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Hester Street Collaborative

Hester Street is a New York City-based nonprofit that devotes urban planning, design, and development expertise to support community-led change for socially, racially, and economically just cities, towns, and regions.

Hester Street provides technical assistance and capacity-building support to community-based organizations (CBOs) and government agencies to advance participatory planning, transformative policy, and equitable community development. They focus on low-income communities and communities of color – people and places historically excluded from civic decision-making. Their team is made up of designers, architects, planners, community developers, and organizers who pair technical expertise with a deep understanding that the most successful projects and plans are grounded in local needs and informed by community priorities. 

Hester Street deploys four core strategies in its practice: 1.) Start with neighborhoods to build on existing social networks and local institutions; 2.) Change the narrative by centering communities of color; 3.) Re-imagine democracy and re-shape government to be more inclusive, equitable, and accountable; and 4.) Build power and deliver impact by equipping communities with tools to level the playing field. 

The organization has worked with partners serving all over New York City,  New York State, and throughout the country. They work closely with CBOs led by and serving communities of color to provide technical capacity to advance their goals and project work. They also work with government executives, staff, legislators, and agencies to develop and deploy the skills and tools necessary to ensure transparency, accessibility, equity, and accountability to communities of color. 

Hester Street has developed neighborhood plans that prioritize affordable housing, economic opportunity, and public health; supported efforts to strengthen economic self-sufficiency and 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. In the past five years alone, they’ve engaged well over half a million community members, directed more than $750 million of new public investment in low-income communities of color, and secured more than $50 million for community-owned capital 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.

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."