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Alessandro Busà "Urbanity Sells, and Comes from Above: Rezoning, Rebranding and Auctioning Harlem’s Main Street"

New York’s ongoing urban development efforts are part of a process of commodification which was initiated right after the fiscal crisis in the early 70s, and has been strongly boosted by the Bloomberg administration. This contribution will clarify how this process of restructuring finds its “spatialization” in the built environment of the city, drawing from a case of redevelopment through rezoning at 125th street in Harlem.

The Mayor’s agenda for 125th street aims at increasing residential density while simultaneously limiting bulk and scale of new construction. It combines historical preservation, urban-infill and street design. It also makes use of a set of groundbreaking policy tools intended to favor a pedestrian-friendly environment, functional mix and a sense of diversity.

It will be shown how this rezoning, even as it limits bulk and height of new construction, is nevertheless giving carte blanche and providing a tax-abated playground for developers in the real estate and luxury housing market. Thus the Mayor’s redevelopment agenda is creating a new commodified urbanity for the wealthy at the same time as it narrows affordable housing for low income households.

Finally, it will be explained that this new urbanity - produced as a response to an insurgent consumer demand for a mythic “urban way of life” propagated in the popular culture - claims to capitalize on the cultural potential and historic values of the area, while in fact it consciously draws from the hyper-real image of the city elaborated in the media and in the collective imagination.

About the Author

Alessandro Busà is a licensed architect, a Doctoral Fellow at the Center for Metropolitan Studies in Berlin and a visiting scholar at the Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation of Columbia University in New York. His writing and research interests explore neoliberal shifts in urban policies and strategies of reinvention of the built environment in advanced capitalist cities. Documentary filmmaker, photographer and reporter for several international magazines, he is also the founder and editor-in-chief of "The Urban Reinventors" Online Urban Journal.

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