Five neighborhood organizations will lead new projects to celebrate local cultures and histories in public space.
(New York City—March 23, 2023) — Urban Design Forum and the Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (“ANHD”) announce the Local Center, a new initiative to equip neighborhood leaders with the power and resources to shape public spaces.
The Local Center launches with plans to support an inaugural cohort of five partners transforming public space in their neighborhoods. Each partner will develop temporary activations and vision plans that celebrate local cultural identities and share neighborhood histories. Neighborhood partners plan to launch an Afro-Caribbean food market in Tompkinsville, Staten Island; develop creative activations reimagining the Flatbush African Burial Ground in Brooklyn; realize art installations honoring self-determination under the Bruckner Expressway in the South Bronx; support resident-led efforts to uncover local histories at NYCHA campuses in Far Rockaway; and celebrate Indo-Caribbean culture through public space activations in Richmond Hill, Queens.
Over the next 18 months, Urban Design Forum and ANHD will equip neighborhood partners with the resources they need to realize these catalytic projects. Through lead support from the Mellon Foundation and major support from the Charles H. Revson Foundation and Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, we will offer teams technical assistance; flexible financial resources; connections to leaders in city government; and capacity-building trainings.
ANHD and Urban Design Forum are thrilled to bring together their constituencies to build strong partnerships between community development leaders and design practitioners. We will recruit multidisciplinary technical assistance teams of designers, engineers, lawyers, and more to support each project. Community leaders, designers, and city agencies will learn with each other throughout the process, building new knowledge through collaborative, on-the-ground work.
The initial five partners were selected following an open call to eligible nonprofit organizations. We received over 70 responses from organizations across the five boroughs—ranging from community development corporations and merchant groups to cultural groups and business improvement districts—demonstrating immense interest among local leaders in activating public space with cultural programming. A panel of New York City civic, cultural and community development leaders selected the inaugural partners: Sreoshy Banerjea, NYC Public Design Commission; Michelle Delk, Snøhetta; Libertad O. Guerra, The Clemente Center; Jeff Hébert, HR&A Advisors; Kendal Henry, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs; Fauzia Khanani, Studio Fōr; Chris Kui; Elena Martinez, WHEDco, Bronx Music Heritage Center; Catherine Mbali Green-Johnson, The Laundromat Project; and Emily Weidenhof, NYC Department of Transportation.
Urban Design Forum and ANHD are honored to support five organizations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island and Queens in the inaugural cohort of partners:
Chhaya CDC, serving Jackson Heights and Richmond Hill, Queens, will activate Lt. Frank McConnell Park to celebrate the Indo-Caribbean and Punjabi communities of the area. They will lead a community engagement process culminating in a street fair to celebrate Richmond Hill’s heritage, while organizing to develop a long-term vision for the space.
GrowHouse Community Design + Development Group, serving Flatbush and Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, will develop creative activations around the Flatbush African Burial Ground and support a community engagement process to establish a long-term vision for the space. They will advance their work to develop a Black history corridor connecting sites of resistance and connection in Central Brooklyn.
Queens Community Justice Center-The Rockaways (QCJC-TR), serving Far Rockaway in Queens, will celebrate the resilience of Far Rockaway and provide safe spaces for people to be together in community. They will activate shared spaces on NYCHA campuses through resident-led street festivals and cultural programming that uncovers the local history of Far Rockaway.
Staten Island Urban Center (SIUC), serving Tompkinsville, Staten Island, will activate Tompkinsville Park as a community asset to uplift the richness of Afro-Caribbean culture through food, art, dance and music grounded in the memories of ancestors. They will launch a food and spice market that brings visibility to Black, Afro-Caribbean, and Latinx communities in Staten Island.
Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ), serving Soundview and Bruckner, Bronx, will activate the future site of the Soundview Economic Hub — a currently vacant space underneath the Bruckner Expressway — with temporary art installations that honor the history of self-determination in the Bronx.
The project is also supported by city agency partners at the Department of Transportation, the Department of Small Business Support, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic and Workforce Development, and the Chief Public Realm Officer.
“The Local Center builds on the work that community development corporations and community-based organizations have been doing in their neighborhoods for decades, day in and day out. We are excited to offer these organizations the opportunity to create and innovate in our marginalized neighborhoods. A lot of what they do is respond to crises — to help serve those who are being left behind. The Local Center is a new opportunity for the built environment to be driven by and reflect our communities’ voices and histories,” said Barika Williams, Executive Director of ANHD.
“The Local Center is about making powerful public space projects possible. We can’t wait to mobilize the Urban Design Forum community in support of these five inspiring organizations. We hope the Local Center will model a different approach to transforming public space: led by community leaders, executed by emerging design talent, and supported by colleagues in city government,” said Daniel McPhee, Executive Director of Urban Design Forum.
“For over 50 years, Indo-Caribbeans and Punjabis have called Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park home, building small businesses and religious institutions that have been anchors which revitalized and stabilized this community. Yet, the area remains one of the most under-resourced in New York City. One of the greatest markers of this neglect is the lack of accessible, secular, and inclusive gathering spaces. The opportunity to activate a public space will be groundbreaking and will feed the burgeoning organizing and civic engagement happening in the community,” said Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC.
“With the rapid demographic shifts happening in Brooklyn, it’s more important than ever to make sure that we preserve and share the rich legacy and contributions of people of African descent to Brooklyn, New York City, and the world,” said Shanna Sabio, Co-Founder and Co-Director of GrowHouse Community Design + Development Group. “One facet of gentrification is erasure. When Black history is forgotten, it’s easy to imagine we never existed in a space. For that reason, historic preservation is a form of future visioning — envisioning the legacies we want to share with future generations and the spaces we want to create for them.”
“The Queens Community Justice Center-The Rockaways is excited about working with Urban Design Forum and ANHD on this initiative. Investing intentionally in public spaces allows people to come together, build community, and increase the overall safety and vitality of this resilient neighborhood. Our goal in the Rockaways is to connect with residents and co-create a strong community with a vibrant future,” said Kori Robinson, QCJC-TR Project Director.
“We are excited to highlight the rich African, Afro-Caribbean and Latinx cultures to Tompkinsville, Staten Island, our public town square, through food, music and art,” said Kelly Vilar, CEO of Staten Island Urban Center.
“As we move to expand and create more public spaces throughout the city, the ability to activate them with programming becomes an increasingly important ingredient for its success,” said Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu. “I commend UDF and ANHD for launching this effort that will bring vibrant public space programming to communities throughout the city.”
“We want to congratulate ANHD and UDF and all the local community groups participating in this new collaborative. Neighborhood energy, ideas, and leadership are essential to building great public spaces – and, ultimately, a more equitable and healthy New York City,” said Edith Hsu-Chen, Executive Director of the New York City Department of City Planning.
“We were lucky to have inherited New York City as the Cultural Capital of the World. But it is through intentional investment, not luck, that we maintain that esteemed status. Through the Local Center, ANHD & UDF recognize that obligation inherent to our stewardship of the Big Apple, and I am thrilled to see this new initiative take shape. They chose five excellent organizations to produce culture and heritage projects in our treasured public spaces and we are all looking forward to seeing their work realized for the whole city to cherish and enjoy,” said Council Member Chi Ossé, Chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs.
“PDC is thrilled to learn of additional opportunities for BIPOC-led firms to shape our public realm, and look forward to working closely with the Chief Public Realm Officer, and other sister agencies. The more diversity we can have in the talent-pipeline, the easier it will be for PDC to realize its mission of achieving innovative, sustainable, and equitable design of public spaces for all New Yorkers throughout the five boroughs,” said Sreoshy Banerjea, Executive Director of the NYC Public Design Commission.
“For architects committed to the work of making cities and environments more livable, equitable, and sustainable, there are no better partners than community development organizations. We look forward to mobilizing designers’ expertise, skills, and imagination to contribute to these meaningful projects,” said Jing Liu, founder of SO-IL and Urban Design Forum board member.
Urban Design Forum mobilizes civic leaders to confront defining issues in the built environment. We are an independent membership organization that empowers professionals of diverse backgrounds, industries and perspectives to shape a better future for all New Yorkers. We investigate complex challenges in the built environment, study alternative approaches from cities around the world, and advance progressive strategies to build a more democratic city. Learn more at urbandesignforum.org.
The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) builds community power to win affordable housing and thriving, equitable neighborhoods for all New Yorkers. As a member organization of 80+ community groups across New York City, we use research, advocacy, and grassroots organizing to build equity and justice in low-income, historically marginalized neighborhoods and city-wide. Learn more at anhd.org.
Chhaya CDC builds the power, housing stability, and economic well-being of South Asian and Indo-Caribbean communities in New York City. Chhaya was founded to address the housing and economic needs for low-income South Asian and Indo-Caribbean New Yorkers. Our approach begins with providing direct services that meet critical needs within our community, while providing the tools and opportunities that allow individuals to shape their own futures and be resilient in the face of challenges. Core to our strategy is organizing and advocating for systemic changes that remove the barriers to well-being, housing stability, and economic mobility for our communities. For over 20 years, Chhaya has served tens of thousands of individuals and led the charge on key policy issues for immigrants, such as basement legalization, language access, tenants rights, and more. Learn more at chhayacdc.org.
GrowHouse Community Design + Development Group uses the intersections of urban planning, design, storytelling, and technology to fight displacement. GrowHouse builds community wealth by allowing young Black creatives and their allies to become developers of our own neighborhood through collective ownership of artistic production and a portfolio of neighborhood real estate and land, businesses, and cultural institutions. GrowHouse believes people of all races and ethnicities want to live in equitable and inclusive neighborhoods where their neighbors are thriving. GrowHouse creates the spaces, structures, and experiences to make that possible. Learn more at growhousenyc.org.
The Queens Community Justice Center-The Rockaways (QCJC-TR) is an operating project of the Center for Justice Innovation, formerly the Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit organization that works to create a fair, effective, and humane justice system by designing and implementing operating programs, performing original research, and providing reformers around the world with the tools they need to launch new strategies. QCJC-TR, one of the Center’s newest operating programs, was launched in 2021 in Far Rockaway, Queens, to serve as a local hub for alternative-to-incarceration programming, youth development, and community safety initiatives. Learn more at innovatingjustice.org/programs/queens-community-justice-center.
Staten Island Urban Center (SIUC) is a community development through community involvement organization, lifting the voices of Staten Island’s most marginalized and vulnerable communities experiencing social, environmental and criminal injustices. Our community-centered work is grounded in the pursuit of cultural equity, thrivability, self-determination and independence. We engage residents as activists in pursuit of grassroots frontline community driven solutions through: community organizing and action, leadership development, and justice centered arts. Learn more at siurbancenter.org.
Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (YMPJ) was founded in 1994 with the mission to rebuild and improve critically impoverished neighborhoods of the South Bronx. YMPJ prepares residents to lead campaigns that prioritize environmental justice, economic opportunity, and fundamental change within the systems of oppression that challenge their ability to thrive. Throughout our history, YMPJ has built community power to address the impacts of inequitable transportation infrastructure development and related heavy industrialization and environmental exploitation specifically targeting our majority-BIPOC neighborhoods. In the late 1990s, YMPJ launched a public awareness campaign and enlisted the help of environmental organizations and local government to reclaim the dangerously contaminated Bronx River and its blighted, inaccessible waterfront. Building on this success, YMPJ has since led the development of several large, activated green community sites along the River. Learn more at ympj.org.
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is the nation’s largest supporter of the arts and humanities. Since 1969, the Foundation has been guided by its core belief that the humanities and arts are essential to human understanding. The Foundation believes that the arts and humanities are where we express our complex humanity, and that everyone deserves the beauty, transcendence, and freedom that can be found there. Through our grants, we seek to build just communities enriched by meaning and empowered by critical thinking, where ideas and imagination can thrive. Learn more at mellon.org.