Author Tom Slater describes gentrification as a “spatial expression of economic inequality.” Simply put, it is the process by which middle and upper class residents move into previously disinvested neighborhoods, displacing former working class residents. Processes of gentrification have often been conflated with terms such as “urban renewal” and “revitalization” while invoking devastating consequences for native residents – including but not limited to no fault evictions, landlord harassment, property negligence and police brutality – and can be traced back to decades of racist housing policy in the US.


The Original New Yorkers is an ongoing portrait series of New York City natives who have been affected by gentrification. Sitters are photographed in their homes or workplaces and asked to submit a handwritten note, either depicting the way gentrification has affected them or an “open letter” addressing newcomers to New York City. The unedited note is then positioned next to the portrait, in diptych format.


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.

Translation: "Welcome new New Yorkers, gentrification is not about new comers or coffee shops. Gentrification is when policymakers and developers collude to advance policy changes which deliberately benefit those with capital over poor and working class communities. If you are not with the super rich who exploit everyday people then you need to fight to keep your place here in New York city. We are all at risk to be displaced. I am here fighting with my son. Protect New York City."

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This project was on view from October 14 - November 17, 2017 at Henry Street Settlement/Abrons Arts Center, a public health institution and community center that has been offering social services, arts, and health care programs to the LES community since 1893.

Photo Credit: Steven Paneccasio

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Photo Credit: Steven Paneccasio

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