Broken Windows at The Olympia Project
June 9 - July 12, 2019
The Olympia Project @ 87 Grand
87 Grand Street
Curated by Sophie Olympia Riese
What is the economic cost to society of one broken window? As cities evolve around us, broken and discarded windows can symbolize growth, new construction, change, upward mobility, but also the loss of authenticity through the displacement of most of the previous community members. For many, one broken window is a sign that no one cares, therefore breaking more windows costs nothing. In New York City, broken windows come with the additional context of “broken windows policing,” a policy intended to make existing communities feel safer by reducing “nuisance crime;” that is maintaining public order at the lowest levels to improve the overall sense of safety and security in the community. In New York, as in many other cities, the application of this practice was very different in reality, leading to the arrest and incarceration of innumerable young men of color, and to other notoriously racist police practices such as stop and frisk, turnstile and graffiti laws, and the bolstering of the war on drugs. Does fixing the small crime fix the big crime? These policies and tactics forever changed the landscape and history of the city and specifically here, in Williamsburg. What does it mean to lose an entire neighborhood, an entire community?
Sterling investigates urban ecosystems in Broken Windows, collecting broken and abandoned objects from the city at large, often from various neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan, and repurposing them, reimagining their stories. He fills them with new life, literally and figuratively, using a variety of media to express both their pasts and their futures. His aim is to unravel the way we view power, authority, and control by revealing various truths about urban ecosystems, poverty, collective memory, and bad-faith legislation. Each window, or group of windows, presents a view to a new world, as it could be. Nor does he stop with the windows; Sterling’s approach to reinterpreting our environment encompasses myriad urban objects, from fire hydrants to traffic cones, that are used in various ways to conceptualize new possibilities.
The ‘broken window’ policy was initially proposed and put in place to preserve and improve the safety and sense of community for those who lived in the areas where it was implemented. These policies later served to pave a path towards gentrification, making neighborhoods seem safer and changing urban dynamics, creating “new” areas appealing to those (primarily white people) who were fearful of Brooklyn’s energy back in the 80s. No neighborhood is without changes, but three decades of broken windows policing under the likes of Guiliani and Bratton paved the way for the rapid movement and development of North Williamsburg over the last decade, altering the makeup of the neighborhood’s residents and architecture so that only tiny pockets still remain from what once was.
The conversation taking place between the raw newness of the space, a clear signal of the neighborhood’s gentrification, and Sterling’s upfront articulation of the impact of broken windows policies, is poignant. Sterling is reclaiming a piece of the story. These windows contain hope, pride, and love, mixed with memory, regret, and the unsettling knowledge that the world is not static, or always poised to do best by us; it is fragile and we must care for it.