Hold Tight: Kicking Off the Fifth Annual UHA/The Metrople Graduate Student Blogging Contest

This week we will begin publishing the three excellent entries into the Fifth Annual UHA/The Metropole Graduate Student Blogging Contest, which center around the theme of “Embrace.”

Embrace: write about a moment in urban history when individuals, groups, or cities attempted to unite or to try a new idea—even if they didn’t succeed. Whether it’s tender intimacy or a pragmatic union, a couple or a community, one city or a global movement, we want to see togetherness after this long pandemic of being apart.

This seemed fitting when we proposed it this spring–even in June, when we announced the theme. “Delta” was still just an airline, a symbol for change, a shorthand for certain members of campus Greek life. We thought that surely we were through the darkest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, optimistically anticipating “hot vaxx summer.”

It’s fitting, then, that none of the contest entries address “tender intimacy” or any literal forms of embrace. Instead, they are all about fraught embraces–embraces entered hesitantly, or earnestly but with unpleasant repercussions, or that were ultimately rejected. Brian Whetstone describes the political consequences of historic preservationists who became landlords and embraced policies that addressed the urban housing crisis of the mid-twentieth century through private ownership. Rachel Pitkin centers activist Katy Van Deur’s “Workshop of the Children” (1961-64) in New York City’s Greenwich Village, which some community members embraced and others protested–exposing intergenerational tension around race relations. Two decades earlier and a few miles northeast, in Manhattan’s Yorkville neighborhood, Rachel Klepper reveals similar tensions between white, Black, and Latinx parents who embraced an innovative model of after-school programming.

All three moments of embrace were attempts to better communities and offer neighbors an option they didn’t have before: an attentive local landlord, a creative play-space, and extended educational opportunities. But implicit in each embrace was also a perceived threat, that mid-twentieth-century cities were becoming less hospitable to white residents.

This feels incredibly poignant in our second COVID year, a disease that has disproportionately affected communities of color in the United States in part because of this perceived mid-century threat and reactions to it. And on a personal level, with each embrace we feel both comfort and the risk of contagion.

We hope you will find the contest entries as thought-provoking as we do. The first will be published later this week, with the rest to follow over the next two weeks.

Thank you to our judges Heather Ann Thompson, Tom Sugrue, and Richard Harris for their continued support of the contest, as well as our team of assistant editors for their help polishing these pieces. And of course, this contest would not exist without the research, writing, and revision done by our indefatigable graduate student members.

Featured image (at top): Angelo Rizzuto, “Couple embracing – woman in foreground, half-length portrait, facing left and standing next to a man embracing her (his face not visible)” (1958), Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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