Forefront 2020: Cooperative Works

Letter from the Executive Director

Since we first released the application for the 2020 Forefront Fellowship, the coronavirus pandemic has upended life across the city. Our communities are grieving for loved ones, facing lost jobs and income, and struggling to pay rent or access food. Amidst this crisis, the challenges that our fellowship aims to explore have taken on new urgency.

While every neighborhood in New York has been affected, communities of color have been hardest hit by health and economic impacts of the pandemic. These racial disparities highlight structural inequalities in the city’s health system, economy, and built environment. As the city plans its recovery, building wealth in marginalized communities is critical to ensuring a healthier and more just future for our city.

In response to the crisis, we are reorienting this year’s Forefront Fellowship. Our work with the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives and the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE to support minority- and women-owned businesses through climate investment will be more urgent than ever. The broader arc of the program will focus on a just economic recovery from the pandemic.

Our 2020 fellowship will convene in a hybrid digital and in-person format beginning this fall. We are developing creative strategies to facilitate community building and experiential research, hallmarks of the Forefront experience.

We are committed to lowering barriers to participation for this year’s Fellowship. Recognizing that health concerns, caretaking responsibilities, and other factors will impact everyone differently in the coming months, we will work individually with accepted Fellows to make accommodations.

Please find more details below. The application deadline is now July 22, 2020.

The moment calls for a new class of diverse leaders working across disciplines to shape a healthier and more just city. We welcome your participation. Please direct any questions about the program to Katherine Sacco,

Daniel McPhee
Executive Director

Forefront Fellows led a small group workshop exploring the invisible networks we rely on in times of environmental crises (2019).


New York City’s coronavirus recovery must advance an inclusive economy and generate wealth in communities of color.

The economic impacts of the coronavirus have hit low-income communities and communities of color hardest. Workers of color face greater job losses, immigrant workers are excluded from the social safety net, and minority-owned businesses are least likely to access government relief.

Cascading impacts from the pandemic show that many communities face concurrent public health, economic, and climate crises.

While the depths of the current economic crisis are profound, these racial disparities are not new. The median household income of a white New Yorker is twice the median income of Black, Latino, Asian, and other households of color. From 2007 to 2012, Black-owned businesses declined by 31% while business creation jumped 45% in 15 gentrifying neighborhoods.

Coronavirus recovery efforts must prioritize minority-owned businesses and worker ownership. Beyond the immediate recovery, rectifying the racial wealth gap requires collective effort from all New Yorkers to support better jobs, small businesses, and resilient models of cooperative ownership.

Our 2020 Fellowship, Cooperative Works, explores how to support minority-owned businesses and workers of color, expand worker cooperatives, and democratize economic resources to build a more inclusive economy.

In Phase I, Fellows will partner with the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives and the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE to explore how to create economic opportunity for MWBEs and employee-owned businesses through climate investment, leveraging the new market for building energy retrofits created by Local Law 97.

In Phase II, Fellows will work in independent teams to investigate broader avenues for the design, planning, and development communities to advance an inclusive economic recovery.

How can New York City advance economic justice in its coronavirus recovery? And how can the city leverage investment in climate action, infrastructure, and new industries to generate wealth in low-income neighborhoods?

For Phase I fieldwork, Forefront Fellows toured the Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot in East Harlem to learn how it became a friendlier neighbor to nearby residents (2019).

Fellowship Structure

Phase I: City Agency Partnership
In partnership with the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives and the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE, Forefront Fellows will investigate how Local Law 97’s retrofit mandate can also advance economic democracy and support MWBEs and worker cooperatives. Over three months, Fellows will conduct local site visits, interview stakeholders, and create final deliverables.

  • Fellows will produce a final report surveying building energy retrofit technology and recommending equitable business development strategies in the retrofit market.
  • Fellows will design an engagement tool to communicate opportunities for minority- and worker-owned businesses to a broader audience.
For their Phase II retreat, Forefront Fellows toured Freshkills Park in Staten Island to learn about plans to transform the former landfill into a community park (2019).

Phase II: Independent Team Projects
Fellows will work in interdisciplinary teams to explore how the design, planning, and development communities can support an inclusive economic recovery. Over six months, teams will interview stakeholders, lead an evening event, and develop an independent project advancing an original policy or design idea.

  • Fellows will design original projects, ranging from educational exhibits to place-based pilot programs to creative policy briefs. Fellows are encouraged to partner with a community-based organization for their project.
  • Teams will showcase their projects at a capstone event, an evening celebration for teams to present proposals and receive feedback from invited stakeholders and guests.
At a Phase II Fellows Evening Event, the Circular Economies team designed a workshop for participants to explore energy, food, and water systems in New York City (2019).

About Forefront

The Forefront Fellowship is an annual professional fellowship dedicated to cultivating emerging leaders in urban design, development, policy, and advocacy.

Each year, an interdisciplinary cohort of 20 to 25 Forefront Fellows investigates how design can address a social or political challenge facing New York City. Over the course of 10 months, Fellows explore different approaches to the program topic in partnership with a City agency and through independent projects. Fellows build new skills and knowledge, expand their professional community, and develop meaningful projects with impact beyond the fellowship.

Forefront is grounded in an equity-based approach to urban design, which shapes the composition of each cohort, the selection of program theme, and the ethos of the program.


Application Re-Release, Monday, June 1
Info Session, Tues, June 23
Application Deadline, Wed, July 22

Notification of Results, Thurs, July 30

Phase I
All dates are full-day activities.
Orientation, Sat, September 12*
Fieldwork, Fri, September 25*
Fieldwork, Fri, October 2*
Fieldwork, Fri, October 16*
Writing Workshop, Sat, October 24*
Writing Workshop, Sat, November 7*
Writing Workshop, Sat, November 14*

Phase II
Full-day retreat; all other dates are evening events.
Retreat, Sat, January 9*
Project Workshop, Thurs, January 28
Fellows Evening Event, Thurs, February 18
Fellows Evening Event, Thurs, March 4
Fellows Evening Event, Thurs, March 18
Fellows Evening Event, Thurs, March 25
Project Workshop, Thurs, April 22
Project Workshop, Thurs, May 20
Fellowship Capstone, Thurs, June 17*

Alumni Program
Celebration, Tues, June 29

*Required dates. Please indicate anticipated conflicts when submitting an application.

Program Format

Hybrid Programming
The program will convene in a hybrid in-person and digital format following the most up-to-date safety guidance from New York City health officials. Specific format details will be shared with accepted Fellows in advance of orientation.

Individual Accommodations
We will work with all accepted Fellows on an individual basis to accommodate any unique health and safety concerns, caretaking responsibilities, technology needs, or other circumstances. Specific accommodations we can offer include facilitating asynchronous participation and providing wifi hotspots and essential software.

For a Phase II Fellows Evening Event, the Housing team organized design sprints to reimagine our housing stock in response to climate change threats (2019).

Who Should Apply

Interests & Experience
Forefront Fellows are architects, landscape architects, advocates, planners, engineers, developers, public officials, technologists, data scientists, lawyers, scholars and journalists. Fellows typically have five to ten years of working experience, though we welcome mid-career candidates of any age.

This year, we welcome candidates with interest in community design, inclusive economic development, and/or environmental justice to apply. We particularly encourage candidates with expertise in energy efficient design and engineering; workforce and business development; equitable economic development; and environmental advocacy and policy.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
Forefront reflects the Forum’s commitment to promote the achievements of traditionally underrepresented groups in planning and design. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, and professionals with experience in diverse community settings are strongly encouraged to apply.

Additional Criteria
Fellows must live or work in the five boroughs of New York City for the duration of the Fellowship to be considered.

Meet the 2019 class of Forefront Fellows ►