Saturday, February 26, 2011

Good News for Rochdale Village

Peter is too modest to crow about this in Greater New York, but I'm happy to report that his book Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing, has just been awarded the New York Society Library's prize for best work of history on the city published in 2010.

Rochdale Village
is a meticulously researched and beautifully written history of the cooperative where Peter spent part of his youth. In his analysis of the making and unmaking of integration in Rochdale, he tells us a great deal about race, politics and culture in postwar New York. Significantly, he takes on three big themes.

With regard to the 1968 Teachers’ Strike, he challenges the conventional understanding of the strike as a confrontation between liberal integrationists and radical nationalists. In fact, for all of the importance of black nationalism in 1968, he argues that the strike is best understood as an ideologically complex struggle over the meanings and possibilities of integration.

On housing, particularly high rise superblock housing, he shows that Jane Jacobs’ arguments--which lead you to believe that such housing inevitably produces blight and anomie--are much in need of revision. He also makes you appreciate the mixture of principles and pragmatism, in the persons of cooperative housing developer Abraham Kazan and power broker Robert Moses, that produced Rochdale. In a time when high housing costs are making life ever harder for low and middle income New Yorkers, that history is worth recovering.

Finally, in his honest but affectionate memories of Rochdale, which recognize both its strengths and its weaknesses, Peter resurrects the forgotten possibilities of integration. In an age when racial separation is the norm when it comes to residential living, Peter shows how radical, challenging and rewarding it was for the black and white residents of Rochdale to live together.

In winning this prize Peter deservedly joins some distinguished company, ranging from my sister Ellen Snyder-Grenier (who won the award for her book on Brooklyn) to my friend and coauthor Rebecca Zurier (who won the award for her book on the Ashcan Artists) to Josh Freeman, (who won the award for Working Class New York ) to Mike Wallace and Edwin G. Burrows (who won for the first volume of Gotham.)

Rochdale Village is a great book for anyone who cares about New York, its best possibilities, and its enduring struggles for justice. This award is richly deserved.