Book On Tompkins Square Park; Corresponding NY Times’ story: “East Village, Before the Gentry”

There’s a new book entitled, “Tompkins Square Park” by photographer Q. Sakamaki in which he documents Tompkins Square Park in the late ’80’s through today: the changes that have swept through the Park and its surrounding East Village neighborhood.

It is twenty years ago this week since the famous Tompkins Square Park riots – something that is difficult to imagine happening today (the most famous one was provoked by a 1 a.m. curfew in that Park, seen as representative of massive and unwelcome changes being inflicted on the neighborhood). It’s not that I want that to happen. However, there is an equal amount of social injustice today and anger in Mayor Bloomberg’s New York. It’s hidden behind a societal malaise with a blind eye to the damage inflicted to people amidst the the monumental changes being pushed throughout our city. Yet It’s not just malaise. These changes are obscured from most people’s eyes and wrapped with a bow around Mayor Bloomberg’s “hero to the City” image. They’re hidden behind mammoth glass buildings once inhabited by a diverse mix of people not quite as shiny who are quietly pushed out. There is the attitude: “If you can’t afford to live here, get out.”

The changes to our public spaces, particularly Washington Square Park, reflect this also.

Colin Moynihan writes about the book and its author in today’s New York Times‘ story “East Village, Before the Gentry:”

Twenty years ago this week the neighborhood was also much like a war zone as protesters clashed with police officers seeking to enforce a curfew in the park. Mr. Sakamaki’s book is timed to that anniversary and documents the street skirmishes, yet it is also a kind of manifesto.

“This book focuses on Tompkins Square Park as the symbol and stronghold of the anti-gentrification movement, the scene of one of the most important political and avant-garde movements in New York history,” Mr. Sakamaki writes in an introduction.

Strolling through the neighborhood, he elaborated, saying that he favors safe streets and finds no romance in poverty. But, he said, change that is primarily driven by monetary profit “destroys the lives of poor or weak people.”

As his black-and-white photographs make clear, Mr. Sakamaki found much that was life-affirming amid the conflict and penury. The energy and camaraderie of people who banded together in adversity appealed to him; so did the desire of East Villagers to create their own social order even as they received little help from mainstream society.

See New York Times slide show of photographer Q. Sakamaki’s Tompkins Square Park book.