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Ari Sammartino: "Co-op City, Crisis and Community, 1965-1975"

With 65,000 residents, Co-op City, located in the Northeast corner of the Bronx, is the largest planned urban development in the United States.  In this paper, I read its history through the lens of the crisis that engulfed New York City in the 1960s and 1970s.  The physical form of Co-op City drew from Le Corbusier’s urban utopia of high-rise towers arrayed around a greenspace.  Co-op City can be read as an anachronistic modernist monument to Robert Moses’s megalomania.  However, in this paper, I discuss the ways in which Co-op City served as an alternative to the dominant strains of American housing policy while responding to the particular concerns raised by the difficult birth of the post-Fordist city.  The utopian intentions of Co-op City’s developers inevitably collided with the financial realities of the 1960s and 1970s, exploding in a rent strike in 1975-76.  This paper analyses the competing definitions of communal ownership and responsibility operative among New York State authorities, the developers of the project and the strikers themselves.  In addition, this paper is part of a larger project that examines Co-op City alongside Marzahn, a development began a decade later in East Berlin with a similar physical form, albeit a very different social meaning.   As such, I suggest that this transnational comparison of planned housing developments may help shed light on the meaning of urban space and community in both cities.

About the Author

Ari Sammartino is an Assistant Professor of European History at Oberlin College.  Her first book, The Impossible Border: Germany, Migration and the East, 1914-1922 is currently under review at Cornell University Press.  She has also published articles on citizenship and asylum policy in post-World War I Germany.  Her current project, entitled Freedomland: Mass Housing and Urban Crisis in New York City and East Berlin, 1965-2000, is a transnational study of the large-scale housing projects Co-op City and Marzahn. 

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