Hope for Brownsville Housing Project Didn’t Pan Out

When the 625-unit, low-income housing complex Marcus Garvey Village opened in Brownsville in the mid-’70s, hopes were high that the low-density housing with separate entrances for each family would give its occupants a sense of ownership and pride and help to reduce poverty and crime. That has not happened, alas, as The New York Times noted, and the idea that architecture can create social change has been largely abandoned. After all, bigger forces than architecture affect the poverty rate, which has risen from 29 percent to nearly 40 percent in the area since the complex opened. However, the article notes, courtyard areas in the Village became an important link in the drug trade of the ’80s and ’90s because they were shielded from public view. So it seems as though architecture and design, as Jane Jacobs so clearly saw, has an effect after all.
A Housing Solution Gone Awry [NY Times]
Photo by Kate Leonova for PropertyShark

9 Comment

  • The biggest mistake that Robert Moses and the like have done is put a group of people in one area…concentrated pockets of groups along socio-economical lines. This is one of the reasons why most urban areas across the nation perform the way they do. They are unable to benefit from the resources in neighborhoods such as cobble hill/park slope etc. We need to mix the people up its better for social relations, opportunity, and ideas(fort green and clinton hill are doing a good job however more can be done). The greatest thing about living in NYC is that we all ride the train together, work together and interact with each other constantly. This something we can work on to make brooklyn an even more unique place that its always been.

  • ” Another resident talked about seeing a little girl on a stoop approached by a police officer who checked her drink to make sure it did not contain alcohol (she was having iced tea). If you happen to be having a glass of wine on your stoop in Cobble Hill, the chances that a police officer will tell you to stop are roughly equal to the chance that a schnauzer will pass on an excellent stock tip. If you are drinking wine on the stoops of Marcus Garvey Village you will most likely be questioned and given a ticket. ”

    Excellent “reporting” by the New York Times.

    This comment gives me little hope, unfortunately, that the situation in areas like Brownsville will improve. The liberal establishment in this town will lurch from plan to plan to fight this situation, but will never speak to the fundamental issue: the sparcity of intact families, and strong father figures, in these areas.

  • That article is an incoherent mess, which doesn’t surprise me at all given the problems Ginia Bellafante has always had thinking clearly.

    First she notes that the design was intended help to lower crime rates. Then she declares them a failure because the poverty rate in Brownsville hasn’t gone down since they were built – nevermind that no one ever said the architecture would solve that problem. Then she begrudging mentions in passing that crime has in fact gone down tremendously, before shifting the goalposts again – now the fact that residents resent the police is trotted out, as if that is relevant to the architectural design of the housing somehow.

    Why she is allowed to publish this drivel week after week is a mystery to me.

  • Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village have nearly identical layouts to the “projects”…
    anyone who ever thought that “architecture” could reduce poverty and crime was smoking fairy dust.

    • Read Samuel Zipp’s book “Manhattan Projects” – you’ll see it was a fairly bipartisan consensus in the 1940s and 1950s that urban renewal could solve problems like this. One of the sponsors of the housing bills was Senator Robert Taft, aka Mr. Conservative himself.