foreclosure series

From 1999 to 2004, I worked for a private urban planning firm designing New Urbanist neighborhoods throughout the US. In 2007, as foreclosures began to occur I questioned the my design work. Did I add to this in some way? I was aware early on that these foreclosures were just the beginning of something bigger yet I felt alone when I mentioned it. Few agreed with me or seemed concerned.

It was important to me to present the whole story in a way that would captivate people’s attention and make a memorable statement. Making quilts seemed an ironic solution. Quilts act as a functional memory, an historical record of difficult times.  It is during times of hardship that people have traditionally made quilts, often resorting to scraps of cloth when so poor they could not afford to waste a single thread of fabric.  The patterns for the quilts are based on neighborhood maps. The quilt is pieced together using patterns of neighborhood blocks taken from RealtyTrac maps.  Within these, foreclosed lots are shown as holes in the quilts. The lot locations are completely random and they yield an unexpected beauty when laid out on fabric. These torn holes question the protective nature of a quilt. The situation is so dire that even a quilt can’t provide the security one needs. The neighborhoods shown are not an anomaly; they are a recurring pattern seen from coast to coast, urban to suburban neighborhoods across the US. The problem has not been solved, it is still occurring, just changing shape, affecting more of us.

Morgenson, Gretchen and Rosner, Joshua. Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon. Written by the top New York Times writer on the mortgage crisis.
Katz, Alyssa. Our Lot. A very informative book on the history of home ownership in the US. She also has a blog with numerous links.

Sites and articles:

December 2011, 60 Minutes in-depth survey into Cleveland, Ohio.

Finding the Potential in Vacant Lots. A New York Times article about Cleveland's community gardens from the "In the Garden" section. By Michael Tortorello. August 3, 2011.
Reforming America's Housing Finance Market: A Report to Congress. The latest analysis by the Obama Administration. A comprehensive listings on foreclosures as well as forecasts and relevant data. A wealth of statistical information on cities as well as a good forum offering stories and questions from local residents.

Gretchen Morgenson has been reporting about Foreclosures in The New York Times since 2007. Hear several interviews with Ms. Morgenson about foreclosures with Terry Gross of Fresh Air here. Link here for an index of Ms. Morgenson’s articles written for The New York Times. Detailed heat maps of foreclosures across the US.

NEO CANDO Incredibly helpful maps of Cleveland provided by the Center for Urban Poverty and Community Development at Case Western Reserve University. an interesting new view on looking at American demographics.

Maps of Race and Ethnicity on Flikr by Eric Fischer. A really interesting set of maps on inspired by Bill Rankin.

WEAVE (Web-based Analysis and Visualization Environment) analyzes and visualizes economic, social, and environmental indicators at the neighborhood, municipal, county and regional levels. The interface will integrate maps, charts, and tables on one website, transforming the way that users interact with data. The software is still in "test mode", and since it is state-of-the-art, it is somewhat complicated to use at first but very promising.

Google Maps The leader in map data and aerial photographs. A great reference tool for any urban planner. Google Earth is a must if you love maps.


The Sketchbook Project "And then there was none", 2010. Kathryn Clark.


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