The work of Hester Street is broken down into three main areas: urban planning, community development and capacity building. The different threads are united by a conviction that residents in underserved communities may not have a clear say in the development of their neighborhood and face the ongoing risk of gentrification. When planning decisions are made, all residents need to have a voice – even those who might be poor, undocumented, or who do not speak fluent English. To that end, Hester Street functions as a mediator, both between residents and designers and between residents and their city agencies.
Hester Street also focuses on education. Their Ground Up program introduces students to design through classroom exercises and participation in campus improvement projects. Since 2002, the Ground Up project has improved neighborhoods with planning projects, community gardens, internships, public murals and other student-led projects.
We had a chance to talk with Isella Ramirez of Hester Street about their most current projects, and how their particular form of activism helps facilitate thoughtful development on behalf of historically voiceless communities in East Harlem and beyond. Listen to the episode below.