Benign Neglect

Photograph by Mark Murrmann.

Benign Neglect: Exploring the Urban Landscape (2009)

This exhibit originally ran from July 18 – August 2, 2009 at SSCA Gallery


Curated by: Erik Farseth

What is Benign Neglect?

“People in the South Bronx don’t want housing, or they wouldn’t burn it down.”
-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1978

When New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan declared that race relations would benefit from a period of “benign neglect,” he could not have known that politicians would abandon entire American cities, or that the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward would be left to die in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

But the seeds of the Katrina disaster were sown in 1970, the year that Moynihan published a memo urging public officials to practice “triage” when allocating money for essential services –such as fire fighting.

Moynihan’s plans for slum clearance and urban renewal finally came to fruition in 1976, when New York City Housing Commissioner Roger Starr proposed drastic cuts to schools, subway stations, and firehouses. Starr wanted to deliberately “accelerate the drainage” of persons living in the South Bronx, a process that he referred to as “planned shrinkage.”

Planned shrinkage continues to this day, in places such as Detroit, Michigan, where vacant lots are taking the place of foreclosed homes

DESCRIPTION: Benign Neglect (2009)

Five years ago, the Stevens Square Center for the Arts presented an exhibition called “The Next American City,” a showcase for architects and urban planners with an interest in land use, affordable housing, and alternative modes of transportation.

But that was before Hurricane Katrina and the I35-W bridge collapse. That was before the nationwide housing crisis. Before the governor’s “unallotment,” and cuts to Local Government Aid.

Today, the future of American cities looks a lot less promising, as cities struggle to get by in an era of declining revenues and decaying infrastructure.

“Benign Neglect” presents a snapshot of the urban environment as it currently exists, a refracted image of the utopian visions of “The Next American City.”

“Benign Neglect” is about finding the beauty in urban spaces and abandoned buildings. It is an exploration of the complex relationships between people and the built environment. This exhibit is an attempt to capture and preserve the image(s) of an American Century and a visual culture that is rapidly fading away.

From David Holmes’ photo-realist paintings of old diners, billboards, and donut shops; to Jennifer Kotting’s work on the People’s Plan for Overcoming the Hurricane Katrina Blues, you’ll find a range of perspectives, presented in a wide variety of artistic media.

Pictured: Painting by David Holmes and photograph by Chris Faust. Part of the “Benign Neglect” exhibition at SSCA Gallery.



Pictured: Opening night reception for “Benign Neglect” at SSCA Gallery