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Hester Street Collaborative

Hester Street is an urban planning, design and development nonprofit that works to ensure neighborhoods are shaped by the people who live in them. They offer planning, design and community development technical assistance to community-based organizations, government and other agencies.

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.

In just the past few years, Hester Street has partnered with more than 100 Community-Based Organisations (CBO) across New York City, New York State, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and Arizona to develop transformational places – concrete resources that maximize community benefit – through transformational practice – inclusive, innovative, community-driven plans and projects that develop skills, build power and strengthen resilience.

They have developed neighborhood plans that prioritize affordable housing, economic opportunity and public health; supported efforts to strengthen economic self-sufficiency and Native self-determination in the Navajo Nation; stemmed the tide of CBO-displacement by acquiring and developing new community centers in NYC; advanced people-powered, culturally-driven, post-disaster climate justice in San Juan, Puerto Rico; re-imagined beloved and democratic public institutions – libraries and parks – as true Palaces for the People, and; engaged hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers in policy conversations for cultural equity, mental health for all, gender equity, and the future of fair housing.

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.

40 | Activating Community Voices


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "Drop Me Off At Harlem" by Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington from the album "The Great Reunion."