Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
The sculpture emerges out of the pool of water as wages rise.
Renting in New York City is prohibitively expensive for most people, and has been for a long, long time. Even “affordable housing” isn’t all that affordable. But while a lot of us feel the pinch, it’s hard to envision just how restricted access to housing is for people earning less than we do.
That’s where Ekene Ijeoma’s 3-D, interactive installation “Wage Islands” can help. Through the project (shown in video above), the Nigerian-American artist helps visualize how bad the city’s affordability crisis really is.
The installation contains a 3-D map of New York with an elevated terrain that corresponds with median rents from $271 to $4,001. At the beginning, the icy sculpture is submerged almost entirely in a pool of dark water. In front of it is a button which lets the viewer select a wage—anything from $8.75 an hour (the minimum wage in the city in 2015) to $77 an hour. As wages rise, so does the sculpture, exposing the parts of the city where someone at that income level would be able to live.
Here’s what Ijeoma tells Fusion’s Latoya Peterson about his project:
I wanted to see how much raising the minimum wage would change their geographies of access to the city. Wage Islands shows that it doesn’t grow much but maybe it gives them a better living within the geographies that they’re already in. What Wage Islands doesn’t show is the full-time low-wage workers who have jobs but are homeless—a lot of whom work for us; the city. That’s shocking!