For centuries, people have come to New York City from every corner of the globe. What has happened in our neighborhoods, streets, and workplaces over those centuries has shaped this city. But our tools to publicly commemorate NYC’s dynamic histories, communities, cultures, and conflicts is inadequate.
In recent months, attention across the country and here in NYC has been focused on the removal of statues and markers that glamorize racism -- an important conversation.
But it is also imperative for NYC to add to what we commemorate: to proactively & publicly recognize a far more inclusive set of histories, communities and cultures, so that all our histories are on the map.
Our current tools are inadequate. New York State’s historic marker program was discontinued in 1966. NYC’s landmark designation and historic district programs are mostly limited to buildings that are over 30 years old with distinctive aesthetic character. A few of these -- like the Stonewall Inn -- reflect the story and struggle of diverse New Yorkers. But Stonewall is the exception. For so many historical events, there is no building to preserve. As a result, there is no marker for histories that still deserve to be told.
New York City Council Members Brad Lander, Laurie Cumbo, and Jimmy Van Bramer are proposing the creation of a new inclusive and accessible NYC Historic and Cultural Markers Program (in this letter and recently introduced bill), so that all our histories are on the map.
The new NYC Historic and Cultural Markers Program would:
- Provide interpretive and interactive materials to educate New Yorkers and visitors about a diverse range of cultural and historical sites.
- Commemorate important events, structures and figure where they are no longer visible on the street or in our built environment.
- Recognize community leaders, activists, and events that have advanced civil and human rights.
- Tell untold and forgotten stories of New Yorkers, especially those who are marginalized and oppressed (and therefore lack historic structures to tell their stories).
- Reinforce NYC's values of inclusion, civil rights and community empowerment, while being honest about the many times when our history was not characterized by those values.
This website provides a small glimpse of what a NYC Historic and Cultural Markers Program might look like. The full program would need to be developed through a partnership of City agencies (NYC Department of Records and Information Services, NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Department of Parks, etc), the City Council, our robust community of museums and cultural institutions, and representatives of the diverse communities that make up New York City's remarkable history.