Friday, August 22, 2014

'New Deal Utopias' rediscovers Roosevelt's forgotten Greenbelt Towns

Posted By on 08.22.14 at 01:30 PM

Parade, Greendale, Wisconsin (2010)
  • Parade, Greendale, Wisconsin (2010)

Executed over the course of five years, Jason Reblando's documentary photo project "New Deal Utopias" focuses on three towns built in the 1930s as a part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The "Greenbelt Towns" (Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio; and Greendale, Wisconsin) were manufactured communities meant to provide efficient working environments for those hit hard by the Great Depression.

Modeled after England's Garden City movement and devised by Rexford Tugwell, a former Columbia University economics professor and cocreator of Roosevelt's Resettlement Administration (RA), the Greenbelt consisted of affordable, often uniform housing and, as the names indicate, well-plotted green spaces and communal areas. Building the towns was also an attempt to create more cooperative communities, ones in which the "residents reflected a social experiment in demographic diversity, as the RA handpicked each family who lived there to bring together a cross section of income levels and religious beliefs, as well as people committed to make positive contributions to the community," according to an exhibit info sheet. The rise of communism, however, aided in the Greenbelt moving the ownership to private real estate developers by 1955, basically dissolving the experiment.

Reblando's photos of the three towns are stark; the frills are few and the working-class aesthetic built into the planned communities still resonates, both via carvings that adorn buildings—a mass of laborers working in unison, for example—and a kind of pared-down color scheme, one that often features a crisp whiteness complemented by strategically placed greenery. The minimalistic feel of the photos is accentuated by the fact that many are shot head-on, ultimately capturing the bareness of the surrounding area. And many of the environments feel suburban, practically cookie-cutter, though the eerie uniformity—even more prevalent than what might typically be found in the 'burbs—hints that there's more to the Greenbelt Towns than meets the eye. Check out a selection of Reblando's photos below.

Daffodil House, Greendale, Wisconsin (2009)
  • Daffodil House, Greendale, Wisconsin (2009)

Gazebo, Greendale, Wisconsin (2009)
  • Gazebo, Greendale, Wisconsin (2009)

Microfiche, Greenbelt, Maryland (2009)
  • Microfiche, Greenbelt, Maryland (2009)

Mushroom, Greenbelt, Maryland (2009)
  • Mushroom, Greenbelt, Maryland (2009)

Music Room, Greenhills, Ohio (2010)
  • Music Room, Greenhills, Ohio (2010)

Through 11/1, City Gallery, Historic Water Tower, 806 N. Michigan, jasonreblando.com, free.

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