Memory of Reclaimed Urban Space in New York

Squatting in Europe outside ABC NO RIO social center in Manhattan, february 2012

Lower East Side, the small, enigmatic and still resistant neighborhood in Manhattan (NYC), still keeps the marks of a long history of squatting and counterculture, evidenced by many spaces such as housing projects, social centers and community gardens. The neighborhood is undergoing a strong gentirification process in which squatting has played a special role through recuperation of spaces and local social life. One of these spots provides accomodation for an interesting project of retrieval of the historical live heritage of the neighborhood. MORUS, or Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space, is a small but dynamic museum meant to present squatting and its influence on the neighborhood in an innovatory form, at the same time underlining its live traces. Its promoters intend to show how community and grassroot organizations in East Village helped to transform abandoned buildings and empty lots in spaces for a vibrant community as well as contagious for those who visit it from outside. The physical headquarters of the museum, in the groundfloor of the reknown C(See) SQUAT, are still in a provisional state, and promoters are searching for help and resources to open it to the public. But history is in its streets: the museum already organizes tours through the neighborhood, showing to visitors its live history explained by those who played the leading roles in houses, laboratories, social centers and community gardens. We had the chance to know the museum as in february 2012 Squatting in Europe visited New York to attend the AAG (American Asociation of Geographers) congress. In this occasion Alan Moore, researcher member of the collective, as well as webmaster of House Magic, organized a series of meeting with groups and networks related to squatting in NY. Our first encounter was in ABC No Rio social center, in the very heart of Lower East Side. There, we were picked up by the people of MORUS who took us to visit the neighborhood’s spaces. [Elisabeth Lorenzi]