Our ongoing Portfolio series showcases bodies of work by artists inspired by or working in the city, often accompanied by a statement from the artist expounding on the images presented in the slideshow. This portfolio takes a slightly different tack. As part of the Architectural League / Urban Omnibus project Typecast, we asked five photographers to explore the architectural typology of “towers-in-the-park” by documenting the buildings, residents, street life, and surroundings of five study sites: Co-op City (Baychester and Eastchester, The Bronx), Sea Rise and Sea Park East (Coney Island, Brooklyn), Todt Hill Houses (Castleton Corners, Staten Island), Electchester (Pomonok, Queens), and Alfred E. Smith Houses (Two Bridges, Manhattan).
One of the initial goals of the Typecast project is to investigate the unique social experience of each of these places — as opposed to an exclusive focus on their shared physical characteristics — by calling attention to site-specific histories and raising questions about what assets the typology offers that might be hidden in plain sight. In order to do that, the five photo essays seek to demonstrate how residents and neighbors negotiate and navigate both the built and the open space of these building complexes.
In this series of photographs, Amani Willett documents Co-op City in the Bronx. Images from all five series will be on view in the Architectural League / Urban Omnibus booth at the IDEAS CITY Festival StreetFest on Saturday, May 4th. Click here to learn more about Typecast, or to see photographs of the four other study sites. But first, a brief introduction to Co-op City.
Co-op City sits on the shore of the Hutchinson River in the Eastchester and Baychester neighborhoods of the Bronx. The site, originally swampland, operated as a landfill before Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood (best known for his work on the creation of Disneyland) helped to develop it into an amusement park, Freedomland USA, which opened in 1960 and closed just four years later. Subsequently, the United Housing Foundation — under the leadership of Abraham Kazan, an influential figure in the history of U.S. cooperative housing — and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America developed the site into the largest housing cooperative in the nation between 1968 and 1973, leveraging funds from the Mitchell-Lama program. Designed by architect Herman J. Jessor and landscape architects Zion & Breen, the development of Co-op City – a cooperative village complete with cooperative supermarkets, nursery schools, a credit union and other civic, social, and religious organizations – was a non-profit venture with strong union backing.
Co-op City consists of 15,382 units for moderate- and middle-class families. The development is isolated from its surrounding Bronx neighborhoods, physically separated by I-95 and the Hutchinson River Parkway. Transit access is poor. Yet, by most accounts, residents — the majority of whom own cars — are not pushing for greater transit access or connectivity. Many residents have stayed in place for most of their lives, making it one of the largest naturally occurring retirement communities in the country and home to many multigenerational families.
The surrounding, working-class neighborhood of Baychester (population 67,000) consists largely of modest single-family homes developed after World War II that were initially home to a mostly Irish, German, and Italian community (with some of them remaining). Today, the area is home to mostly Hispanic, African-American, and West Indian-American residents. — D.R.