Ghetto Heavens And Castles In The Sky

As I walk the streets of the greatest city in the world, I cannot help but be affected by everything around me. Like an ocean of energy, New York moves in ebbs and tides. I feel the cold aloofness of Park Avenue's light ensconced trees and International Style skyscrapers. I am overcome by the busy buzz of Midtown East; the flashing neon lights and billboards of Midtown West; the chic art galleries of Chelsea; the industrial factories of Brooklyn filled to the brim with entrepreneurial hipsters. Ah and the Villages: resplendent with outdoor cafes, ice-cream shops and quaint little parks. Back upwards and just before you hit the abyss of the Bronx sits Harlem. What used to be a no man’s land is slowly transforming into a neighborhood of contradictions––ritzy condos alongside dilapidated ex-crackhouses. And throughout it all, in every one of the five illustrious boroughs of this fine city, are those cluster of buildings no stranger dare trespass: The Projects.

Photo by Melissa Bartucci

These dark, dank, barren wastelands inspire pedestrians to walk fast with their eyes downcast. The small jungle gyms erected near each building are sometimes completely empty and other times filled with life-toughened children, depending on the safety level of the area. As NYC public housing is consigned to lower-income individuals and ultimately the lower classes of society, they are generally considered the cesspools of the under-educated, violent and criminal aspects of society. While there is some truth to this claim, it is not entirely so; there are many decent, hard-working and aspirant people who call the projects their home.

What is needed in order to promote more “Cinderella” and success stories is an increased focus on rehabilitating low-income communities through education and the arts. To empower and inspire. The basic ideas behind color psychology clearly show a correlation between visual stimuli and human emotion, and human thought and emotion closely affect human actions and choices. The importance of the state of one’s home environment cannot be overlooked. While art cannot manage the many stresses and strains behind the closed doors of every apartment or home in the world, it can help to create a cheery and motivational façade to engender pride, happiness, and most importantly HOPE. 

Photo by Melissa Bartucci

Using the principles learned in Environmental Psychology, the city of New York can and should utilize grants to bring positive artwork and colors where they are needed most. Some would wonder, where is the logic in uplifting the poor? To those I would say: we are indeed only as strong as our weakest links in the chain. We as a city, as a nation, as a world community, as a species and as a planet can all benefit when those most in need are cared for, have no recourse for criminal actions, no needs unmet and are fortified with the skills necessary to be functional components of society.

An Endless February

As a group, African-Americans have been sorely used by the United States and as such are the largest group comprising most NYC projects. Through forced, unpaid labor they created the very foundations of one of the greatest societies in human history. For centuries they have been demonized, terrorized, held back and systematically attacked. February, Black History Month, is not enough to encapsulate the contribution made nor the rehabilitation needed for this particular ethnic group. In a capitalist society, where money rules and it's “every man for himself,” African-Americans are left to struggle to catch up, many starting with nothing––no heirlooms, plantation estates or industries to call their own.

What do you do when given hay and asked to create gold? I have no idea. But I do know that I would like to see more art, more vibrant color and inspiration splashed across the walls, the paths and the lawns of the ghettos of NYC. I can’t help but wonder if this was the initial impetus for graffiti art in urban areas? Were the first sprays of colored paint a true act of vandalism or contained artistic expression releasing to bring color to a gray world? Anything can be made to look like heaven. With the right color palette, master artists and supreme vision; the electric oceans of NYC can pour into the ghettos and make them fertile oases where gardens can someday grow.

For more information about Environmental Psychology and similar projects already underway check out the Happy Spaces Project.

Article by Haajar “Hajee” Johnson