“Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City” Exhibition

The Center for Architecture

poster for “Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City” Exhibition

This event has ended.

The Center for Architecture presents the exhibition Fringe Cities: Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City. The exhibition, curated by MASS Design Group, explores the Fringe City, defined as an independently situated, small city that has been severely impacted by urban renewal.

Between 1949 and 1974, the United States federal government invested billions of dollars in urban infrastructure through a series of planning, demolition, and construction programs that are collectively known as “urban renewal.” Originally packaged as anti-poverty initiatives, urban renewal often exacerbated existing problems, reinforcing segregation, building highways through downtown cores, and destroying historic structures. While many large cities have rebounded from these social and spatial traumas, smaller cities often continue to struggle with the same problems that urban renewal sought to resolve.

This exhibition presents a snapshot of MASS Design Group’s ongoing investigation into the Fringe City. It examines the role of design in mapping and selling strategies for renewal, taking a deep dive into four cities—Easton, PA; Saginaw, MI; Spartanburg, SC; and Poughkeepsie, NY—to understand local impact and hear from the organizations working today to address the legacies of this era of rapid, large-scale change.

“What inspires me about this research is that in the landscapes of some of our forgotten places are seeds of inspiration and hope for how we might rethink our national infrastructure,” says Michael Murphy, Founding Principal and Executive Director of MASS Design Group.

The first floor of the exhibition provides context for defining the Fringe City. A timeline documents the social, economic, and political dimensions of urban transformations in America from 1920 to 2020. A selection of planning documents from this era of urban investment explores the role of designers in selling renewal, through enticing renderings, diagrams, and illustrations of possible futures, many of which would never be realized. Aerial images of 42 of the 100 identified Fringe Cities indicate the location and scope of Urban Renewal projects across small American cities.

On the lower level, the exhibition examines the four case study cities, providing unique accounts of the Fringe City experience. While Fringe Cities share common narratives of spatial transformation, the impact of these interventions varies across context, from a growing distrust of development in Easton to environmental injustice in Spartanburg and a condition of fractured density in Saginaw. As the site of one of MASS Design Group’s offices, and the city the firm is most familiar with, Poughkeepsie receives the deepest dive. A map of projects led by local agents of change to address the legacies of urban renewal is complemented by original photography of the city by Iwan Baan. While serving as cautionary tales, urging us to avoid repeating past mistakes, these case studies also shed a light on strategies for local, community-driven regeneration.

Center for Architecture Board President Barry Bergdoll says, “The legacies of urban renewal in major cities are well known, the subject of biographies and even films, but the more dramatic impact of those federal programs on smaller cities in the orbit of the metropolis are at once less known and more lasting. Fringe Cities brings to the public and professionals alike a body of pioneering research; research moreover to design responses and to respond with design. Poughkeepsie, New York is highlighted, but the implications are of consequence for places across the country.”

The exhibition is presented as part of Archtober 2019, New York City’s annual festival of architecture and design taking place during the month of October.

Symposium – Fringe City Conversations: Interpreting Legacies of Renewal in the Small American City
Saturday, October 5, 1:00 – 6:00 pm

Panel – Fringe City Foundations
Thursday, November 14, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Panel – Fringe City Futures
Wednesday, December 4, 6:00 – 8:00 pm



from October 02, 2019 to January 18, 2020

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