Posted October 9th 2013 at 2:37 pm by
in In This Building

Roundup of Readings for "In This Building" Class

This post is by the students of In This Building: Multimedia and Place-based Storytelling, a class at MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning. Below, each student summarizes one reading or multimedia feature from the course syllabus, and explains why it is relevant to her own task — to profile a building in greater Boston.

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Readings Roundup for "In This Building" Class

Screenshot of projectcabrinigreen.org.

Title: Project Cabrini Green

Authors: Jan Tichy & collaborators

What is this project all about?

In this project, residents of Cabrini Green tell their own stories of life in this public housing project on the dawn of its destruction. Through spoken word poetry, the project presents a counter-narrative about a place widely perceived by outsiders as undesirable and uninhabitable. The stories that residents tell offer a glimpse into a set of lived experience that are complex and deeply revealing.

How is this project relevant to the “In This Building” class?

This project offers a way to discover both the human experiences in a building and the human costs of removing a built structure. By providing reflections of a place directly by residents themselves, it underscores the power of self-authorship and co-creation of stories.

– Carmela Zakon

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AgeOfIronNovel

Age of Iron by J. M. Coetzee.

Title: The Age of Iron

Author: J. M. Coetzee

What is this book all about?

This book is about acceptance and integration. Set in Apartheid South Africa, the story takes the form of a letter from Mrs. Curren, who has just learned that she is dying, to her expatriate daughter. For many years Mrs. Curren has lived in silent opposition to the injustice she is party to. Although she longs for human connection, she is as distanced from the people who surround in her home as she is from her daughter. Through her own pain and loss, she comes to regret the security in which she has lived and recognize its destructiveness. Considering the life her daughter has established in the United States, she writes, “Life is dust between the toes. Life is dust between the teeth. Life is biting the dust. Or: life is drowning. Falling through water, to the floor.”

How is this book relevant to the “In This Building” class?

Mrs. Curren’s house is an important part of the story. She, her companion Mr. Vercueil, her housekeeper Florence and Florence’s children convene there, even as social barriers and tensions separate and unite them in various ways. The house is a stage for the story. Mrs. Curren shares her home and does not share it, tends it and depends on others to tend it, takes it for granted and is betrayed by it. In this building, questions of power, privacy, trust and justice are enacted. Houses contain and ground human life, they outlive life; they bear silent witness to it.

– Ruth Sappelt

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Readings Roundup for "In This Building" Class

Image credit: The Boston Globe

Title: 68 Blocks: Life, Death, Hope

Authors: Team of Boston Globe Reporters, including Meghan E. Irons, Akilah Johnson, Jenna Russell, Andrew Ryan, Maria Cramer,  & Editor Steven Wilmsen

What is this multimedia series all about?

Reporters from the Boston Globe spent a year living in Bowdoin-Geneva, a neighborhood in Dorchester. They found and produced stories about life in this neighborhood. The Globe chose Bowdoin-Geneva because it is a neighborhood that is regularly identified with intense violence. Some stories in the series are about the violence, and others are more about everyday life.  

How is this series relevant to the “In This Building” class?

The “68 Blocks” team used interactive maps, Instragram features, audio features, interactive timelines, youth surveys, historical mapping, infographics, videos, narrative writing, poetry, and photography to explain life in this neighborhood.  This series is relevant to our “In This Building” projects because it provides ideas for any number of multimedia storytelling techniques. One feature about the homes on Hendry Street is a particularly useful example of an interactive multimedia piece focused on the physical aspect of storytelling about a building.

– Nse Esema

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Readings Roundup for "In This Building" Class

A page from “The Sweet Flypaper of Life” by Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava

Title: The Sweet Flypaper of Life

Authors:  Langston Hughes and Roy DeCarava

What is this book all about?

Langston Hughes was poet, and Roy DeCarava was a photographer. Both were working in New York City when they decided to make this book together. DeCarava took a series of photos of everyday life for one Harlem family. Hughes wrote a fictional story about the family to go with DeCarava’s photos. Together they produced a short, black-and-white, paperback book — a best-seller when it was published in 1955.

How is this book relevant to the “In This Building” class?

This book is full of the joys and sorrows of every day life for regular people in Harlem. The authors aren’t advocating a particular policy or making a particular point. They’re offering a beautiful snapshot of one family. A poet and a photographer came together to produce this book. In our class, different kinds of media makers are collaborating to produce profiles of buildings in greater Boston.

– Alexa Mills

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Readings Roundup for "In This Building" Class

Image credit: “Ron” of Los Angeles via John Arroyo

Title: Art and Culture Mapping on the L.A. River

Authors: John Arroyo and collaborators

What is this project all about?

In Art and Culture Mapping on the L.A. River, John Arroyo utilizes participatory and artistic methods to gather the community’s vision and perspective. He distributed blank maps of the L.A. River space and asked community members – ranging from residents to individuals in political office and the urban planning field – to submit their drawings and descriptions. No limits, no narrow direction – simply a blank canvas on which to express their vision.

How is this project relevant to the “In This Building” class?

For me, one of the striking aspects of these maps was the different yet connected visions various community members had for the L.A. River. Moreover, by not being limited to standard methods of expression, participants seemed to be better able to express their views not just on the future or the LA River, but on its current meaning and value. On one map – the map you see in this blog post – the participant artist explicitly commented on how he saw the L.A. River at that time by adding, “NOTE: It’s already an extremely vibrant and fantastic community.” As a fellow Angelino, this comment and the form in which the artist expressed it particularly resonated with me.

– Sofia Campos

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Title: Beyond the Stoop

Authors: Produced by Brian Dawson, Michael Kolomatsky, Stacy Abramson, and Alicia Desantis, Photographs by Beatrice de Gea

What is this multimedia feature all about?

This interactive web feature tells the stories of the residents of one of the 70,000 blocks that make up New York City – South Elliott Place, between Lafayette and Dekalb Avenues in Brooklyn. The design allows you to scroll through a panorama of the block’s houses and click on each address to see photos of and hear stories from its occupants as if you were strolling along the block yourself, peeking into each house and chatting with each resident.

How is this multimedia feature relevant to the “In This Building” class?

Through the vast range of personal experiences represented in the stories told by these residents, the reader gets an intimate look into their lives and their relationships with each other as neighbors, as well as a lens through which to view the changes in the neighborhood and city that these residents have lived through. In our class, we are also using individual stories to examine the personal impacts of larger historical forces in cities, and exploring the ways that different types of media and storytelling can help us explore these issues in new ways.

– Rachel Finkelstein

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Readings Roundup for "In This Building" Class

A scene from “Highrise / Out My Window.” Image credit: National Film Board of Canada

Title: Highrise/Out My Window

Author:  Kat Cizek (Director)

What is this project all about?

Over 1 billion people on our planet now live in concrete high rise buildings. This interactive web documentary is a collection of how 13 different people in 13 different highrises around the planet see their world, both inside and outside of their buildings.

How is this project relevant to the “In This Building” class?

This book is relevant to “In This Building” most explicitly because it is, in one sense, exactly what we are attempting to do: tell the stories found in buildings where people live. The Director (Kat), who came to speak to our class, deepened the meaning of the project by explaining her desire to allow the stories in the towers to become tools for affecting positive change for their inhabitants. The stories we find in our buildings could be impactful in similar ways.

– Lawrence Barriner II

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Title: Planning in the Face of Power (Chapter 7: Listenning: The Social Policy of Everyday Life)

Author: John Forester

What is this book all about?

Listening, according to Forester, addresses questions of possible actions. What can be done? What can I do? What should I do? Why? Forester differentiates between hearing and listening. We can hear the words, but miss what is meant. We can hear what intended, but miss what important. We can hear what is important, but neglect the person speaking. By listening we can understand the meaning, importance, and even build relationships. While hearing is passive, formal, and instrumental; listening is active. While hearing can orient; listening can promote relationships. While hearing understands urban planning as an object oriented process; listening understands urban planning as a subject oriented process. But why do we so often fail to listen critically? Maybe because listening can make us vulnerable, and requires care and a lot of work.

How is this project relevant to the “In This Building” class?

In this class, we are learning how to listen. We want to listen simply to understand, rather that to achieve any particular policy or planning outcome. To listen requires: (1) Interactions – to be attentive; (2) Asking questions; (3) Exploring meanings and implications; (4) Creating a sense of publicity to prevent illusion or self-deception; and, (5) initiating acts of respect.

– Ofer Lerner

Post by the students of “In This Building”.

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