Episode 61: The urban optimism of Sunnyside Gardens

Jeffrey Kroessler and Laura Heim, a historian and an architect respectively, have lived in Sunnyside Gardens, Queens, for nearly two decades. They live there “specifically,” as Jeffrey says, having admired the vision of the neighborhood, one that is modeled after the garden city movement that began in late 19th century England. In this episode, Jeffrey and Laura talk with Owen Gutfreund, Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College, about their book, Sunnyside Gardens: Planning and Preservation in a Historic Garden Suburb. Their book is a richly illustrated history of an urban community that encourages the reader to consider the social, cultural, and political functions of city spaces. They discuss the planning, evolution and preservation of this unique neighborhood as well as Levittown(s), Thomas Hobbes, and the question of what is being preserved and for whom. On the face of it preservation seems like an obviously worthwhile pursuit, but controversy comes in when policies conflict with personal property rights, and Jeffrey and Laura were deeply involved in the sometimes bitter fight to get the community designated as a historic district, which it was in 2007.

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