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Religious Diversity and Transcultural Placemaking

Fan Yin Sin Monastery, Flushing. The Monastery is located in an ordinary suburban home, but with the installation of an elaborate garden that reflects Chinese Buddhist values.

For our study "Adapted for Devotion," we draw on the concept of transcultural placemaking, where immigrants bring cultural practices of spatial production, adaptation, and activation from their home countries into their new environments (Sen, 2012).  It is particularly relevant to our project as it provides a lens to understand how immigrant communities in Queens repurpose existing built environments for religious devotion.  The concept has the following attributes that support and frame our study:

1. Intercultural Exchanges and Cultural Transformation: Transcultural placemaking involves the mutual influence and transformation of cultures within urban spaces. As an analytic framework, it recognizes that cultures do not exist in isolation but are continually shaped by interactions with other cultures. This process is evident in how immigrant groups in Queens adapt various mundane spaces—such as homes, storefronts, and warehouses—into places of worship, bringing elements from their home countries and integrating them into the new environment (Hannerz, 2012; Hall, 2013).

2. Spatial Affordance: The framework highlights the role of space in facilitating or constraining cultural practices. In Queens, the flexible and mundane built environment allows for a wide range of adaptive strategies by immigrant congregations. These spaces are not just passive backdrops but active participants in the cultural and religious life of the community. The ability to rent, modify, and eventually purchase and transform these spaces is crucial for the religious and cultural expression of these groups (Neal, Bennett, Cochrane, & Mohan, 2017; Vertovec, 2015).

3. Cross-Disciplinary Inquiry: Transcultural placemaking draws on insights from various disciplines, including anthropology, architecture, urban design, geography, and sociology. This multidisciplinary approach is useful for understanding the complex dynamics of cultural adaptation and spatial production in diverse urban settings like Queens (Berg & Nowicka, 2019; Thomas, 2016). The project benefits from this broad perspective, incorporating field observations, interviews, and analysis of property documents to capture the full scope of adaptive reuse practices.

4. Placemaking at the Margins: The concept also addresses how marginalized groups create meaningful places within the constraints of their socio-economic conditions (Lara, 2018; Nieves & Alexander, 2008). In Queens, many immigrant congregations operate on limited budgets and face challenges such as restrictive leases and zoning regulations (Burger, 2021). Despite these obstacles, they manage to create vibrant religious spaces that serve as community hubs, demonstrating resilience and ingenuity.

5. Transcultural Participation: The active participation of diverse cultural groups in shaping urban spaces is a core aspect of transcultural placemaking. This participation is not limited to physical alterations but includes the social and cultural practices that imbue these spaces with new meanings. In Queens, the presence of various ethnic and religious groups has led to a wide variety of cultural expressions, from language and foodways to parades, family patterns, uses of streets and parks, and the decoration of worship spaces (McGovern and Frasier, 2015; Heathcott, 2023).

The Masjid al-Koaba in South Jamaica, serving a predominantly Bengali congregation, uses a large metal awning to create a sense of enclosure, and the basement provides a separate entrance for women.

The adaptive reuse of architecture by immigrant communities in Queens is a manifestation of their creativity, determination, and cultural resilience. It demonstrates how urban spaces can be reimagined and transformed to reflect the diverse identities and needs of their inhabitants. This project not only contributes to our understanding of religious and cultural adaptation in urban settings but also highlights the broader implications of transcultural placemaking for the study of migration, diversity, and urban development. As Queens continues to evolve, the adaptive reuse of its built environment will remain a vital aspect of its cultural and social fabric, offering valuable lessons for other diverse urban areas around the world.

Works Cited

Berg, M. L., & Nowicka, M. (2019). Studying Diversity, Migration and Urban Multiculture: Convivial Tools For Research And Practice. London: UCL Press.

Burger, C. (2021). Changing Cultures of Queens. GeogNYC, with Jack Eichenbaum. 

Hall, S. (2013). City, Street and Citizen: The Measure of the Ordinary. London: Routledge.

Hannerz, U. (2012). Transnational connections : culture, people, places. New York: Routledge.

Heathcott, J. (2023). Global Queens. New York: Fordham University Press.

Hum, T. et al (2021). Immigrant Crossroads. Temple University Press.

Inalhan, G., Yang, E., & Weber, C. (2021). Place Attachment Theory. A Handbook of Theories on Designing Alignment between People and the Office Environment, 181–194. 

Lara, J. (2018). Latino placemaking and planning: cultural resilience and strategies for reurbanization. Tucson, Arizona: The University Of Arizona Press.

McGovern, B. and Frazier, J. (2015). “Evolving Ethnic Settlements in Queens: Historical and Current Forces Reshaping Human Geography,” Focus on Geography 58, no. 1 (2015): 11.

Neal, S., Bennett, K., Cochrane, A., & Mohan, G. (2017). Lived Experiences of Multiculture. Routledge.

Nieves, A. D., & Alexander, L. M. (2008). “We Shall Independent Be.” University Press of Colorado.

Sen, A. (2013). "Transcultural Place-making: Intertwined Spaces of Sacred and Secular on Devon Avenue, Chicago." In Hou, J., Ed.  Transcultural Cities: Border-Crossing and Placemaking.  New York: Routledge.  

Thomas, D. (2016). Placemaking: An Urban Design Methodology. Taylor and Francis Ltd.

Vertovec, S. (2015). Diversities Old and New. Springer.


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