Come Together

A pair of new books takes stock of Co-op City’s idealistic origins, brutal challenges, and lasting successes.

As the parable goes, after a group of blind men happens upon an elephant, each feels a different body part (a tusk, a trunk, a tail) and comes to a different conclusion about what the animal must be. None are fully correct, of course; the creature is some combination of their projections. When it comes to alternative models of mass housing in the United States, one could replace the allegorical elephant with Co-op City, the crown jewel of the country’s cooperative housing movement—in fact, the largest housing cooperative in the world, 15,300 units spread across thirty-five towers and 236 townhouses, home to roughly 45,000 residents.

In our adaptation of the parable, different stakeholders finger the massive development, built from 1966 to 1973 on the 320-acre site of a crumbled them…

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