Undesigning the Redline in the Bronx and Beyond

In 1938 — as the New Deal infused capital into cities and Robert Moses molded New York — the federal Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) carved America into the unequal landscapes it is today. In the Bronx, my home borough of New York City, it granted the Riverdale and Fieldston neighborhoods its green, first grade, type A status. HOLC recognized that Riverdale and Fieldston were of the newest, most suburban, and most secure of neighborhoods for real estate investment. They were most desirable for what they did not have: communities of color. HOLC’s forms lay it bare:

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Planning by the Book: HPD and the Neighborhood Planning Playbook

City of New York interagency collaboration shown through a section diagram calling out different agencies relevance to everyday lifeThis post is the second of five appearing on the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) Community Service Fellowship Program (CSFP) blog, describing my summer working as Neighborhood Planning Intern at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

“A truly democratic planning process is both inclusionary and transparent,” said Frances A. Resheke, then Board Secretary of the Municipal Art Society, when introducing a session on the City of New York’s Neighborhood Planning Playbook in 2015. I can think of no better way to introduce the Playbook myself. Introduced at the end of that year, the document creates the framework for a planning process that encourages collaboration between city agencies and with local communities. The Neighborhood Planning team at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) takes this namesake process and playbook seriously, looking back at it constantly to make sure that we are studying neighborhoods in a well-managed, clearly articulated way. Continue reading “Planning by the Book: HPD and the Neighborhood Planning Playbook”

Why I’m Working on Housing New York This Summer

This post is the first of five appearing on the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) Community Service Fellowship Program (CSFP) blog, describing my summer working as Neighborhood Planning Intern at the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).

New York claims to be a welcoming city, but all the pride flags and Black Lives Matter stickers and “immigrant and refugees are welcome here” signs fly in the face of our exclusionary financial pressures. Our city has a “right to shelter” law, but is struggling to accommodate demand not just from the homeless but also the more fortunate. Neighborhood after neighborhood sees sea change. People clinging onto the only homes they know are harassed by rising rents, conveniently inconvenient construction, the deprivation of heat and hot water, and a host of other bad behaviors.

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) is on the forefront of this battle, helping tenants keep their footing as the sand shifts under their feet. The agency develops and preserves affordable housing, protects tenants from harassment, ensures the safety of homes, and engages neighborhoods in planning their futures. Continue reading “Why I’m Working on Housing New York This Summer”

What Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Victory Means to Me

I can’t adequately explain how much this means to me. I haven’t been this inspired by political energy since Barack Obama soared into office. I’m not saying Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is running for President, but that her victory is a victory of personal and political significance.

Establishment media shaken awake after her victory keep noting how many views her campaign video has gotten. I can’t help but wonder how many of those views are from people like me who watched it everyday, sometimes multiple times a day, in bed at night and on the 6 train in the morning. When women from the Bronx speak—whether it’s Cardi B or Sonia Sotomayor—people listen. Few have been as much of a pleasure as Alexandria, who speaks forcefully, heart-wrenchingly, about the everyday injustices working families face.

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Interview: Growing Community, Gardens, and Land Trusts—Raymond Figueroa, Jr. in the South Bronx

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Ray is a man of many hats, but when I imagine him it is his black beret. I met Ray once, when he hosted our group for a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service project at Brook Park, the community garden he helps lead in the South Bronx. He was wearing the same black beret another time I remember him seeing him around, at a food policy breakfast as President of the New York City Community Garden Coalition (NYCCGC), forcefully advocating for a more community-driven approach in a room full of researchers and public health workers. I imagine Ray’s beret comes with him to the Pratt Institute, where he is a Visiting Instructor in the Graduate Center for Planning.

While I had a heard a little already in these chance encounters, I was intrigued by Ray’s holistic approach to planning and how he connects his passions for food, youth, and community development. I connected with Ray over the phone to ask him about his approach.

Read the interview on Welcome2TheBronx or the MIT Community Innovators Lab (CoLab) blog. 

In MIT CoLab Radio: Fertile Ground for Community Development in the Bronx

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The Bronx is burning. It has been decades since the infamous line branded the borough, but this is an image countless individuals have conjured up when I have told them where I am from. Municipal disinvestment made the Bronx the poster place of planned shrinkage, but concerted efforts by public, private, and nonprofit sectors—including residents themselves—have allowed our resilient community to flourish in its wake. Those I grew up around continue to struggle with health and wealth, but targeted efforts push ever more forcefully against the levers of urban inequality. Community development resists a narrow definition everywhere, but examining the food systems of the Bronx begs one to open it up further.

Dig into the full post at the MIT Community Innovators Lab or on Welcome2TheBronx.

New Yorkers, Vote Because Your Lives Depend on It

Make your mark.  Vote.  From the NYC Votes/the New York City Campaign Finance Board.As anyone who lives in New York is aware, it’s municipal election season.  The mayoral race, holding the most political power, has attracted the most attention.  The mayoral race has also received nationwide publicity due to a scandalous candidate, which also helped elevate the comptroller’s race into visibility.  There are many other positions up for grabs, however, including Public Advocate, Borough President, and City Council.  It’s easy to brush these elections off, but New Yorkers should take them seriously; your lives hang in the balance. Continue reading “New Yorkers, Vote Because Your Lives Depend on It”

MARCH.

President Obama delivered on Wednesday a speech in commemoration of the fifty-year anniversary of the March on Washington. Some have lauded the successes of the movement, while others have reflected on its shortcomings. Ultimately, in any polarized discussion, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Although he himself does not harp on it, it is impossible not to pause over the powerful symbolism of President Barack Obama presented before us. When he speaks of interracial marriage, it is difficult not to think of Obama himself, the product of a black father and a white mother. When he says that the White House has changed, it bears a force that can only come from the first black President. Could King even dream that such an event would happen so soon after he stood at those steps? Continue reading “MARCH.”