Queens College Professor of Sociology Anna Maria Bounds photographs murals on Houston Street in SoHo. Bounds, who's writing her first novel, studied Philadelphia's "Avenue of the Arts" for her doctoral dissertation.
Anna Maria Bounds is a passionate advocate for urban policies that make cities more vibrant and livable places. When city authorities decide to transform a traffic-clogged downtown section or a disused industrial area, they face a stark challenge, says Bounds: they can choose an approach that either “promotes or undermines urban citizenship.”
Bounds has studied recent examples. She did her doctoral dissertation on Philadelphia’s “Avenue of the Arts,” a one-mile block of performing arts venues, hotels, and office buildings that has transformed Philadelphia’s downtown. More recently, she has written about the development of NYC’s Governors Island.
Both are successful examples of urban planning, says Bounds. But she is particularly enamored of Governors Island, a small landmass off the southern tip of Manhattan that, until the mid-1990s, housed a U.S. army base and a coast guard installation.
Under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the city has been promoting tourism on the island: staging concerts, tapping disused officers’ houses as art galleries, encouraging walking and bicycling. A free seven-minute ferry ride brings visitors from downtown Manhattan and from Brooklyn. Visits have increased from fewer than 3,000 per year before Bloomberg’s tenure to 200,000 last year. “Talk about a stay-cation!” says Bounds. “It’s a beautiful gem with a breathtaking view of Manhattan.”
But the island is a work in progress, and the city must continually ask itself “what would be a good mix of amenities and public space that would appeal to the widest number of people,” says Bounds. “You don’t want a rarified space that only appeals to a few people.”
Another vexing issue for urban planners is gentrification, a process that has been transforming such neighborhoods as the Lower East Side, Williamsburg, and Jackson Heights. It may bring striking improvements, but can destroy lower-income communities that become priced out of their own neighborhoods. “It’s hard to strike a balance,” says Bounds.
Favorite reading: The New York Review of Books
Favorite music: Not Radiohead
Unusual fact: Bounds is writing her first novel, a dark comedy. The plot: After discovering the personal diary of a young woman who lived on the outskirts of Chicago during WWI, a New York woman keeps a companion diary to reflect on their differing perspectives on life, and, to her surprise, the dead pen pal writes back. The book is based on Bounds’s discovery of a real diary written by a young woman from 1915 to 1919.
Courses taught: Modern Urban Communities Research Methods, Urban Tourism.