Open City: Blogging Urban Change Sahar Muradi

For Open City, Sahar Muradi has written about Afghan fare in Flushing, the Asian American Legal Defense Fund, and poetry, among other topics. Find out more about her approach to this process in the interview below. For an overview of the project, click here.

Chinese New Year Parade | Photos: Sahar Muradi
Urban Omnibus (UO):

What have you been looking at specifically? And where?

Sahar Muradi (SM):

I’ve been looking up and around and inside—I’ve been trying to take note of interesting things, things that poke out, or don’t, the poetry in taking a walk or talking to a shoe cobbler or listening at a bus stop, all the pixels that make up the city.  That’s what I’m interested in: the multiplicities, the layers, the many ways we identify ourselves and relate to one another as neighbors and fellow NYers, how we rub up against each other, how our histories and maps meet, how, for example, a Bengali by way of Dubai is managing an Afghan restaurant in Flushing and marketing for the Chinese (my next post)!  The stories are vast and incredibly intertwined.

Because I live right there, I often write on the LES, with occasional trips to Flushing.

UO:

How do you (personally) define urban change?

SM:

I have trouble defining it, and I think that’s what attracted me to this project. The shape of Open City had a lot questions and a lot of room to it. I think the term “urban change” cannot be contained to demographics and landscapes shifting according to economic/political/social forces, cannot be whitewashed “good” or “bad”. Then this blog and all the work and talk on gentrification and urban change would be flat. It is contentious, it is complex, but the profound thing is how the topic is engaging people with their city, their government, their neighbors

UO:

How are you going about investigating urban change in this project?

SM:

My approach is varied, from walking and observing to interviewing people to reaching out to local organizations.  I also enjoy reading other local blogs, like the Lo-Down, the creators of which I recently had the opportunity to interview.  I think one thing that sets Open City apart from the many blogs chronicling different neighborhoods is that, coming from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, our approach is not from the perspective of city planners or sociologists or even community organizers, but from that of creative writers and artists. So our posts swing from poetry to personal narratives to soundscapes—they offer a different way of investigating the topic.

UO:

As a writer and as an engaged local citizen with a background in international development work, in what ways do you find blogging a useful medium of investigation of and / or communication about this topic?

SM:

I find blogging useful in a number of ways. As a writer who sits long with her words, it’s helped me to turn things over, to be timely, to be playful, to not toil with ideas of perfectionism, let alone grammar!  As a Gemini, it appeals to my infinite curiosities – posts do not need to be related or linear.  As someone who is keen on being engaged with her local environment, blogging prompts you to open your eyes and ears wider, to talk to people you might not have. It’s really a very connecting thing, even if your connection is over a disagreement about how you see the situation.

UO:

What have you noticed in particular? From your observations so far, what jumps out at you? What have you particularly enjoyed writing about? What has most surprised you about the neighborhood(s)

SM:

What I’ve noticed and what I’ve enjoyed so much about this project is that people generally want to talk and tell you their stories. When I told my landlord about the project, she started slipping newspaper clippings under my door. This is her dad’s building, constructed in 1900 and the only one on the block with its original door and wallpaper. Ms. Fedorko is very proud of it and very interested in the history of the LES. A few weeks later, she eagerly brought me old city plans and guidebooks, with ominous “DEMOLISHED” stamps across the pages.  It was the same with my friend Naomi, who relished giving me a tour of her neighborhood in Chinatown and its hidden art galleries, or Mr. Leung, who talked about the history of his shoe cobbling stand on Forsyth St.  So I’ve enjoyed meeting people and thinking of the fact of our two lives intersecting in this city like that.

A menu from Kabul Kebab House | photo: Sahar Muradi

From Kabul to Elmhurst, from rural Massachusetts to the East Village, Sahar Muradi writes to make sense of a snaking path. She is co-editor of One Story, Thirty Stories: An Anthology of Afghan American Literature (University of Arkansas Press, 2010) and on the editorial board of the forthcoming Boundaries and Borders, An Anthology of Women of Color.  For several years she worked in the nonprofit sector in Afghanistan, and most recently ran a high school youth development program in NYC, including at Pace High School in Chinatown. She received her MPA in international development from NYU and her BA in creative writing from Hampshire College.

The views expressed here are those of the authors only and do not reflect the position of The Architectural League of New York.