Melting pots and shrinking islands

A celebrated melting pot, New York was shaped over centuries by successive waves of immigrant groups. Today, many question whether this remarkable diversity can survive the city’s ever-escalating housing costs.

The Lower East Side, long a destination for recent immigrants, around 1900

This concern lies at the heart of Wage Islands, a recent work by Brooklyn-based artist and designer Ekene Ijeoma. After seeing a New York Magazine cover showing a post-hurricane Manhattan divided into electricity haves and have-nots, he wondered whether it would be possible to illustrate socioeconomic divides in a similarly intuitive and visceral manner.

“I’m curious about, as people move to large cities, how can we keep these cities diverse — socially, economically, and culturally?” Ijeoma said. “That may come with people that are earning low wages and people that are earning high wages, but what’s the balance? It doesn’t just have to be about housing inequality — for me it scales up to keeping the city diverse.”

The resulting project allows viewers to see how much of New York City is affordable to people earning different salaries, starting with minimum wage ($8.75) and ending at $77 per hour.

Wage Islands at New York’s Storefront for Art and Architecture

As viewers press a button to change the dollar figure, crystalline islands rise or sink in a pool of water, showing only those parts of the city where people earning that amount can afford to live.

See how the project came together below.


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