Anthropology / Everything Human

Closer to Home

Closer to Home

What can squatting—occupying otherwise unoccupied buildings without any title, right, or payment—teach us about how cities work?

What is home? Is it a physical space, a set of relationships, or a state of mind?

SAPIENS host Esteban Gómez follows Amy Starecheski, a researcher who has studied how squatters went legit and secured homeownership in New York City, as she seeks to answer these questions and more. With Starecheski, Gómez moves through two of New York’s most fascinating neighborhoods—the Lower East Side in Manhattan and Mott Haven in the Bronx. They discuss how people have navigated massive restructuring and shifts in housing policy in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Amy Starecheski is a cultural anthropologist and an oral historian whose research focuses on the use of oral history in social movements and the politics of urban property. She holds a Ph.D. in cultural anthropology from the City University of New York and is the director of the Oral History Master of Arts program at Columbia University.

Starecheski is the author of Ours to Lose: When Squatters Became Homeowners in New York City and the winner of the 2016 SAPIENS-Allegra Margaret Mead writing competition with her article “The Transformation of One of New York City’s Most Famous Squats.” She is currently working on a public sound art project about the Bronx’s Mott Haven neighborhood using oral histories.

This episode of SAPIENS was produced by Arielle Milkman, edited by Matthew Simonson, and hosted by Esteban Gómez.

SAPIENS producer Paul Karolyi, producer Cat Jaffee, and House of Pod intern Lucy Soucek provided additional support.

Fact-checking is by Christine Weeber, illustration is by David Williams, and all music is composed and produced by Matthew Simonson.

Special thanks to 2.5 Children Inc. for use of the song “rolling fields.”

Learn more about how humans navigate their sense of home at SAPIENS:

SAPIENS is part of the American Anthropological Association Podcast Library.

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