Documenting the Spatial Practices of Global Migration

Refugees Welcome

Category : FIELD TRIP 09/23/2015
Refugees Welcome

Nothing exemplifies the discrepancy between nation-state policies on migration and the local impact migrants have on cities more than the…

Removing Rubble

Category : FIELD TRIP, SPACES 01/21/2012

Walking through the streets and neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince the destruction of the January, 2010 earthquake is still eerily evident. There are still tens of thousands of destroyed buildings throughout the city and many appear to have been completely untouched since they collapsed two years ago. Like most things involving rebuilding in Haiti, the process of rubble removal is complex. The costs of hauling away rubble is quite high and even for those who can pay, there is no suitable dumpsite that can absorb the amount of rubble that still needs to be removed. Additionally, owners are reluctant to allow for hauling until rebuilding plans are in place as it is difficult to secure a vacant lot in a city full of squatters where the poor are desperately seeking any space to rebuild their homes outside of the IDP camps.

Despite the challenges rubble removal does offer some opportunities, one of which is now underway in Carrefour Feuilles. Processed rubble can be used as construction material for things like retaining walls, steps, drainage channels and other infrastructure needed to improve and secure neighborhoods built on the steep topography of the Port-au-Prince hillsides. Given the high costs of hauling, it makes sense to process and sell rubble locally allowing for easier access to markets and creating jobs and entrepreneurship opportunities in the community. The rubble processing operation pictured here is located on the site of the former Haitian Red Cross building destroyed in the earthquake. The business operates under a production based payment system and while still in the nascent stages, there are plans to scale up with larger equipment expanding production to meet the growing market for construction materials driven by NGO and Haitian government investment in local reconstruction efforts.

Northern Blvd, btw Flushing Main St and Murray Hill, Queens

Category : FIELD TRIP, SPACES 10/13/2011

For my second Field Trip destination I chose to visit the largest Korean community in greater New York area, generally known as Flushing, Queens. It wasn’t my first time to be there since my last visit when I stayed at Flushing area approximately 4 years ago for three weeks doing research at New York City. However because back at that time I was more into hanging out in Manhattan rather than Queens I never fully explored around the area. So this was an opportunity to discover new aspects of Flushing area, focusing on the Korean community.

I didn’t plan where to start with the observation but instead just got on line number 7 MTA express train which led me strait to Flushing Main St. station where my journey began. Although I already knew that Flushing Main St. station was more Chinese dominant area, I was surprised to see the growth of Chinese businesses and expansion in terms of boundary and variety of retail shops. However it wasn’t so difficult to find signboards with Korean characters and I eventually found out where the Korean businesses were concentrated.

Northern Blvd

Northern Blvd, Advertisement on the LIRR crossing bridge

Northern Boulevard just a few minute walk away from Flushing Main St. station is where this post is mainly about. More specifically the coverage range is from Main St. to 166th St. about one and a half mile area and the inner offset of this main boulevard.

1. Suburban Setting

Compare to K-Town in Midtown Manhattan, Northern Blvd in Queens was less dense and a car oriented physical setting, much similar to the suburban neighborhoods in general U.S. cities. Along the boulevard all sort of businesses are stretched out from grocery, bakery, restaurant, clothing shop, bank to offices spaces and etc. Because the main mode of getting to each retail stores is by using cars made the street pedestrian ways not so populated. (I suppose it will be more vibrant in weekends when people don’t work during daytime)

Small Korean Mall

2. Professional Services

One thing I found interesting was to find medical services established located near the houses rather than the main boulevard. Usually medical services are more likely to be found in CBD or along the main streets in Korea but here they were popping out from residential area. This will probably have to do with rents and access to customers, still interesting to see how all the clinics where opened in residential area.

Legal Services

3. Intermingle

Although 80~90% of the businesses seem to be Korean owned (assuming from the signboards in Korean) the neighborhood demographics didn’t seem to be Korean dominant. I saw much more non-Korean population along the streets. And according to the book which researched on immigrant small business in NYC titled ‘The Korean American Dream’ indicates that Korean businesses also serve and hire other ethnic populations living in Flushing area. So in terms of population this area can’t really be considered as a Korean neighborhood, but do to the nature of Koreans running various business makes the area seem like a Korean dominant neighborhood.

Chinese, Spanish and Korean

4. Local Economy

Flushing area known to be populated by the early Korean immigrants to NYC, seem to also establish a very own vertically integrated chain of services, forming a small local economy. This is easily visible by having property developed, designed, financed and even build by Koreans. (Through several new buildings that is under construction) I suppose distribution of goods to all the small retail shops must be also supplied by Korean firms in this neighborhood.

Designed by Korean Architecture Firm

Financed and Construction by Korean Firms

5. Density

Once again going back to how the buildings are used in terms of density from my previous field trip post (, not only Koreans but the Chinese community also were fully utilizing the building spaces dedicated for retail business, which I guess not so common in U.S. It may look too complicated for someone not used to this kind of physical appearance but it not so difficult to get around once you’re used to it.

Concentration of Chinese Shops

Korean businesses

My field trip to the most prominent Korean community in NYC was mostly based on personal experience and observation. So there should be many questions about the history of how Parts of Northern Blvd looks like today. The ‘The Korea American Dream’ written by Kyeyoung Park can be a great guidance for your discover if you’re ever interested.

Link to book information (

Williamsburg, at night

Category : FIELD TRIP 10/13/2011
There are interesting ways to encounter immigrant communities on a Friday night. Williamsburg is known for its diversity. Long-time home to Italian and African American communities, but also with established Hasidic jewish, Puerto Rican and Dominican populations. And of course, increasing numbers of youthful ‘hipsters’. I was in Williamsburg to explore, and attend an electronic music house concert by a friend of a friend of a friend. It is these sort of events (loud music, late nights) that are often cited as a source of tension between incoming residents and established residents, often but not necessarily immigrants. However in Williamsburg, some entrepreneurs see late night gatherings as an opportunity.

The housing stock of the neighborhood itself is slightly lower density, allowing for subdivided or large apartments that attract immigrants and young people in need of cheaper housing. The townhouses also provide an important opportunity for homeowners, in Williamsburg often successful foreign born, to express their individuality. Many houses have different facades or place objects visible to the street that reflect either their prosperity, individuality, or cultural heritage. Stoops and building fronts can easily become areas for street socializing.

Although Broadway ostensibly divides the north and south sides of Williamsburg between Italian/Polish and Puerto Rican/Dominican neighborhoods, the mix of shops along Grand Street tells of greater diversity. Pawn shops, grocers and jewelry store cater to a mix of clientele with shop names often in Spanish. At night, the variety of open businesses represent the neighborhood well. Corner bodega’s are open late, operated by latino guys. Dark bars cater both to those in search of a cheap beer or a ironic/classy dram of whiskey and serve primarily young tattoo’d types, to the profit of old run-down bars in the area. Obviously there has been an influx of hipster oriented businesses competing with those oriented towards immigrant communities, such as Noorman’s Kil scotch bar or gluten-free cafes with kitschy decor.

But proud third-generation businesses like Sal’s Pizzeria obviously profit from these new residents. At midnight,  there I observed two Italian-Americans at work, pawning off the last of their slices on the tipsy hipster revellers passing by. Young, fluent Italians lingered nearby on the street, bringing to mind that successful businesses and immigrants often attract continued generations of chain immigrants, even to an older neighborhood like this.

Red Hook’s Ball Field Vendor Community

Category : FIELD TRIP, SPACES 10/13/2011

While on an Ikea trek a few weekends ago, I unexpectedly stumbled upon Red Hook’s Ball Field on my way from the Ikea shuttle to the store. Visiting the ball field vendors and learning of it’s history prompted me to do a bit more research on the immigrant population working to create what NYC blogs and magazine coin some of the best cuisine in the city.

Red Hook is located in Brooklyn, quite inconveniently between the waterfront and the Brooklyn-Queens expressway, with no subway station nearby. Before the establishment of vendors, the neighborhood was declining with a rise of abandoned properties and crime. A public housing development called the Red Hook Houses, only furthered these conditions and made Red Hook known as one of the worst places to live in NYC.

In the early 1970s, Hispanic immigrants started arriving in New York City from Mexico, Guatemala, and other Latin American countries. Red Hook at this time was predominately African-American, with residents also from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – many of who enjoyed baseball as a recreational sport. Different than these residents, the new immigrants from Mexico and Central American preferred to play soccer. Red Hook’s Ball Field provided an excellent place to do so – a vast grass field otherwise unoccupied became the arena for immigrant Soccer Ligas (organized leagues). Soccer players. The players and their cheering friends and family members soon comprised the Ball Field’s daily population and with that developed the need for food in refreshments.

What began as simply bringing food to eat, to feeding soccer players, friends, and family soon became a vendor business by the 1980s. These immigrant-owned businesses honed new skills, employed family members for labor and helped immigrants pool together their often-scarce capital.The food they would sell was prepared traditionally from family recipes as they could remember them, from materials at hand. This would re-create the taste of home, while bringing in some innovative fusions from their new NYC home. This market of traditional products in a where buyers and sellers shared the same language and ethnic background established a common cultural space where immigrants feel welcomed and at home. Meanwhile, non-Latinos stumbling into the Hispanic enclave felt like they’ve walked into an unexpected Little Latin American in the midst of Brooklyn. However, this is not a typical enclave immigrant community – the vendor’s don’t actually live there.

This is perhaps what makes the Ball Field community so interesting; that the identity and cultural importance created by the vendors only lasts till sunset. The immigrants who come here for work and socializing live in other Brooklyn neighborhoods: Bushwick, Flatbush, Sunset Park, and some areas of Park Slope. They come by day and disappear by night, nonetheless creating a community identity in this particular nook of the city.

Aside from created businesses for immigrants and a social and cultural center for Latin Americans to identify with and enjoy, the Ball Field vendors have also caught the attention of many non-Latinos around the city. As many people started visiting the Ball Field, blogs and magazines began raving about this excellent authentic South American food, drawing only more “outsiders” to the fields for a taste. The vendors received a surge of popularity due to this media exposure, which furthers their welcome to the city as well as increases their business.

However, political members did not always meet the vendor community with the same enthusiasm. In 2007, the Parks Department decided not to renew their temporary agreement with the vendors and allowed other concessions to open up for competitive bidding – bad news for the vendors. The immigrants, with the help of the media, local politicians, and loyal patrons like the Food Vendor Committee of Red Hook, were able to fight and secure a 6-year permit as well as a news feature on the Parks Department website, endorsing the vendors and their tradition of providing delicious Latin American food to Red Hook. Since then, the food vendors of Red Hook’s Ball Fields have only furthered into the ranks of popular food in NYC, serving as an inspirational symbol of immigrant business success.

Latin American Immigrant influence is also still affluent around the city. The popularity of soccer and dominance of Latinos in the Ball Fields reflect a large and quickly growing increase in Latin American Immigration since 1985. In that year, New York had one store that sold tortillas, and by 2001 there were 6 tortilla factories owned by Mexican immigrants, producing ten million tortillas a week in a small area of Brooklyn called the “Tortilla Triangle. ”

As in most places, gentrification is inescapable. After the Parks Department put in a pool in Red Hook in 1991, white families started moving in, but luckily this did not drive out the Latino community. According to the 2000 Census, whites comprised 49% of the Red Hook neighborhood – the largest group there, while Hispanics comprised 39% — the largest minority group in the area. Aside from English, Spanish was the most commonly spoke language in the neighborhood. Food vendors still attract a wide scope of customers from all around the city, that visit Red Hook with the purpose of eating some of the best Latino food in New York.