Dr. Edward K. Snajdr and Dr. Shonna Trinch (both of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York) will undertake research on the dynamic and mutually transforming relations between local communities and urban development projects. The research will be carried out on Atlantic Yards, New York City's largest urban redevelopment project in the past 50 years. Atlantic Yards, which will consist of a new professional basketball arena and a collection of high-rise towers set to be built in a residential area of Brooklyn, offers a unique opportunity to study the contested city, a space where different people compete to define, create, and contribute to urban life.

The researchers will employ a combination of data collection methods, including ethnography and particiant observation; interviews with representatives of all stakeholders; repeated surveys of a random probability cluster sample of households; and discursive and textual analyses of archival and web-based information. These data will allow them to track changes in representations by supporters and opponents; correlate changes in perceptions with other variables; and build a model of how different processes of place-making unfold, interact, and change over time.

Findings from this research will help to understand new patterns in contemporary urban development, including the effects of new technologies of communication, contributing to social scientific theories of urban life. The results of this research will also be of use to policy makers, politicians, developers and community groups to address a range of ethical, material, economic, cultural, and social issues surrounding the process of urban redevelopment.

Project Report

We were awarded National Science Foundation funding from the program in Cultural Anthropology to conduct data collection for a multi-method, multi-sited, longitudinal study focused on urban change in Brooklyn, NY. The intellectual merit of our ethnographic research is to gain an understanding of how cities get built and how people attempt to have a "say" in what the built environment will look like, how the state and city should invest in development, and how "space" will ultimately be made into culturally contextualized "place." In addition to studying whether and how people have a "say", we also collected data on how what people say gets taken up by government, by businesses, by developers, and by national, regional and local community groups and neighborhoods as well as by individuals living in the city. These research goals focused specifically on the case of Atlantic Yards, a 22-acre redevelopment project consisting of a professional basketball arena and several residential and office buildings at the border of two neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The data collected consisted of the following: 1) Ethnographic Interviews. We interviewed activists, community organizers and leaders, clergy, government officials, small business owners and residents and former residents of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights (and surrounding communities), including individuals who lived in the footprint of the Atlantic Yards construction area, individuals representing the organizations who supported the Atlantic Yards project plan and who participated in the selection and training of Brooklyn residents who sought employment at the arena. We also interviewed individuals in the Hispanic and African-American communities in the neighborhoods of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights; 2) Archival Research. Archival research has included hundreds of pages from websites and Internet blogs related to Atlantic Yards. We gathered a print media archive of local and national reporting on the project ranging from June 2003 thru December 2012, and a legal archive of lawsuits and decisions based on the project. Other archival materials include photos of the transforming neighborhood space and the project footprint, signage and print matter created by groups and individuals opposed to or who support Atlantic Yards. Additionally we have gathered census data from the neighborhood surrounding the site, including the 2010 and 2000 census (available on American FactFinder), and data from 1990, 1980 and 1970 (available on CDrom databases at New York Public Library). 3) Mapping. We mapped the site including socio-economic data, signage, demonstrations, traffic flow, pedestrian use and other ethnographic events and details related to the site. 4) Participant Observation. We have conducted participant observation at community meetings, public hearings, activist planning meetings, demonstrations, jobs training programs and other neighborhood activities. 5) Survey. We developed and implemented a neighborhood survey for residents of Fort Greene and Prospect Heights. As we conclude this NSF-funded phase of the research, we will begin analyzing the data. Both Snajdr and Trinch have been awarded sabbatical leaves from teaching and will examine, analyze and write about research findings in the coming 2013-2014 academic year. Both the PI and the Co-PI have preliminary findings that have already been presented in various forums. To data, for example, they have collectively presented seven conference papers to national and international assemblies, they have convened two panels of experts working on urban development, one consisting of cultural anthropologists and the other consisting of sociolinguists and discourse analysts. They have participated on graduate student panels about urban development as expert discussants. They have lead an undergraduate workshop at Dickinson College on ethnographic data collection, using their project as a model, and they have published a field note about their research, entitled, ‘What the Brownstones Say" in Anthropology News. In addition to training 10 undergraduates—most of whom came from underserved communities—in field methods and data collection, they have developed an undergraduate course about urban development called, "Just Living and the Letter of the Law" which Professor Trinch taught at John Jay College in the Spring of 2012. The class studied the legal and linguistic aspects of eminent domain, the ways in which writing on land and about land influence the creation of place and the ways in which language is used to transform space and make it into place. During their sabbatical leaves awarded by John Jay College, Trinch and Snajdr plan to use the data collected during the NSF-funded research period to write a book-length manuscript and seven articles. The outcomes of this work will significantly add to the fields of urban anthropology, sociology, and sociolinguistics as these relate to how people engage in urban change. The outcomes will also have broad interest to policy makers, city planners, developers and community groups given the visibility of the case and the public policy debates surrounding the costs and impacts of public investments in urban redevelopment.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
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Jeffrey Mantz
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CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York
United States
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