Cooperative City, Cooperative Community | Urban Omnibus

Despite its distance from the center of New York City, Co-op City’s site and scale make it prominent on the landscape: anyone who’s driven north on I-95 has taken note of this final cluster of high-rises before crossing city limits into the lower density suburbs of Westchester County. Critics, historians, and even the Supreme Court have noticed as well, weighing in since construction began in 1966 on what the complex signifies for housing finance, site planning, cooperative ownership, ethnic and racial diversity, and tenants’ rights. It’s become both a positive and negative case study in how to value design, how to maintain affordability, and whom to send the bill for upkeep. But it is far from prototypical. At every juncture in its history, Co-op City has been deemed exceptional: each article or essay mentions its status as “the largest cooperative housing development in the world” or “the tenth largest city in New York State.” But the superlatives that set it apart don’t mean it has no lessons to offer the wider conversation on housing. Two years ago, Juliette Spertus and Susanne Schindler contrasted Co-op City with Twin Parks, another, less well-known affordable housing development in the Bronx. And this week, Caitlin Blanchfield returns to Co-op City and uncovers the particular nuances it adds to our understanding of social infrastructure, intergenerational continuity, community pride, and, of course, affordability.

Typecast is the Architectural League’s long-term investigation into architectural typologies, starting with “towers-in-the-park.” The term refers to complexes of multi-family, high-rise housing, located on a dedicated “superblock” of open space that is disconnected from the street system. This project seeks to move beyond stereotypes of architectural form by revealing the social and spatial specificities of distinct sites that share physical characteristics and philosophies of design but differ greatly in their lived experience.

C.S.

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