Stories of Invisible Cities


Stories of Invisible Cities

Author: Sahar S. Hosseini


In the past few months, I have been researching and reading about Pittsburgh and its minority neighborhoods. The drive behind this interest and exploration is to design a course around a long-term project that taps into the social and physical environment of minority neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. The project has close ties with Environment Constellation because it aims to uncover traces of ordinary people's lives embedded in the landscapes and built environments of these neighborhoods. Given its focus on marginalized groups and the recovery of their voices, the project is also connected to the Agency Constellation. 

My vision for this undertaking is fueled by a recently completed project, Ironbound Foodscapes, that I designed and directed in collaboration with the Newest American team and graduate students at the Rutgers University-Newark. The project, which unfolded over six weeks of intensive fieldwork in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark (NJ), introduced graduate students to various methodologies, through which they uncovered stories of successive waves of immigrants who created, lived, and modified the Ironbound's built environment over the past hundred and forty years or so. 

Focusing on five distinct restaurants (Mompou, Sabur Unido, Nova Alliance, La Guayaca, and Bocaditos Colombianos), the project foregrounded food and the built environment as matters imbued with material traces left by communities who immigrated to or through the neighborhood. Combining archival work, oral history, ethnography, as well as visual, spatial, and material analysis of the built environment, the project mapped the changing demographics and life of the neighborhood, particularly giving voice to past and present inhabitants that are often invisible in the dominant narrative that associates Ironbound with the Portuguese diaspora community. Positioned at the intersection of food, social life, and built environment, these five sites reveal the agency of these communities, whose resilience and determination are materialized in the process of negotiating their place in the neighborhood.

  • Agency
  • Environment