Hidden NY

Inviting Citizens to Define
Which Places to Protect

Place Matters, a collaboration of two nonprofits — City Lore and the Municipal Art Society - uses its website, www.placematters.net, as a digital knowledge bank supporting education about and advocacy for historically and culturally significant places in New York City. With funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Place Matters website helps draw attention to places that promote historical memory and host vital forms of public life. Through the web portal, visitors can learn about the locations and help protect them, assuring that the city’s treasured places continue to perform their many productive functions. The project demonstrates the power of web-based knowledge to integrate and mobilize communities on behalf of history.

The heart of the Place Matters website is the PlaceExplorer, a large database searchable by keyword, theme, and location that contains results from the project’s “Census of Places that Matter.” The Census is an ongoing citywide survey, an open invitation to the public to nominate places in the city that matter to them. Some nominations are collected through fieldwork and public programs, while others are submitted directly online. All nominations are accepted and published on the website. Many are further amplified through research and written up as Place Matters profiles. Each “place record” in the Census contains that place’s nominations, any profiles, and information to help website visitors conduct further research and political advocacy on its behalf.

While the website is the primary portal to the Place Matters project, the organization also actively conducts interpretive and advocacy projects. An online exhibit called “Marking Time on the Bowery,” funded by the New York Council for the Humanities, maps the history of the storied Bowery at a time when its historic structures are under intense pressure from real estate development. The exhibit’s map is in its user-testing phase, with more entries being added each week. Place Matters also just published (Rutgers University Press, 2006), by Marci Reaven and Steve Zeitlin with contributions from cultural experts and documentary photographers. Place Matters welcomes inquiries about its work from organizations inside and outside of New York City. They can be reached from www.placematters.net, by phone at (212) 529-1955, or by email to placematters@citylore.org.

Marci Reaven is the Executive Director of Place Matters