Who Owns Newark? A Case Study of One Building

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“Between 2017 and 2020, 2,500 homes – more than 47 percent of the city’s one-to-four unit buildings – were sold to institutional buyers. In Newark, many of the properties were bought by completely anonymous investors, prompting the title of a report from Rutgers University law school, Who Owns Newark? Transferring Wealth from Newark Homeowners to Corporate Buyers.
As documented in this 73-page report, anonymous shell companies are now purchasing majorities of Newark homes and commercial spaces. Properties that Newark’s Black and Hispanic residents would otherwise own are now going to absentee landlords and invisible owners. The higher rate of absentee ownership is directly linked to rent increases and higher rates of eviction, particularly of poor and middle-class Black families. (source)
Just two of these several thousand properties are located at 569 and 571-577 Broad Street. Their ambiguous and hidden ownership mirrors the larger transfer of inter-generational wealth out of Newark. A case study of just these two properties parallels one for one concerns identified in the report Who Owns Newark? (source)

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Newark Changing: Mapping neighborhood demolition, 1950s to today


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Newark Changing is a first-of-its-kind visual encyclopedia of 2,400 photo comparisons of almost every street corner​​​, home, and building ​​demolished by urban renewal and the social forces behind urban decay.​ Through an interactive and text-searchable historic map, any visitor can travel in time to explore their street and their building as it appeared in the period 1959-68 vs. today. Thousands of old street photos are brought to life with contemporary 360-degree panoramic photos of the same street scenes today, taken from identical camera angles to the old photos. This is the most extensive collection of photo comparisons past and present ever assembled for any American city.
Newark Changing reveals the scale and devastation of urban renewal, not from the aerial perspective of the city planner’s map but from the human perspective of the street corner and neighborhood. Tens of thousands of individual streets, homes, apartments, churches, and Jewish, Black, and Italian-owned businesses in Newark were “redlined” in the 1930s and deprived of investment. Most of these neighborhoods today have been bulldozed for interstate highways, universities, hospitals, and corporate investments in real estate. Billions in taxpayer money (adjusted for today’s value with inflation) was spent in the period 1945 to 1967 to demolish at least 10,000 buildings, displacing 50,000 people, 65-77% of whom were Black. At the same time, the migration of people and jobs away from urban centers deprived cities like Newark of the industrial employment base they once had. Decades after the 1967 rebellion, Newark still struggles to confront and overcome decades of harm inflicted on the city by de-industrialization and population loss to the suburbs.
Street scenes can be browsed by interactive map, by neighborhood, by subject, by street, or by the public institution responsible for demolition. Visitors can thus travel in time to explore today’s empty fields, parking lots, and desolate streetscapes for the vibrant neighborhoods they were before the automobile age.

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A park without trees creates a city without history.

Harriet Tubman Square has the largest and most impressive collection of old-growth trees in Downtown Newark. The oldest trees are over 100 feet high, four-feet diameter at the trunk, and up to 150 years old. The City of Newark’s current proposal is to cut every single tree in our park. The only historical precedent for this is the 1960s project that killed every tree in Military Park to build the parking garage now buried beneath. Based on details and architectural plans revealed through an Open Public Records Act request, this animation shows what is planned for our park:

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Read the plans for the park.

Read our analysis of these plans.

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We cheer for the historic Harriet Tubman Park for a new, prosperous, and most of all just Newark.
However, nobody should even imagine cutting down these 66 century-old trees, oaks, elms, sycamores, all of which represent our history and particularly African-American experience. In America, trees symbolize both freedom and brutal oppression, should any sensible person forget. Unlike any historic treasures – architectural remnants, shriveled old maps, aged documents, or battled artifacts – these trees are among our most valuable historic icons, standing tall for our children.
Tubman embodied the notion of reclaiming the symbolism of trees and woods as tools of freedom in the black tradition. In the antebellum America, abolitionists always voiced lyrics about glorious trees that bore the fruit of freedom. Dr. Martin Luther King famously said, “Even if I knew tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plan my apple tree.” Tubman was famous for knowing the terrain of trees, woods, and swamps along her journey to freedom. In Tubman’s biography by Sarah Bradford, the black Moses said, “When I found I had crossed that line, I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person. There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold though the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”
On the other hand, Billie Holiday sang about fruits produced by these trees: “Southern trees bear strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swing in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees/ …Here is a strange and bitter crop.” The blood of black men, women, and children who refused to remain silent, and who deserve justice, life, liberty, and love, over the hate that surround them.
Last year, Rutgers Newark restored the history and voices of Frederick Douglass in the Historic James Street Commons. Let us not forget, Douglas also said, “If Americans wished to partake of the tree of knowledge, they would find its fruit bitter as well as sweet.” It is unimaginable that Tubman will allow these venerable trees of knowledge to be annihilated.

Playing Indian in the University’s Botanical Gardens

To the specific faculty member at Taubman College who shall not be named, read this note before contacting me
An essay written as a PhD student at the University of Michigan

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Willow Pond at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens

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“Do you know where some Indian relics for the walls might be secured?” Fielding H. Yost wrote in a 1933 letter.[1] Yost led the University of Michigan’s football team on a victory streak to win dozens of games and bring national fame to Michigan. The Yost Ice Arena on campus is named in his honor. However, in 1933, he embarked on quite a different mission: to acquire “genuine Indian relics” for the Michigamua, an all-male and all-White elite fraternal organization and semi-secret society for final-year undergraduates.[2] The Michigamua’s main traditions all involved “playing Indian,” where its male members among them future U.S. President Gerald Ford (Indian name Flippum’ Back Ford) dressed up with face paint and warrior outfits in the style of Indigenous peoples, and they spoke in the accent they assumed Indigenous people to use.[3] We must use “good Indian speak with clear head” committee members scolded new initiates, known as “Braves” and “Bucks,” at a 1957 meeting in their “wigwam” in the top tower room of the Student Union building.[4] Their main event of the year was a hazing ritual known as Rope Day when new initiates stripped nude as late as 1957, smothered themselves in red war paint beneath Tappan Oak on the University Quad, adopted new Indian warrior names, shouted war cries, and vowed to “fight like hell” for the University of Michigan’s endowment, athletics, and reputation.[5]
Coach Yost wrote to dozens of land surveyors, hunters, libraries, and private collectors in search specifically of Indian relics and Birch bark for the walls and roof of the Michigamua’s fraternal clubhouse. Yost’s search for genuine relics and genuine history for the Michigamua comprises over 100 pages of correspondence in the university archives. The wigwam clubhouse, Yost wrote, must be as authentic to the interior of an Indian longhouse as possible. And the relics must be genuine ones from the “prehistoric” age, not new ones or reproductions. In its inventory of Indigenous artifacts and the prices of each, one advertiser added at the end: “I guarantee every piece on this list to be a genuine prehistoric Indian relic.” How they had acquired said artifacts was more likely a matter of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”[6] Another donor wrote back that we will “take steps to have this property removed from the local [public] library where it has been stored for some time”[7] and will then give these artifacts to Yost for his private display. Director George R. Hogarth from the Michigan Department of Conservation, the state agency tasked with land, forest, and water management on behalf of Indigenous peoples, wrote back: “Do you have all the Indian material that you want for the decoration? I can help you out with that if you still care to have me.”[8] Other donors described how their frequent contact with the “Injuns” and “savages” afforded them unique abilities to acquire artifacts from tribes with little “contact” with civilization.[9] And yet, for all his efforts, Yost came up dry aside from a few relics and a smoking pipe acquired for ~$15 and sent by the U.S. Postal Service from a collector in the West. One collector wrote back to explain why Yost was finding more relics from Western tribes than from tribes in Michigan. The collectors explained in short: There is almost no history of Indigenous people in Michigan.[10]

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The pile of Coach Yost’s letters to trophy hunters and gravediggers for Indigenous artifacts[11]

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The Time Columbia Built an Artificial Moon in Low Library

 

Low Library in 1905

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The best definition of a university is, to my mind, a city from which the universe can be surveyed. It is the universe compressed into a city the size of Morningside Heights.
Aesthetically ancient but technologically advanced, Low Library rose to this challenge in the 1890s. Buried within hundreds of tons of Milford granite, Indiana limestone, and the unchanging architecture of antiquity were the latest technologies: electricity, steam heating, Corliss steam engines, and internal plumbing in a time when hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers still used outhouses and made less than five dollars a day. Flushing toilets – also known as crappers after Thomas Crapper who perfected their flush mechanism – were also a relatively new consumer product. It has always surprised me how the bathroom stalls at Low Library are divided by marble partitions of the highest quality that must weigh several hundred pounds each. Low Library was indeed built at a time when toilets were something to celebrate, in addition to books of course.
The goal of a great library was to collapse the universe into the size of a room. From the dome’s center was suspended a seven-foot-diameter white ball, which Scientific American described in 1898 as “Columbia’s artificial moon.” So that students could read by moonlight under a canopy of stars, this moon was illuminated against a dome painted dark to resemble the night sky. So in awe was Scientific American that they devoted as much page space to describing Low Library as to documenting the mechanics of this moon with mathematical formulas. With no other point of reference except candles, scientists calculated Columbia’s moon as equivalent in power to 3,972 candles.

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From April 1898 issue of Scientific American

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The only trouble was the lightbulbs’ carbon filament could only burn for 2.5 hours before “Columbia’s artificial moon” went dark. Scientists had not yet perfected the technologies of light. As a result, Columbia needed to replace the carbon filaments daily and could only illuminate the universe between the hours of 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. And yet, in line with Columbia’s Latin motto “In lumine tuo videbimis lumen” (In your light we see the light), Low Library was flanked by the emerging research departments of the global research university: physics, chemistry, mathematics, mining, engineering, and architecture. Then as now, these fields were seen as the frontiers of human knowledge.
For all the university’s focus on science, its core is built on the art and literature of antiquity. Low Library’s walls are several feet thick, thicker than was necessary in 1890s America that had moved on from heavy stone construction to steel-frame skeletal structures for skyscrapers and railroad stations. From Scientific American: “The imposing pile which forms the home of the college library looks down upon the great metropolis of the New World with something surely of the same pride with which the Parthenon of old surveyed the ancient Athenian city.” America – flush with wealth after conquering indigenous peoples in the American west – saw itself as inheriting the values of ancient Greece and Rome. New York, the American empire’s economic capital, needed cultural and intellectual symbols of power to match. Low Library was this symbol.

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Racializing Space

Why does the American city remain so spatially and racially divided?

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Why does the American city remain so spatially and racially divided decades after the 1960s civil rights movement? Practices like redlining, restrictive covenants based on race, segregated public transit, and literacy tests for voting have all been “abolished,” at least on paper and in theory. However, events since spring 2020 have returned to the public consciousness a reality that had always been obvious to millions of Americans living in poverty and in urban areas: that this country remains divided and that the racism of Jim Crow, rather than disappearing, has taken new forms.
Drawing from the perspectives of architecture, planning, sociology, and history, this conversation considers the evidence for how the American city and suburb – specifically Detroit – remain spatially divided and what steps must be taken to fulfill the dream of an egalitarian metropolis. Panelists include:
Karyn Lacy, professor of sociology and African American studies at the University of Michigan
LaDale Winling, professor of American history at Virginia Tech
Robert Fishman, professor of history at the University of Michigan’s college of architecture and urban planning

We cannot design our way out of this crisis.

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Design is supposed to solve the problems of pandemic and climate crisis. This is flawed thinking. The apostles of architecture, technology, and design confront crisis with what they call “design thinking.” They claim they can design our world out of crisis through new technologies: sustainable product packaging, vegetable-based meat substitutes, paper bags instead of plastic, wind and solar instead of coal and oil. Meanwhile, the global super rich build space ships that will allow them to one day escape the mess they made of our planet. “Design thinking” becomes a way of escaping this world entirely.
The techno-optimism of “design thinking” fails to recognize that “design thinking” is itself a poison. The problem is not with design per se. Rather, the problem is with the corporate power structures in which “design thinking” operates. They promise electric cars will replace fossil-fueled cars that pollute. They promise New-Orleans-style levees and elevated houses built on stilts will reduce property damage in flood zones. They promise improved artificial intelligence will stop the virus of online hate speech. They promise we are just one more consumer purchase away from happiness. But this techno-optimism does not address the deeper questions: Why are we not designing a society in which people do not need cars? Why are we building in flood zones in the first place? Why must the profit model of social media networks rely on users spending as must time as possible on their platforms, even when boosting engagement results in exposing users to hate speech? The limited palette of “design thinking” overlooks systemic solutions that require fundamental, but overdue, lifestyle changes.

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A Different Kind of Radiant City: Bucharest

Comparing Le Corbusier’s plans for Paris with Ceaușescu’s plans for Bucharest

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Abstract: Comparing Le Corbusier’s unrealized plans for Paris and dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s completed plans for the Romanian capital Bucharest reveals similarities in their urban forms. Analysis of three features in both cities – their nineteenth-century urban forms, the integration of twentieth-century plans into the existing urban forms, and the political symbolism of each plan – reveals the two places as reflections of each other. The comparison matters because it establishes an unconscious aesthetic link between the progressive (almost utopian) urban designs of an architect like Le Corbusier and the repressive (almost dystopian) urban designs of a dictator like Ceaușescu.

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Utopia and totalitarianism are both engaged in a mirroring game, tirelessly sending the same image back and forth as if utopia were nothing more than the premonition of totalitarianism and totalitarianism the tragic execution of the utopian dream. Only the distance that separates a dream from its realization seems to stand between the two.

– Frédéric Rouvillois
Utopia: The Search for the Ideal Society in the Western World [1]

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Cathedral of Beauvais: Sublime Visions; Thwarted Ambitions; A Sketch

Of all the stories of the greatest Gothic cathedrals, the tale of Beauvais is the most exciting. Construction of the Gothic cathedral began in 1225 at a time of bitter turmoil when France was establishing itself as a nation within its familiar modern geographical bounds. Beauvais, the tallest cathedral in France, was never completed, having endured two major collapses and a series of structural crises that continues to this day. Our Sketchup animation follows this dramatic narrative, allowing the viewer to experience and understand the famous collapse that brought down the upper choir in 1284 as well as the underlying design features that led to that disaster. Particularly intriguing is the visualization of the short-lived crossing tower constructed in the mid-sixteenth century and the rivalry between S-Pierre of Beauvais and Saint Peter’s in Rome.
It is hoped that besides appealing to a general audience of cathedral fans, this movie will be useful in the context of the classroom at high-school and university levels.

Directed by Stephen Murray

Produced by Myles Zhang

Special thanks to Étienne Hamon

Explore more

Further reading: Stephen Murray. Beauvais Cathedral: Architecture of Transcendence. Princeton University Press, 1989.
Visit Mapping Gothic for further photos and a panoramic tour of the cathedral interior.
Visit this link to download image stills of the cathedral at various stages of completion, for reuse in print publications.

Source files

Creating this animation required creating a computer model of the entire cathedral at all stages of construction. This model is shared below; click and drag your cursor to move around this virtual space.

Email [email protected] and [email protected] for access to source files.

High-resolution image stills from construction sequence

1220s fire to 1284 collapse
Before vs. after 1284 collapse
After 1284 collapse vs. after 1300s rebuilding
1284 collapse to 1550s transept
Proposals for completing cathedral
Proposed cathedral vs. actual extent of construction by 1573 collapse
Contemporary

Image sources

Hand-drawn image textures used in this model are based on actual scanned drawings of the cathedral: floorplan, choir section, choir elevation, and hemicyle section.

Audio sources

High medieval music: Viderunt Omnes by Pérotin, 1198
Late medieval music: Ave Maria by Josquin des Prez, c.1475
Contemporary cathedral: Pierre de Soleil by Philip Glass, 1986
Sound of material buckling
Sound of structural collapse

Democracy’s Prison Problem

How much does the existence of democracy depend on depriving some of its people of the benefits of democracy?

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“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

– Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, 1865

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In 1865, the United States government revised the Constitution to make slavery illegal. Six little words, however, change the whole meaning of the sentence: Forced confinement is illegal “except as a punishment for crime.” These six words hint at a larger flaw in a document that opens with high words about liberty and justice. The existence of democracy depends on depriving some of its people of the benefits of democracy.
As of 2020, the number of Americans in jails, prisons, and out on parole after prison is just over three million. That is, at least one percent of America’s population is at this point incarcerated. Also one third of Americans have a criminal record, meaning that they have been in jail or prison at some time. This is a permanent stain and barrier to existing in society as a full citizen; prisoners and many former prisoners cannot vote.
The most common conclusion from these facts is that America keeps too many people locked up. Changes to the legal system are needed. But what if the problem is deeper than anything that small reform can solve? What if the problem strikes to the core of this country’s founding?

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