Theses Master's

Preserving Places of Hip-Hop in the Bronx, 1973 to 1983

Hotz, Christine

Hip-hop’s history is tied to the Bronx during a time when the bough faced extreme challenges. This thesis examines the preservation of sites of early hip-hop and its associated physical spaces and sites in the Bronx from 1973 to 1983. This thesis will identify the significant locations and urban conditions that contributed to the creation of this piece of American culture and New York’s identity, analyze the commonalities that these locations share, and ultimately explore the challenges and possible solutions for preserving the sites of early hip-hop.

This body of research is focused on the decade of hip-hop development during which the music went from being known as a version of Disco the children, teens and young adults were creating to being named “hip-hop” and becoming a global phenomenon. During this period, hip-hop was solidified into four elements, each of which depended on occupying publicly accessible space: DJing, MCing, Breakdancing and Graffiti. Because a large majority of Bronx residents lacked ownership of property, the young hip-hop community utilized parks, community rooms, abandoned buildings, streets, and public transportation for hosting pirates or painting on public services.

Indeed, they were responding to their disadvantaged situation by using hip-hop as a means to claim space. Hip-hop’s spatial relationship presents an interesting challenge for the field of preservation. Most of the spaces that were used are seemingly unspectacular. Artists used parks, community rooms, and school gymnasiums – amenities that are found in every residential neighborhood of New York City. There was nothing architecturally significant about these spaces, and common forms of memorialization and preservation lack the ability to represent this subculture heritage in a way that benefits and speaks meaningfully to the community. Yet, this was a culture that has an intrinsic relationship to the spaces in which it formed –one that can still be seen today.

The final section of this thesis analyzes the issues of preserving the early spaces of hip-hop culture within the Bronx. This thesis follows a historic context-based research approach in which a significant history was identified and then researched to understand its relationship with space. This is not the approach policy-based preservation takes in New York City. Additionally, this thesis discusses the way hip-hop culture has already been preserved within the borough through different programs and events unrelated to formal, top-down preservation practices. However, preservation as a professional practice has the power of lasting representation and should consider its role in representing histories and cultures like hip-hop.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Dolkart, Andrew
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2022