Gallery: Tompkins Sq Park Legacy
Tompkins Square Park
(The title of my book published by PowerHouse Books is used here.)
You better hold on, something's happening here.
You better hold on, meet you in Tompkins Square.
--- Lou Reed, Hold On (1989)
Tompkins Square Park is about the resistance and struggle of people in the Lower East Side, literally to exist as the community faced drastic gentrification in the late 1980s and mid-1990s. This story 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.
Summer, 1988. Tompkins Square Park, which long served as a makeshift home for the homeless and a center for social unrest, erupted in violence when the New York City police and hundreds of protesters clashed over ideological differences. Residents of the Lower East Side, historically home to diverse immigrant communities but facing gentrification, united to protest the 1a.m. curfew the city was attempting to enforce on the park, in effect banishing the homeless and closing off many areas of the park that were once public. Over the humid night on August 6th, demonstrators carrying signs that read “Gentrification is Class War” and chanting “It's our fucking park, you don't live here!" clashed with police armed with riot gear. The violence lasted until the next morning. It was Tompkins Park’s first iconic police riot and became the trigger to further radicalize the community’s political movement.
The August 6th “police riot” –- so called because the consensus was that the police overreacted to the protestors –- and subsequent Tompkins Square riots were the manifestation of a larger concern of the over-gentrification of the Lower East Side. The Lower East Side has a long history of liberal, and at times radical, movements that attracted artists, intellectuals, anarchists, activists, squatters, immigrants, and even political exiles. Many in the community, unlike other more passive communities facing gentrification, stood up and worked together with the homeless to protect housing rights and human rights, and their own lifestyle. By 1991, the estimated 300 homeless people living in Tompkins Square Park were gone and the park was forcefully closed for renovations. After the reopening in summer 1992, the Lower East Side quickly started to transform into one of the most gentrified high-rent communities in New York. Although the anti-gentrification-movement still remained for several years, it lost its strong grassroots momentum, especially after Rudy Giuliani took the mayoral office. Twenty years after the August 6th riot, the park now boasts one of the best dog runs in New York City; the Lower East Side lost much of its diversity, and instead it has become one of the city’s most expensive, theme-park-lilke entertainment districts, as one can easily find in other big towns in US. However, for people hooked on the Lower East Side during the radical protest era, or even for some of the newcomers and outsiders, the Tompkins Square resistance to defend housing rights and human rights as well as diverse lifestyles remains as a significant historical legacy.
Note: More texts are read in the book. The images between the book and this site are slightly different, yet through the book, you could feel and touch much, much more the feeling of the reality.