Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing

Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing

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by Peter Eisenstadt
     
 

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From 1963 to 1965 roughly 6,000 families moved into Rochdale Village, at the time the world's largest housing cooperative, in southeastern Queens, New York. The moderate-income cooperative attracted families from a diverse background, white and black, to what was a predominantly black neighborhood. In its early years, Rochdale was widely hailed as one of the few

Overview

From 1963 to 1965 roughly 6,000 families moved into Rochdale Village, at the time the world's largest housing cooperative, in southeastern Queens, New York. The moderate-income cooperative attracted families from a diverse background, white and black, to what was a predominantly black neighborhood. In its early years, Rochdale was widely hailed as one of the few successful large-scale efforts to create an integrated community in New York City or, for that matter, anywhere in the United States.

Rochdale was built by the United Housing Foundation. Its president, Abraham Kazan, had been the major builder of low-cost cooperative housing in New York City for decades. His partner in many of these ventures was Robert Moses. Their work together was a marriage of opposites: Kazan's utopian-anarchist strain of social idealism with its roots in the early twentieth century Jewish labor movement combined with Moses's hardheaded, no-nonsense pragmatism.

Peter Eisenstadt recounts the history of Rochdale Village's first years, from the controversies over its planning, to the civil rights demonstrations at its construction site in 1963, through the late 1970s, tracing the rise and fall of integration in the cooperative. (Today, although Rochdale is no longer integrated, it remains a successful and vibrant cooperative that is a testament to the ideals of its founders and the hard work of its residents.) Rochdale's problems were a microcosm of those of the city as a whole—troubled schools, rising levels of crime, fallout from the disastrous teachers' strike of 1968, and generally heightened racial tensions. By the end of the 1970s few white families remained.

Drawing on exhaustive archival research, extensive interviews with the planners and residents, and his own childhood experiences growing up in Rochdale Village, Eisenstadt offers an insightful and engaging look at what it was like to live in Rochdale and explores the community's place in the postwar history of America's cities and in the still unfinished quests for racial equality and affordable urban housing.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Peter Eisenstadt makes a convincing case that Rochdale Village—which, when it opened in December 1963 was the largest housing cooperative in the world and possibly the largest integrated housing development in the United States—is a story that deserves to be rescued from obscurity. Eisenstadt has performed a service to scholars of race, housing, and New York City by shedding light on this understudied case."—American Historical Review

"This is a masterful book. A seemingly marginal housing project in a seemingly marginal borough becomes, in Peter Eisenstadt's work, a critical point of entry into the history of race relations in New York City and the nation. In recounting the inspiring and painful saga of Rochdale Village during the 1960s and '70s—the largest interracial housing complex in the city, and perhaps in the country-he offers fresh perspectives on a dozen different domains, including housing, schooling, religion, politics, class, crime, and labor. Drawing on bedrock-level research and his own memories (having lived there from age ten to nineteen), Eisenstadt opens up new veins of thought in well-worked scholarly mines. He revisits the 1968 teachers strike, black-Jewish relations, black power, and white flight. He rebuts, from the inside, Jane Jacobs's dismissal of high-rise living as soulless and sterile. And he gives an account of the odd coupling of utopian co-op developer Abraham Kazan and the anti-utopian, racially challenged Robert Moses that is alone worth the price of admission. Toss in the elegant, engaging, and often witty prose and provocative conclusions about the contemporary relevance of integrationist and cooperative ideals, and you've got a very compelling piece of work."—Mike Wallace, Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, coauthor of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

"Rochdale Village could not sustain its lofty ambitions to be affordable, harmonious, and racially integrated, but it did become New York's largest predominantly African American housing cooperative. This American story of dreams deferred and ideals abandoned is told with sympathy and understanding in this thoughtful and well-written book."—Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University, Editor in Chief, The Encyclopedia of New York City, and President Emeritus, The New-York Historical Society

"Rochdale Village encourages us all to think again about what was possible in the postwar American city and why we are only now recapturing some hope for racial harmony. In a book that combines the impact and immediacy of a memoir with the authority of deep research, Eisenstadt brilliantly depicts many remarkable personalities and voices. His own experience becomes an integral part of the larger historical project: to show how a remarkable community and its ideals took shape, flourished for a time, and then was caught up in the racial conflicts it was designed to remedy."—Robert Fishman, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Michigan, author of Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia

"Recently historians have broadened our understanding of the civil rights movement by focusing on the struggles for racial equality outside of the South. Peter Eisenstadt has added to our understanding of the struggle for civil rights in the North in his meticulous and insightful investigation of the attempt to create the largest integrated middle-class housing cooperative in New York City, Rochdale Village in South Jamaica. Eisenstadt argues that the housing integration effort in the city's third largest black community brought together a coalition of leftists, liberal, Democrats, moderate Republicans, pragmatic government officials and business executives. Just as important, the author focuses on the role of the tenants of Rochdale, ranging from committed civil rights activists to ordinary New Yorkers. Eisenstadt’s book is one of the most important works on civil rights in the largest city in the nation."—Clarence Taylor, Baruch College, author of The Black Churches of Brooklyn

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801448782
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
11/18/2010
Series:
American Institutions and Society
Pages:
328
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

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Rochdale Village: Robert Moses, 6,000 Families, and New York City's Great Experiment in Integrated Housing 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
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