As the train pulls into the station and I walk up the stairs to exit, the first thing that hits me, literally, are three businessmen rushing down the street. For a second, I think that I have gotten off at the wrong station. I automatically assume that I am not even close to my destination, but looking down at my phone reassures me that I am where I need to be. As I look around at the matching brownstones, all with neatly tucked flowers outside their gates, I realize that this part of Queens could be mistaken for any other neighborhood in downtown NYC. However, this neighborhood is not like the others, or at least it used to not be. Until recently, it was home to, the now shut down, 5 pointz: a beautiful collage of street art. The transition of this urban neighborhood mimics the transition of many other neighborhoods in the city. Unfortunately, as for many other urban community transformations, this transition has led to the destruction of unique aspects of the area — a true tragedy.
According to the 5 Pointz’s website, at the end of it’s life, 5 Pointz was once considered the “graffiti mecca” (5ptz.com). Now, however, it stands amongst construction sites covered in white paint, just waiting to be knocked down and replaced by condos. What is left of this graffiti mecca peaks out from behind the white paint that was placed over the artwork. This now construction site was once the place where people from all over the city could come and work on their street art freely. It consisted of a diverse community that came together with the simple goal of legally working on their street art. Now, the community is made up of workers who will not even let a passerby close enough to the building to see the street art that is barely visible under the white cloak. The destruction of this site is just a recent addition to the long history of transforming urban communities. The change of time, owners, and societal norms are major factors in the most recent distancing of this unique site from the motivation that was behind this buildings original street art occupation.
Located between 45-46 Davis street, 5 Pointz once stood proud, showcasing a mass amount of aerosol paintings — graffiti. Before it was the home to this street art, the lot was a water-meter factory (Curbed NY). After the factory was shut down, the property on Davis Street was left untouched until it was then used to produce CDs, bringing along another community (nytimes.com). When 1990 rolled around, a man by the name of Pat DiLilo was granted the permission to turn the site into a place where legal graffiti work could be showcased, and led to the birth of a new unique street art community (SPACES).
Pat DiLilo named this space Phun Phactory, and encouraged street artists to come and paint, so that they would no longer be doing their street art in an illegal manner. The people that were attracted to the Phun Phactory were from all over New York City. Some even came from different cities. Regardless, they all shared a common goal: they desired to showcase their work to a group of people who felt the same way they did– under appreciated for their talents. These street artists were used to people pushing their art work aside simply because it did not fit into the societal construct of that community, and was deemed vandalism. Here, however, they were allowed to paint what they wanted without having to worry about legal repercussions.
Reflected in Phun Phactory, a city’s history is ever changing. As seen in Highmores’ CityScapes, the transformation of these communities has been associated with the “planners perspectives”, which means privileging the demands of the urban planner (like the owners of the lot at 45-46 Davis Street) over the lives of the community that is presently there (Cityscapes, 3). Although not as extreme as Highmore makes it out to be in his book, Phun Phactory’s transformation went through the same trajectory, and was forced to transform because of the plans that were set out by the person who was put in charge of the space.
In 2002, a man by the name of Jonathan Cohen took over this site, named it 5 Pointz, and transformed the community once again. Although Cohen had the same goal as Pat DiLilo, the “planners perspective” effect was put into play. The site turned from a small community of people who were simply showcasing their work into something bigger, and more attractive to urban planning: a tourist trap. His goal was to turn this work into a museum, and began asking people to submitt layouts and plans for their work (bad-perm.com). With time people started coming from all over not only to paint, but also to see the paintings. It turned into a site that attracted tour groups and celebrities such as rapper Doug E. Fresh and rocker Joan Jett (5ptz.com).
This is not saying that Cohen taking over is to blame for the destruction of this site. He was just merely a player in the history of the transformation of this lot. He was still focused on the street art, and even helped the street artists to widen their audience. His website, 5ptz.com, still showcases artists work such as Andres Correa and Joel Bergner (5ptz.com). However, since this lot was a product of the transformation of history, the people that were painting in this space changed as well. Although still a space for street artists to come together and work in a legal spot, this space now attracted new people who wanted the have tour groups come and look at their work. Through the 2000’s, it lost the essence of the people who were simply coming to this place to practice their passion of street art.
Fast forward about ten years, and the community is changing again. In 2013 the owner of the building decided to implement his own “planners perspective” and made the decision to paint over the street artists work, demolish the building, and build condos. Many protests took place in order to try to save the graffiti, and the remaining symbols of DiLilo and his vision. Petitions were sent out, and banners that read “Gentrification in Progress” were draped on the building. However, these efforts did little to escape the inevitable transformation and the fate of modern commercialization. Even though the purpose of this space has changed, the loss of this site was still a major tragedy.
Looking back at the history of this space’s and community’s transformation, Highmore, in Cityscapes, sheds some light on what is going on. After each stage of the transformation, a part of the site was left behind — left in ruins (Cityscapes, 4). He makes the comparison of Rome being built on the past, and how history accumulates. In this case, each time this site was transformed, the previous community and site were built on top of. It added to what was already there, while transforming the community each time, changing its purpose. The destruction of this site wiped out a community that started from a very un-commercialized and unique ideal.
As of now, the building stands empty. Artist’s works were covered up, and the artists themselves currently are left devoid of a place to come together. The owner of this building has made a statement saying that there are plans that will put up walls for street artists to come and do their art, but they will be much smaller (Curbed NY). Once again, we are building on top of the ruins that are already there, dragging it further from its original unique purpose.
This space will now be made up with the same people who ran into me when I was getting off the subway. Businessmen and women may give it a quick glance, and people in their high rise condos may look at it from their window. Once again, this community is ever changing and gentrifying, just as the protesters feared. This space is now conforming into just another addition that coincides to the urbanization of NYC and lower Manhattan.