In my 2013 graduate thesis entitled Surreal Estate, I created a historical data narrative layered over an oral narrative from the squatter movement of New York City’s East Village and Lower East Side from the 1970s-2000s. Informal squats form in Western cities experiencing blight and abandonment, with a plethora of vacant buildings reclaimed by a population unaccounted for by the “for-profit” housing market. The civic action taken in East Village and Lower East Side resulted in 11 buildings previously owned by the city to be converted into low-income cooperatives through an urban homesteading program. By examining the squatter movement as it relates to gentrification, this thesis pulls comparative demographic data to indicate how the neighborhood changed during its transition from disinvestment to reinvestment, as well as investigate the feasibility of urban homesteading as an alternative solution to housing crisis.
In order to provide this data narrative, I researched U.S. Census demographic data across the 4 decades for appropriate indicators of gentrification and neighborhood change. The Census has changed considerably over this time in both category and geographic boundaries, so my project entailed substantial data management and analysis to create sound comparisons.
Surreal Estate is published in Columbia University’s Academic Commons.