Ethnography/primary sources — a follow-up walk

For my second walk on East Williamsburg, I had a more thorough understanding on how to observe and analyze the life of the streets of the neighborhood. This knowledge came from the readings The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs and Inquiry by Design: Tools For Environment Behavior Research by John Zeisel. I also connected the images I found on the digital archive of The New York City Digital Collections and of East Williamsburg during the 1880s to 1920s to what I was observing in that walk, which arose questions that I am interested in researching.

Jacob’s reading encouraged me to examine the sidewalk contacts of my visit. This time, I began my walk at the stop Morgan Ave of the subway. There were more shops and people on the sidewalks than on my first walk which was at the Grand Street stop, a more industrial area of East Williamsburg. The people in the neighborhood both times seemed very open, and that made me think that East Williamsburg is probably a neighborhood with many sidewalk contacts in which people do not avoid each other, and have enough trust to create these types of relationships.

The first time I visited East Williamsburg, I analyzed my observation without any specific guidance. The second time, I looked for physical traces of culture or life in the area as Zeisel invites us to do. I was more conscious of what kind of observer I wanted to be and what tools are the most effective for me to record my observations. I decided to be an outsider when I had my camera and to act like a more local individual when I was interacting with people. To record, I took photographs and audio recordings. On my second visit, I also focused on the relationship different people have with each other. I saw mothers and children walking, two skaters who seemed to be friends, young couples going to coffee shops, sidewalk store workers, and people cleaning the city. I also noticed other physical traces such as graffitied murals, gay flags, some posters in Spanish.

The archive photos of old East Williamsburg, on the other hand, were directly correlated to the industrial area of the neighborhood that I visited during my first walk. These photos, however, were incredibly different to what I saw the second time. The place I encountered this time was very vibrant; it was filled with art murals, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and music. I could still sense the Industrial influence, but it seemed to me like the place was very gentrified.

For this walk, I was more educated about the area, but I was still wondering: Why did they decide to gentrify this particular area? Are the prices of rent in the sector rising and therefore forcing the neighbors to leave? Is it allowed for people to make graffiti in East Williamsburg as part of the art scene? Why aren’t there more restaurants in the area? How can we still preserve the values of this neighborhood that is very diverse in the renovation process? I listened to some Hispanic music, are there concerts too?

I am an international student from Venezuela that desires to communicate with the world around me visually. I hope that I can become a part of the global conversation where I can tell stories that are untold. With a background in business and languages, I have experienced how different fields will always connect at some points, and I aspire to reinforce that connection in my work. I believe that there is not one pure aesthetic, and therefore I have chosen to collaborate and learn from those around me to every day grow as an artist.

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