PROJECT: thesis project parsons school of design

ADVISOR: miquel robles duran (advisor)

YEAR: 2017

LOCATION: new york, ny

THEMES: critical cartography, urban renewal, redlining, racial discrimination, capacity building, knowledge transfer, critical urban strategies






thesis project

parsons school of design

miquel robles duran


new york, ny

critical cartography, urban renewal, redlining, racial discrimination, capacity building, knowledge transfer, critical urban strategies

>> take a look at the atlas on issuu

In my thesis project, I explored critical mapping as a tool to increase communities’ capacities to understand and successfully intervene in urban renewal policies in New York City. The New York City Atlas of Urban Renewal is a tool for those most impacted by this policy to appropriate urban renewal for community planning. Since its inception with the 1949 Housing Act, urban renewal has dramatically reshaped the urban form of the United States both in physical and social terms. Its devastating consequences on urban populations, especially low-income communities of color, sparked widespread mobilizations and criticism well beyond the affected communities, and eventually led to the downfall of the federal program in 1974. But New York City has since continued to use this framework for urban development on the basis of state and municipal laws. In 2008 the City adopted the Willets Point Urban Renewal Plan, displacing thousands of immigrant-owned businesses to make way for a new upscale neighborhood in Northwest Queens. 

Phase 1 - Printed Atlas

My project aims to reengage a political discussion about the ongoing use of this controversial policy. A series of maps, published in the format of an atlas, aim to demystify the history and current application of urban renewal, so affected communities can more successfully intervene in this policy. Building on successful examples of how communities have managed to fight urban renewal plans and appropriate them for their own ends, the atlas literally puts these civic practices of community-led development on the map, making the locally embedded knowledges, tactics and strategies of resistance accessible to a wider audience.

Acknowledging my own limitations as an outsider without any lived experience of urban renewal, as well as the violent history of cartography, I open up the map-making process to affected communities and aim to gradually transfer the authorship of maps to these “experts”. This will be done trough atlas presentations in various venues throughout the city, in which the audience is invited to add to and modify the maps. Instead of passively “using” the atlas, participants will become co-creators of new knowledges and take ownership over the maps.


Finally, my thesis maps out a strategy of how knowledges can be collected and made available to a wider public through an online, living archive. Offline labs in urban renewal areas and strategically selected venues will serve as offline engagements to fill the archive with content. The atlas transitions into a platform that connects groups with practical knowledges on urban renewal with people in need of such expertise, and allows for the collective production and sharing of new critical spatial knowledges.


The development of this project followed a year-long design research process that included stakeholder interviews, document analysis and archival research, literature 

reviews, spatial analysis, mapping and data visualization, prototyping, user testing, and ideation.


The process was guided by a value-driven approach that aimed to support ongoing practices of resistance to urban renewal. Interviewing experts with practical and lived experience—those most impacted by this policy that have organized to appropriate urban renewal for their communities' benefits—was pivotal. Insights from these conversations and complementary research formed the cornerstones of developing this project. 


I organized a panel conversation with experts featured within the atlas for "Hindsight 2017",  a planning conference held in honor of the 100th Anniversary of Buchanan v. Warley (1917).

I tested a first prototype of the interactive atlas presentations outlined above at the “Viewpoints: Migration, Displacement, and Mobility” exhibition at the New School’s Social Justice Hub in May 2017.