Place Matters conducts the Census of Places that Matter—a survey of places in New York City that matter to people. We collaborate with individuals and organizations to promote and preserve places nominated to our Census. And we mount place-based education and advocacy programs. See below for brief descriptions of current efforts. For more detail, contact Place Matters Director Molly Garfinkel: 212-529-1955 x17 or email@example.com.
Census of Places that Matter
The Census of Places that Matter is a survey and “ground-up” way of discovering what places matter and why they matter. We welcome nominations for any kind of place in New York City that you feel has public importance. We set no criteria for why a place is nominated, nor do we set limits on the number of times it is nominated. All comments are posted. The only requirement is that you provide your name. (Names are published only with permission.) You can nominate a place online or on paper. To nominate now, click here.
Nominations arrive via the website, mail, and public meetings. All nominations are posted to our online Census, and we regularly add photos and fuller “place profiles” to the postings. The Census is becoming a citywide survey, encyclopedia, and guidebook rolled into one. It is also a unique inventory of places that warrant attention and caretaking.
By nominating your place to this inclusive, public list, you will be broadening the public record about meaningful places in New York City. The public will learn more about your specific place, and through this process, will also learn more about New York City, about what people call a “sense of place,” and about the role of place in public life.
By educating the public about your place, you are also taking a step toward advocacy. You will be in a better position to ask others for support if the place needs some kind of help. Also, journalists, writers, and others may learn about your place through the Census and help to make it more visible.
We do not currently post nominations for places outside of New York City, but in the future may develop a mechanism for doing so. Place Matters reserves the right to determine if a nomination is unsuitable for publication.
Since 2003, Place Matters has been experimenting with strategies for marking interesting places to alert passersby to their history and stories. Place-marking not only promotes knowledge of the past, but also encourages greater appreciation for the people and places captured in the markers.
Our place-marking initiative aims to crack the “silence” of historical and interesting sites. Place markers can be evocative signs or other means of revealing stories rich in human experience that are associated with places. When a place is marked, its value becomes apparent to all. Place marking encourages people to pay attention to their surroundings, and recognize, protect, and care for the places that matter to them.
We hope our various experiments with place-marking give you ideas for marking places that you care about. Collect ideas from the projects described here. We welcome inquiries about how to do similar projects in other places; contact Molly Garfinkel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Guide to the Lower East Side
Since fall 2007, Place Matters, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the Lower East Side Preservation Project have presented the experiences of past and present Lower East Siders on twenty-eight signs at six separate sidewalk locations. With photographs and text in five languages, these place markers weave personal stories and cherished memories directly into the landscape, often right where the stories took place. The signs reveal the rich and diverse layers of human experience that make the neighborhood so distinctive. They transform the participants’ stories of struggle and achievement into a legacy for all who pass by.By prior agreement, the signs at Seward Park and Straus Square came down after 6 months, but you can still see the others: Lower East Tenement Museum (91 Orchard); P.S. 42 (71 Hester); St. Teresa’s Church (141 Henry); (Essex & Canal); and St. Augustine’s Church (290 Henry).
For your convenience, we have provided a map to help you locate the markers, click here to download pdf.
To see all 28 signs in Your Guide to the Lower East Side, click here to download pdf.
To receive a bound print catalog of the signs by mail, send a check for $6.00, payable to City Lore, to: Place Matters, c/o City Lore, 56 E. 1st St., NYC 10003. The E.H.A. Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts supported Your Guide to the Lower East Side. Project Co-directors: Chris Neville and Marci Reaven / Graphic Design: John Wong / Installation Design / Marisa Yiu / Installation: Bob Yucikas
Marking Places that Matter
In spring 2003, eight finalists in the Marking Places that Matter Ideas Competition presented their innovative place marking strategies in an exhibition and series of public programs at the Municipal Art Society. A jury assembled by Place Matters had selected the finalists from a pool of entries. The challenge was to create simple, relatively low-cost strategies that would go beyond the traditional bronze plaque for marking and describing places around the city. Entries would need to be visually exciting, rich in content, adaptable to diverse environments, and user-friendly.
Visit our feature on the Marking Places that Matter competition finalists. The E.H.A. Foundation, Lily Auchincloss Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts supported Marking Places that Matter.
Place Matters uses print and digital maps to show what has happened and is still happening at fascinating spots around the city. The digital map Marking Time on the Bowery (2006)is on this website, and was supported by New York Council for the Humanities. The digital map Jazz Across New York City (2006) is on the City of Memory website, produced by Place Matters’ cosponsor City Lore, and was supported by the E.H.A. Foundation.
The print map From Mambo to Hip Hop (2002) features a Latin music and hip hop trail in East Harlem and the South Bronx, and was supported by American Express Company and New York Foundation. The print map Rediscovering East Harlem, produced in collaboration with the East Harlem Historical Organization (1997), features local historical and cultural sites. To order copies, please send a check for $3/copy, made payable to City Lore. Send to Hiroko Kazama, City Lore, 56 E. 1st St, NY NY 10003. Include a note requesting the map by title and include your return address.
Community Focus Projects
Place Matters works with other organizations to conduct indepth studies about communities and their places. The community focus projects result in nominations to the Census of Places that Matter and a variety of educational and protection projects.
From Mambo to Hip Hop in the South Bronx (2000-2007):
Together with The Point Community Development Corporation in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the Bronx, City Lore has been documenting the Latin music and hip hop histories of the South Bronx, focusing on the neighborhoods of Hunts Point, Longwood and environs. The purpose of the project was to transform the distinctive musical heritage of the Latino South Bronx into a resource that could be tapped for cultural and civic renewal. From the 1940s through the 1970s, hundreds of Latino musicans and dancers lived there, including Tito Puente, Charlie and Eddie Palmieri, Johnny Pacheco and Ray Barretto. Dozens of dance halls, clubs and theaters hosted the music, and people from all over the city came to enjoy it. The urban devastation of the 1970s and ’80s changed the clubs and the streetscape, but the children of the mambo dancers contributed to the birth of hip hop, and particularly to early break-dancing. Watching former mambo dancer Emma Rodriguez perform at a community program, the breakdancer Rockafella said to us, “Now I look back and know that my aunt, my cousins, my family in Puerto Rico, no matter what was going on, whatever pain and problems, we danced….”
- From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale, feature-length PBS documentary, winner of Best Made for TV award from National Council of La Raza;
- map/brochure called From Mambo to Hip Hop;
- web tour called From Mambo to Hip Hop;
- “52 All-Stars,” musical concert at Park 52 featuring the many musicians who graduated from PS 52, in partnership with the volunteer group 52 People for Progress;
- “Recordando el Ayer,” theatrical night re-creating Spanish-language vaudeville performed at places like the local Teatro Puerto Rico, featuring performers from the era and young artists from The Point;
- four public community conversations featuring participants in the musical scenes of both eras, community scholars, and professional scholars, in conversation with the audience;
- walking tour of the important places in the history of the music;
- dozens of oral histories with participants.
The project also generated a successful listing to the National Register for Historic Places in 2001 for Casa Amadeo, the longest-running Latin music store in New York City. This was the first Register listing to recognize Puerto Rican migration history.
The New York Foundation provided major funding for research, documentation, community conversations, and tours. American Express Company supported the map/brochure. National Endowment for the Arts supported the concerts. ITVS, Latino Public Broadcasting, and the William & Mary Greve Foundation supported the documentary.
Central Brooklyn (2002-2004):
Place Matters conducted a large-scale “Census taking” in Central Brooklyn (the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Prospect Heights, Clinton Hill, Weeksville, and Wingate). We initiated the project after receiving a number of nominations from individuals in the Central Brooklyn area.
Garment District, Midtown Manhattan (2000):
To identify important places in the Garment District and enrich an exhibition mounted by the Municipal Art Society called Coming Into Fashion: The History and Architecture of the Garment District, Place Matters conducted a survey of places that mark the history and support the traditions of the many-faceted garment industry. We also mounted a public conversation called “Origins of the Needle Trades,” featuring pattern makers, fabric cutters, designers, salesmen, buyers, furriers, and milliners.
Labor History, citywide (1999):
The New York Labor History Association and Place Matters conducted a survey and public programs to discover places throughout the city important to the history and traditions of New York’s labor movement. We wanted to learn more about work sites, workers’ gathering places, restaurants and bars, housing developments and sites of labor political activity. Some of the programs reached out to Labor History Association members; others, in partnership with the artists’ collective REPOhistory, to a broader public. In the program “Tell Us A Story,” for example, audience members had five minutes to describe a place and its story. At the end of the session everyone voted for the ten stories they thought should provide the basis for a future NYLHA project.
One result of this Community Focus Project was the identification of the former Asch Building, where the horrific 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire took place, as an important site for official New York City landmarking. Place Matters followed up on this idea and helped to secure landmark designation of the building in 2003.
East Harlem, Manhattan (1998):
The East Harlem Historical Organization, sponsored by the Union Settlement Association, began a project to document the history of their area. Laura Hansen, co-founder of Place Matters, directed this project, which resulted in a richly annotated historical and cultural map of East Harlem called Redisovering East Harlem and three public discussion programs entitled “Place Matters: East Harlem”: “How Art & Artists Shaped the Neighborhood,” in partnership with East Harlem artists and the Julia de Burgos Latino Cultural Center; “Radical Politics & Social Justice,” in partnership with former members of the Young Lords Party and Fieri International’s “Vito Marcantonio Project,” and “Turf Wars, Turf Sharing,” in partnership with several former anti-poverty organizations, the Oldtimers Stickball League, and the Museum of the City of New York.
Place Matters Toolkit
To spread the word about how concerned citizens can advocate for significant places, Place Matters has created a how-to guide with strategies, tools, and case studies designed for use in any locale.
Groundbreaking National Register Listings
In Spring 2001 three places that matter were listed to the New York State and National Register of Historic Places. The three nominations were researched and authored by Place Matters staff in collaboration with people associated with each site. What makes these three listings unusual is that, despite being architecturally modest, each illuminates a little-known aspect of New York City’s past, and particularly the history of its communities. The Bohemian Hall nomination also tested the use of the “Traditional Cultural Property” guidelines in an urban setting.
The former Cuyler Presbyterian Church building (1892) in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, is linked to New York’s 20th-century community of Mohawk ironworkers and other American Indian residents of Brooklyn. Indian ironworkers played a major role in the construction of the city’s skyscrapers, and Cuyler Church served as an important community center, affectionately referred to as “the church that makes friends.”
Bohemian Hall & Park (1910) in Astoria, Queens, is New York City’s last authentic beer garden. Still a center for Czech-American traditions, and an important immigrant fraternal organization, Bohemian Hall also hosts many other ethnic celebrations and serves as a gathering place for people from throughout the city. The address is 29-19 24th Avenue in Astoria Queens. For hours and information call 718-274-4925 (office) or 718-728-9776 (bar).
Casa Amadeo Record Store (1941) in Longwood, The Bronx, is the oldest, continuously-operating Latin music store in New York City and a rare survivor of the thriving, post-WWII Latin music scene in the Bronx. Casa Amadeo is the first site associated with the Puerto Rican migration experience listed on the New York State Register. The address is 786 Prospect Avenue in the Longwood section of the Bronx. For hours and information call 718-328-6896.
Place Matters participates in campaigns for NYC landmark designation for sites whose primary significance comes from historical or cultural associations. Place Matters proposed landmark protection for the former Asch Building, where in 1911 a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 146 factory workers, mainly young women, who couldn’t exit from doors that were locked to keep union organizers out. The fire became a symbol for worker’s struggles for a safer workplace and galvanized efforts for reform. The building at Washington Place and Greene Street in the Greenwich Village area of Manhattan (now owned by New York University) was designated a landmark by the NYC Landmark Preservation Commission in 2003, and was the first to be associated with organized labor.
Place Matters also wrote an influential research report on the significance of the former P.S. 64 at 605 E. 9th St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The school closed in the 1970s, at the height of the fires and abandonment that were devastating poor NYC neighborhoods during that era. Community activists took over the building and transformed it into a vital community center known for its cultural activites. It became a very visible product of a broad-based citizen’s preservation movement fostered during a bleak time in the city’s history. The Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the building as a landmark in 2006.
“Protecting Places that Matter” Public Program Series
Place Matters ran a series of public programs in 2002 to examine how preservation, planning and environmental public policy can be used to more fully protect the city’s historical and cultural sites — those places that tell the history of New York and serve as cultural anchors for communities. “Protecting Places that Matter” was organized by a working committee of practitioners and resulted in seven public programs.
SPURA Matters: Re-envisioning Seward Park Urban Renewal Area
Place Matters is collaborating with the tenant activist organization Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), the Pratt Center for Community Development, and a coalition of non-profits on the Lower East Side to help New Yorkers—especially residents and stakeholders on the Lower East Side—to envision new development for an under-used swath of land left over from a particularly troubled episode of 1950s-60s urban renewal.
The project included six community conversations from Fall 2008 to Spring 2009, each including illustrated historical presentations by Place Matters and Prof. Hilary Botein (Baruch College), followed by community visioning sessions. In September 2009, GOLES and Pratt released a report on the visioning sessions and related surveys that captured local resident hopes and ideas for new development in the area. Click here for a pdf version of “Community Voices and the Future of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.”
Related efforts included a “SPURA Matters: 40-year Commemorative Map of the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area” produced by Place Matters; a major oral history project with Lower East Side residents conducted by Kara Becker; an exhibit about the area created by Prof. Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani and her class at Eugene Lang College, New School; and a cell phone history tour of local sites by Field Play, Inc. The community conversations and publication were supported by the New York Council for the Humanities.