By Joann Jovinelly
Name: Sally Young
Occupation: Mixed-Media Artist, Political Activist and
Location: Sixth Street Community Garden
Time: 10:30 AM on Friday, Sept. 27
Part II (Read Part I here)
Beginning in 2005, we started to see a lot more redevelopment [in this neighborhood]. A huge glass hotel went up on the end of my street, the Cooper Square Hotel. We began to see the scaffolding go up around the buildings and then the buildings came down. That was when I started photographing like crazy, both on film and digitally. That was also around the same time the Cooper Union Hewitt building came down; I was photographing it every morning, photos that I eventually assembled in an accordion book.
I was looking at what was going on my block, East Fifth Street, and I noticed that there was a Federal house there, 35 Cooper Square, and it was still standing. I became very interested in Federal houses and the [older] architecture of New York.
In 2006, I set up a stand in front of my apartment building as part of the Art in Odd Places exhibit where I gave away my photo postcards. And I created a book with wooden pages that people could flip through to learn more about the architecture in the neighborhood. That is how I got my Deconstructing Bowery book together.
Eventually, I wrote a history of 35 Cooper Square from the time it was built in 1826, information that was used to help unsuccessfully landmark the structure, which was demolished in 2011. Even though there were major protests to save that building, the landmark proposal was rejected.
Another address I researched, 135 Bowery, which was built in 1817, had been slated for preservation and approved, but it was sold off to build “affordable” office space. In that case, just one council member had overturned the decision to preserve the building in order to provide the aforementioned offices, but the new owners lied, tore the building down, and immediately put the lot up for sale. In 2007, a group of other concerned citizens, myself included, formed the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors to preserve what’s left of the Bowery’s architecture.
I know that when artists come in, eventually gentrification follows, but today we’re talking hyper-gentrification. For instance, now there are areas on West Fourth Street that are so heavily congested with students that you can barely get through the block. I remember a few years ago before the big explosion of NYU, and there were signs up in the West Village that said, ‘Do you think this neighborhood is safe enough for NYU students?’ and I kind of wanted to flip that around and ask, ‘Do you think that the neighborhood is safe enough to withstand NYU development?’ I saw that question as a reversal, much before all of the redevelopment began happening.
The concerns of the newcomers today are far different from those waves of people who came to New York in past generations. We were involved with our community; most of today’s newcomers are not. We had rent strikes. We were committed. There were a lot of problems; there was a lot of crime. Most of those areas were just bombed out. We were under siege. All we could do then was work together. That’s around the time, in the early 1980s, when we stared creating the gardens like the Sixth and B Garden. While this is among the most protected of those green spaces in the neighborhood, others are still at risk.
In the 1980s, people bonded together, and that bond literally grew this neighborhood. Look at all these beautiful places that you can still enjoy. These days, newcomers moving to the neighborhood have slick, renovated apartments for which they pay a great deal. They’re often living with a bunch of people. But there are few among them who are actually fully invested in the East Village; instead they are in transition. They aren’t living here to put down roots. For years, I never saw a moving van on my block; now I see them all the time.
Read Part 1 of our interview with Sally Young here. Check out Sally's website here.
Joann Jovinelly is a freelance writer and photographer who still calls the East Village home.