Author Tom Slater describes gentrification as a “spatial expression of economic inequality.” It is, in short, the process by which middle and upper class residents and investors take over a predominantly working and lower-middle-class neighborhood, displacing former residents and altering the social fabric of the community. Processes of gentrification have often been conflated with terms such as “urban renewal” and “revitalization” while invoking devastating consequences for working and lower-middle-class residents of major cities.
The Original New Yorkers is an ongoing portrait series of New York natives who have been affected by gentrification. Subjects are shot in their homes or workplaces and asked to submit a handwritten note, either depicting the way gentrification has affected them personally or an “open letter” addressing newcomers to New York City. The unedited note is then positioned next to the portrait, in diptych format.
Though gentrification is hardly a new concept in New York City, recent developments such as Extell Development's implementation of a 80-story luxury tower among low-income housing and US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development nominee Ben Carson's criticism of Section 8 housing programs as a “socialist experiment” make this a timely issue. This portrait series is conducted in partnership with Perfect City, a LES-based community group co-commissioned by Abrons Arts Center and Henry Street Settlement.