A Green New Deal for New York City must pair a dramatic transformation of the built environment with bold economic policy.

Buildings play a major role in today’s climate crisis, contributing nearly 70% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions. New York City’s recent landmark legislation, Local Law 97, mandates cutting emissions among the largest buildings by 80% by 2050, laying the groundwork for a decisive transformation of the built environment.

Yet to advance a just transition to a carbon-neutral city, New York must also develop a more equitable and inclusive economy.

Too many New Yorkers—many of whom disproportionately suffer the burdens of climate change—struggle to generate wealth from their work. From 2012 to 2016, more than 20% of Black, Asian, and Latinx New Yorkers remained at or below the poverty line. From 2007 to 2012, Black-owned businesses in the City declined by 31% while business creation jumped 45% in 15 gentrifying neighborhoods.

Rectifying the racial wealth gap is as urgent and daunting a challenge as climate action.

Local Law 97 is expected to spur exponential growth in the market for building energy retrofits. Without coordinated efforts, the City will miss the chance to cultivate economic opportunity for minority- and women-owned enterprises, employee-owned businesses, and workers of color.

Our 2020 Fellowship, After Carbon, explores how New York City’s commitment to clean energy will transform the built environment, advance economic democracy, and affirm environmental justice.

In Phase I, Fellows will partner with the Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives and the Mayor’s Office of M/WBE to address how building retrofits mandated by Local Law 97 can create economic opportunity for MWBEs and employee-owned businesses.

In Phase II, Fellows will work in independent teams to investigate broader design and equity challenges in achieving a just transition to a clean economy.

How will New York City reshape its built environment to achieve carbon neutrality? And how can this transition benefit communities historically shut out of the economy?


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


For Phase 1 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 environmental justice. Over three months, Fellows will gather every one to two weeks for daylong workshops to conduct 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 the impact and opportunities of Local Law 97 to a broader audience.


For their Phase 2 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 to transform New York City’s built environment to achieve a post-carbon future. 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.
  • The Forum will release a print publication featuring Fellows’ projects and interviews with leading experts, and support Fellows’ ongoing advocacy.


At a Phase 2 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.


Calendar ↓

Due to the spread of COVID-19, the launch of After Carbon is postponed until Fall 2020. We will announce a new application deadline and updated program dates as soon as they are available.

Application Release, Wednesday, Feb 5
Info Session, Thursday, Feb 27
Application Deadline, Wednesday, March 25

Notification of Results, Tuesday, April 7
Onboarding Phone Call, April 8 – 17
Agreement Letter Due, Tuesday, April 21

Phase I
Orientation, Friday, May 15*
Fieldwork, Friday, May 29*
Fieldwork, Friday, June 12*
Fieldwork, Friday, June 26*
Workshop, Saturday, July 11*
Workshop, Saturday, July 18*
Workshop, Saturday, July 25*

Phase II
Retreat, Saturday, Sept 12*
Project Workshop, Thursday, Oct 1
Fellows Evening Event, Thursday, Oct 22
Fellows Evening Event, Thursday, Nov 5
Fellows Evening Event, Thursday, Nov 19
Fellows Evening Event, Thursday, Dec 3
Project Workshop, Thursday, Jan 14
Project Workshop, Thursday, Feb 18
Fellowship Capstone, Thursday, March 18*

Alumni Program
Celebration, Thursday, April 1

*Applicants must be able to attend full-day (9am – 5pm) activities on all Phase I dates, as well as the Phase II retreat and Fellowship Capstone.


For a Phase 2 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 sustainable 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.

Fellows should be available to attend full-day activities on all Phase I dates, a full-day Phase II retreat, and the evening Fellowship Capstone. Fellows should expect to commit four to eight hours per week throughout the Fellowship.

Meet the 2019 class of Forefront Fellows ►


Information Session ↓

Information Session
Interested applicants are encouraged, but not required, to attend our information session:

Thursday, February 27
6:30 – 8:00pm
WXY Studio
224 Centre Street, 6th Floor



How to Apply ↓

Due to the spread of COVID-19, the launch of After Carbon is postponed until Fall 2020.

We will announce a new application deadline as soon as it is available. In the meantime, we are happy to accept application materials on a rolling basis. All applicants who submit by Wednesday, April 1 at 11:59pm will be welcome to participate in the Forum’s digital programs this spring and summer.

View Program Prospectus ►
Submit Application ►