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

ray figueroa

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


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”


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.”

Are Socially Mobile Techies Made in NY?

Join thousands of educators around the world, including none in most of New York’s disadvantaged communities.

Codecademy is #MadeInNY. If you don’t know what Codecademy is yet, you really should. Codecademy is a company that seeks to truly disrupt education rather than incrementally altering classrooms, primarily teaching programming at the moment. If you don’t know what Made in New York is, then you’ll have disappointed the lovely folks at NYC Digital. We Are Made In New York “an economic development initiative that supports the city’s vibrant tech community.”

A page on the Codecademy website dedicated to after-school programming, encourages educators to begin a coding club at their school using the site’s resources. Although an educator visiting the page likely already knows this, the page makes the value of such an activity clear, placing it in <strong> terms: “Digital literacy is now a fundamental skill like reading and writing.” Continue reading “Are Socially Mobile Techies Made in NY?”

NYC Digital: Listening to You

Rachel Haot, NYC's Chief Digital Officer, presents on the State of the Digital City.
Rachel Haot, NYC’s Chief Digital Officer, presents on the State of the Digital City. [Photo by Joly MacFie]

With the sun starting to set a warm glow over the East River, I was one of 150 people scurrying through the stone streets of DUMBO on Thursday, July 11th.  Approaching the NYU-Poly DUMBO Incubator building, strangers’ suspecting glances were confirmed: others around them were also heading to the Brooklyn edition of the NYC Digital Roadmap Listening Sessions.

The name of the event series may cause some minor confusion.  The “Digital Roadmap Listening Session” is not just for attendees to listen to government officials explain themselves.  Those attending the sessions are not supposed to merely listen to that which is already occurring.  It would be a mistake to assume that the listening in these sessions is merely passive.  Ordinary New Yorkers are invited to be “innovators,” as the @nycgov Meetup group terms attendees.  It is important to note that the events are described as participatory discussions; all are welcome to chime in on the city’s digital future. Continue reading “NYC Digital: Listening to You”

Looking into the Prism: Surveillance, Secrecy, and Snowden

PRISMMedia outlets have been abuzz for the past few weeks, scandalizing the revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has vast records, even on Americans.  The question of security versus surveillance has provided much room for debate, even inviting comparisons to oppressive regimes.  Perhaps even more heavily, the popular media is fascinated by the Edward Snowden, the Booz Allen contractor responsible for the leaks.

In engaging in such pervasive surveillance, the government is overstepping its bounds.  While the actions of these agencies are likely legal, they are not necessarily appropriate.  President Obama and other officials have repeatedly insisted that these actions are not made explicitly illegal by the word of law.  Rather, they have been sanctioned by all branches of the federal government.  Is this enough?  Continue reading “Looking into the Prism: Surveillance, Secrecy, and Snowden”

Turning Around DeWitt Clinton High School

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DeWitt Clinton High School is a large comprehensive public high school in the Bronx, NY that is struggling to succeed with its high-need student body.  Although the school has had a 115-year history, it has recently begun to fail evaluations by the city Department of Education.   DWCHS has a higher percentage of students who are English Language Learners (ELL), disabled, and are eligible for free or reduced price lunch than most New York City public schools.  Black and Hispanic students, who compromise the overwhelming majority of Clinton’s student body, also perform the most poorly at the school according to demographic breakdowns from city and state data.

Although Clinton has been told to improve many times over the past few years, progress has not been made.  Since it retains the schedule, staffing, and organizational structure of the large comprehensive high school from decades ago, many opportunities remain to turnaround DeWitt Clinton.  Mostly using the framework outlined in Anthony Bryk’s Organizing Schools for Improvement, I have drafted a policy memorandum that shows that Clinton can be reorganized to increase academic achievement.  There are three main options that the incoming principal has in leading DWCHS: retraining and restructuring to meet the highest levels of need, adapting to attract and improve with the students that the school is already successful with, or guiding the school into closure.  The options are in order of preference, with the recommendation being to turnaround the school to meet the highest need. Continue reading “Turning Around DeWitt Clinton High School”