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Co-op City: The Dream and the Reality

Wohl, Nina

Co-op City is the largest cooperative housing complex in America, possibly in the world. It contains more than 15,000 apartments with more than 70,000 rooms providing a home for more than 60,000 people. If Co-op city were not part of New York City, it would be the tenth largest city in New York State. Co-op City held out the promise of refuge from urban strife. and haven for the middle class. The residents would have the benefit of home ownership and freedom from landlord tyranny while remaining in New York City. They would live in big apartments with open views, lots of light, walk-in closets, parquet floors, free heat, and air conditioning. In addition, the 300-acre complex would be self-contained, featuring 90 stores and 6 schools. Co-op City would be a city-within-a-city. Originally, the complex attracted mostly Jewish, Irish and Italian families that lived in Tremont, Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse. The hope was that Co-op City would be a racially integrated community and a model for the rest of the country. This was not to be the case. At the outset, it was 75% Jewish. Today, it is over 75% black and Hispanic. This change reflects the greater transformation that took place in the Bronx itself. Early residents felt they had received a small piece of the American pie. Such warm feelings cannot hide the fact that from the start Co-op City was plagued by naysayers and critics. Architects called it “sterile site planning and uninspired architectural design,” “sterile and blunt,” and “fairly hideous.” Many saw it as the worst example of what New York City had become. “It is part of that New York which is ‘producing a bumper crop of human failure through environmental failure’.” These opposing views question the very nature of Co-op City. It seemed to promise a sanctuary and sort of utopia, but did the reality belie that promise? Co-op City's story is the story of urban America in the late twentieth century.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race
Thesis Advisors
Blackmar, Elizabeth S.
Degree
M.A., Columbia University
Published Here
May 23, 2016
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