Mark Byrnes is a former senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
The City Lost and Found explores a turbulent time in the U.S. by looking to the country's three largest cities.
U.S. cities witnessed incredible physical and social change between the presidencies of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. In a span of two decades, the federal government's War on Poverty was born, whittled down, and effectively neutered all while the communities it served reckoned with the decline of industry and the increasingly dominant role of real estate and finance in urban development.
From Boston to Seattle, any major American city could serve as a case study on this especially turbulent period, but a current exhibit and its corresponding book submit that we need look no further than the country's three largest metropolises.
The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960-1980, currently at the Princeton University Art Museum, explores the master plans, protests, and art that defined the massive shifts that took place within these three cities' streets, homes, and offices during those years.
Curated by Katherine Bussard, Alison Fisher, and Greg Foster-Rice,The City Lost and Found (which also exhibited last winter at the Art Institute of Chicago) seeks to convey the pivotal role each city played for the planners, artists, and activists who called them home during those dramatic decades. In New York, Jane Jacobs wrote the Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961—two years later, Penn Station was demolished. An empowering mural on 43rd and Langley on Chicago's South Side was erected in 1967—one year later, a live television audience watched police and National Guardsmen clash with anti-Vietnam War protesters downtown. News photographers covering the Watts Riots of 1965 let the world see its traumatic fallout—a Reyner Banham documentary for the BBC fawned over L.A.'s unique brand of sprawl and consumerism seven years later.
The City Lost and Found is a relentlessly stimulating history lesson, but also a chance to consider how we're documenting our urban spaces now. Globalization and profit-driven reinterpretations of Jacobs's theories have given today's American cities a new set of issues with which to grapple. "There are signs that the discourse is shifting once again toward the analysis of the specific social circumstances of central cities," the curators write in their exhibit postscript. "What remains certain is that the image of the city—in the popular media and the arts—continues to play a central role in defining the significance of the city in public discourse."
The City Lost and Found: Capturing New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, 1960-1980 is on exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum through June 7, 2015.