08 November 2010

Park 51: Communities of Circumstance and Community by Design

This symposium will discuss the issues of media representation, urban planning and design and the politics of community raised by the public conversation about the Park 51 community center.

The symposium will take place at Pratt Institute's Brooklyn Campus at 61 James Place in Higgins Hall Auditorium From 6-9pm on Friday, December 3, 2010.
This event is free and open to the public.

Registration is required, please click here to register.

Background to the Event
New York has long been known for the rich diversity of its neighborhoods, its enormous variety of peoples and cultures and the many languages, fashions and foods found on its streets. New York is easily the most cosmopolitan city in the United States, a point of pride for New Yorkers and a magnet for those who want to live in a place where everyone belongs. But that vibrant mix poses the challenge of negotiating all those differences in a densely populated city of over 8 million people. 

In the spring of 2010, a calculated campaign was launched to vilify a new building project in Lower Manhattan, a community that is still struggling to recover from the events of September 11, 2001. The Park 51 Project, a community center planning to offer cultural events, recreational and fitness facilities, meeting spaces and a cafĂ© for all local residents, was dubbed the “Ground Zero Mosque” and portrayed as the leading edge of a campaign to “Islamicize” the nation .
As the story hit the mainstream media, coined as the “mosque controversy,” a ground swell of opposition, including many in New York, rose against the project. However the lower Manhattan community board, local politicians and residents stood their ground and approved the project asserting that their neighborhood embraced all its inhabitants. They welcomed the much-needed project as a part of community revitalization. In taking that stand, a diverse community of circumstance became a community by choice. It remains to be seen if the project can help it coalesce into a community by design. Our intent is to broaden the discussion by stepping back and gaining perspective on how all of us, as New Yorkers, are effected by the public debate, and what implications this might have for other local and global communities. 

Much of the public dialogue around the proposed community center has been hampered by an ill-informed public, reactionary politicians, and the demands of the 24-hour news media cycle. Our symposium will invite the Pratt community and the broader community of New York City to have a substantive conversation about the particular history of the community center, the representations of figures, places and structures in urban environments, and the ways in which all New Yorkers can participate in designing their local communities.

The Event
The symposium will be a 3 hour-long event. There are three modules to the program:

  • moderated panel. Panelists: Sameer Ahmed, Staff Attorney Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Alia Malek, author of A Country Called Amreeka: U.S. History Retold Through Arab-American Lives; Seth Wessler, Staff Writer, Colorlines, and Senior Researcher at the Applied Research Center; and several Pratt students. Moderator: Ann Holder) One hour with brief Q and A
  • Three breakout groups for discussion. Each group will have two facilitators and will focus on a different area of concern. We will also assign a note taker to each of these groups. Each group will come up with five main points from the discussion to share with the entire community.
    • Media and Representation 
    • Politics of Community
    • Communities by Design  
  • final plenary, at which time participants will hear reports from each of the breakout groups and discuss the findings of the day. Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?, and Professor of English atBrooklyn College, to close the event.
This event is co-sponsored by:
Departments of Social Science and Cultural Studies, Humanities and Media Studies, Art and Design Education, Interior Design, Arts and Cultural Management, Design Management, Dean of SLAS, Dean of Art and Design, Graduate Center for Planning and Environment, Office of Student Affairs, Community Board, Diversity for Excellence, President's Office, Provost's Office, Critical and Visual Studies and Pratt Center for Community Development. 

(click on the image below to enlarge)


  1. Learn more about the Park51 Community Center here:


    or follow them on twitter @park51

  2. Cut and paste these links to check out videos to see how some of this controversy unfolded:

    Pamela Geller "workshop" at the Tennessee Tea Party convention.

    Rachel Maddow exposes surging anti-Islamic violence, and interviews the head of the interfaith coalition who explains why these are acts of hatred, not religious acts

    For more info on the interfaith alliance, and more coverage from other networks of their meeting with Eric Holder:

    Keith Olberman, in his typical over-the-top way explains why the politics of the opposition to the community center are so egregious.
    It's a special comments called "There is no Ground Zero Mosque." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZpT2Muxoo0

  3. Article:

    Ground Zero mosque as wedge issue: Muslims vs. 'real' Americans - By Alia Malek

    (copy link and paste into browser)

    Alia Malek will be speaking at the Park 51: Communities of Circumstance and Community by Design event described above. This link is to her article published August 17, 2010.

    "The debate over the so-called ground zero mosque has rekindled an old debate over who belongs in America. It has also given us an opportunity to finally stamp out the recurring nativist impulse to exclude feared groups from our midst."