media or gentrification scholars were really illuminating (I elaborate on this in a theoretical way in my 2nd Doctoral Exam). In that it was a qualitative inquiry, this project also seemed to complement the research proposed by the other groups at the table, and the research being pursued by CHLDC themselves).