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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Work in Progress

Sometimes it is difficult to understand why renderings for new buildings create concerns that could be easily avoided. Sometimes it's hard not to jump to conclusions, but those often don't stand up under scrutiny. The use of these images is relatively new, so hopefully they are a work in progress.

Take this example for a new building in The Bronx:

This rendering may actually be more accurate than most. The weedy overgrowth in the tree pits and below the retaining wall, as well as some tagging on the wall have all been retained.  But there are a number of inaccuracies. 

The parked cars have disappeared, as has a street lamp and stop sign to the left of the woman (the bases are still visible from the sloppy editing). The man shown walking up a sidewalk is actually on a narrow, weedy strip of leftover space that leads from remote, isolated curbside parking of last resort.

These were probably removed with the sole intent of providing a clear view of the building. The details in the foreground could draw attention and distract from the subject matter.

Harder to explain is the demographic choice. This building is being constructed in a neighborhood that is primarily Hispanic with a growing South Asian population and some Albanian immigrants. For the most part, faces walking down the street are brown, yet this rendering depicts four starkly white residents. 
It is easy to jump to the conclusion that the developer is seeking to gentrify the neighborhood. Posting this image on the work site can create anxiety among existing residents fearful of being priced out or harassed by their landlords.

But this project is actually set aside for low-income residents. There is no motive for renderings to draw affluent white people into the neighborhood.

The more likely explanation is that this was just a quick, low-budget rendering that simply dropped in generic stock images, which probably tend to be white. The person doing the rendering may be entirely unfamiliar with the community of the project site and merely cranked out one more image in an afternoon's work. (Of course, even this explanation raises questions about the diversity and outlook of the architectural firm that performed the work.)

The requirement to post renderings at construction sites has been a positive change. In many ways, it does reduce speculation and misinformation about what is going up. At the same time, many of these sloppy renderings can sometimes add to the anxiety of vulnerable residents about whether those powerful interests reshaping their community envision a place for them in its future. If the developers and architects actually care, they need to start focusing on the images they release enough to avoid these problems and respect the communities where they are working.

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