Hester Street Collaborative

Hester Street Collaborative » community design

community design

HSC engages NYC residents in a transparent, participatory process that ensures that the design of neighborhood public spaces reflect local wishes and needs. Our approach gives residents an active role in shaping their built environment and creates a lasting sense of ownership. HSC partners with local community leaders, members and organizations, and works in community coalitions. Our design and planning expertise is instrumental in taking a community vision to a viable reality.
Projects include:

East River Waterfront
LES Ready
Rockaways Resiliency
SMART Mobile Cooking Classroom
Community Engagement for the Queensway Feasibility Study
People Make Parks
Sara D. Roosevelt Park
Allen & Pike Pedestrian Malls

East River Waterfront

In 2005, the NYC Economic Development Corporation launched a plan to dramatically redevelop the waterfront of the Lower East Side and Chinatown, yet the plan was not viewed as sensitive to the local community’s needs. As a response to this plan, HSC worked with the O.U.R. (Organizing & Uniting Residents) Waterfront Coalition to develop and conduct a visioning process to incorporate community participation and input into the renovation of this important public space. HSC compiled the results of this visioning process in a document called “The People’s Plan for the East River Waterfront.” Released in 2009, the Plan highlights the differences between the community’s vision and the NYC EDC’s plans for the space.

Today, HSC continues to use this plan to advocate for the City’s inclusion of the community’s needs for accessibility, health and quality of life, cultural diversity, safety, and community autonomy in the space’s redesign. Between 2011-2013, HSC conducted a series of workshops, called the Waterfront on Wheels, that engaged local residents around envisioning the future for public park space specifically on Pier 42 of the East River waterfront.

After the release of “The People’s Plan for the East River Waterfront,”  the O.U.R. Waterfront Coalition reformed as the Lower East Side Waterfront Alliance, and funding was secured to kick start the process for converting Pier 42 into public parkland, including a community master planning” process.

Paths to Pier 42

Since the long-term master planning process will take several years, the Paths to Pier 42 partners are using art and design to catalyze and sustain public engagement around the renovation of Pier 42. Summer 2013 marked the start of Paths to Pier 42, a series of temporary programs that give residents access to the Pier, increase foot traffic along corridors between the waterfront and neighborhood, serve as recommendations for the full capital renovation plan, and address the vulnerability of the waterfront due to climate change and storm surges. Click here to read about the future of Pier 42.

As part of HSC’s Ground Up design education program, two neighborhood schools, M.S. 131 and P.S. 134, helped create installations at Pier 42 in 2014. At M.S. 131, 150 8th graders students designed a new mural for the shade canopy that is composed of more than 1,000 individually painted flags that interpret river creatures and city life. In their own school garden, P.S. 134’s students studied and cared for native plants which were later transplanted into the installation Drumreef 42, by artist team Combo Colab an Stereotank.

Paths to Pier 42 is a project of Good Old Lower East Side, Hester Street Collaborative, Lower East Side Ecology Center, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, in close partnership with the Lower East Side Waterfront Alliance, NY State Senator Daniel Squadron, and the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

Links and Downloads:

Paths to Pier 42
Follow the Waterfront on Wheels on Tumblr
A People’s Plan for the East River Waterfront

Rendering of Peoples Planmarch-may-augustShadeStructure_2014

LES Ready: The Lower East Side Long Term Recovery Group

Since 2012, HSC has been working with LES Ready, The Lower East Side Long Term Recovery Group: a coalition of community groups and institutions that will cooperatively coordinate the Lower East Side’s response, resources, preparedness planning and training in response to Hurricane Sandy and in the event of future disasters.

In fall 2014, HSC partnered with the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center (CDP) and Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) to develop a report titled Getting LES Ready: Learning from Hurricane Sandy to Create a Community-Based Disaster Plan for the Future. This report was the culmination of over 640 surveys of Lower East Side residents, 30 surveys from local organizations, and 8 focus groups. It focuses on what worked well in the recovery effort following Hurricane Sandy, what could be improved, and documents the resources that CBOs in the Lower East Side had in place during Sandy, as well as their capacity to respond to future disasters.  The report will inform a community-based disaster relief plan being created by LES Ready.

Links and Downloads:

Getting LES Ready: Learning from Hurricane Sandy to Create a Community-Based Disaster Plan for the Future


Rockaways Resiliency

Together with Ocean Bay Community Development Corporation (OBCDC), Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE), and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), HSC is taking a participatory approach to resiliency in the Rockaways. We are working with residents to identify community priorities, develop multifunction solutions, and leverage built environment opportunities for long-term community benefit. Area-wide indicators and community feedback shaped our proposal for a much needed grocery store and community center on a  long-vacant, NYCHA-owned lot, designed by Edelman Sultan Know Wood / Architects.

While we wait to hear whether our team will be awarded the site, we are working closely with our Rockaway partners to strengthen community resiliency beyond the supermarket. Arverne and Edgemere, adjacent neighborhoods in Far Rockaway, Queens, were among the communities hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. However, the social, economic, public health and infrastructure challenges residents faced in the wake of Sandy were not created, but only exacerbated by the storm.  Given the rich amount of planning and redevelopment work already underway, our challenge is to pinpoint specific development opportunities and to create a network of innovative, community-driven recommendations and design solutions that leverage those opportunities in order to address persistent neighborhood problems.


SMART Mobile Cooking Classroom

In 2013, HSC began working with SMART University, a community-based organization run by and for HIV+ women, to gather community input for the design of a Mobile Cooking Classroom. The Mobile Cooking Classroom is a project that won funding through the Participatory Budgeting process and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito’s office. Through a series of visioning sessions, HSC worked with SMART to gather information from residents of Community District 8 about what kinds of programs and resources they need most, and how to make them widely accessible.

The SMART Mobile Cooking Classroom is a “kitchen-on-wheels” that will address poor access to healthful foods and lack of nutritional information within the communities East Harlem and the South Bronx. The Mobile Cooking Classroom will travel to low-income communities of color to engage with historically underserved populations: youth, seniors, immigrants, the homeless, and people with HIV/AIDS, among others. During the case of an emergency or disaster, the Mobile Cooking Classroom can also serve as an Community Preparedness Response (CPR) vehicle, providing hot meals, information, charging stations and responding to the specific dietary needs of special populations.

See the full report here.


Community Engagement for the Queensway Feasibility Study

The QueensWay Feasibility study is a community based planning initiative commissioned by the Trust for Public Land whose mission is to turn a 3.5 mile long stretch of abandoned railroad into a public greenway.

As community engagement consultant on a team led by wxy architecture + urban design and dlandstudio architecture and landscape architecture, HSC’s work included leading a series of visioning workshops in the fall and spring, and developing a mobile outreach tool to gather input from community members unable to attend evening workshops.

The Mobile Outreach Toolkit is a portable community engagement instrument, which contains a series of game-like activities to create a welcoming and enjoyable space for feedback. The activities within the toolkit help to explain the process of the QueensWay feasibility study, answer frequently asked questions, and gather ideas from a diverse range of constituents about what they would like to see in this potential open space. The toolkit is deployed through conversations in schools, at community meetings, and with local nonprofit groups in the neighborhoods around the QueensWay.



In 2012, HSC was contacted by FIERCE, Fabulous Independent Educated Radicals for Community Empowerment, to help design a 24 hour youth center in the West Village in response to safety concerns for LGBTQ youth.

Working with the Urban Justice Center (UJC) and FIERCE, HSC developed an interactive pop-up center to serve as both an advocacy tool, and a mobile home base to gather input for the design of the community center. The result was a lightweight push-cart where community members could express their needs and ideas about the potential locations, resources, and programming of the community center. The pushcart was used in and around the West Village, and the collected ideas and oral histories were then developed into a preliminary design proposal for a LGBTQ Youth Center on Pier 40.

 CD_FIERCE_Pop up center4

People Make Parks

People Make Parks is a project to help communities participate in the design of their parks. When residents engage with government and weigh in on design, government builds better parks and the public continues to care for places that they have helped to create. Based on this idea, People Make Parks facilitates collaboration in park design between invested communities and the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation.

HSC, working with Partnerships for Parks, created the People Make Parks Toolkit to inform residents about the process of making physical improvement to parks, help them collect information that is relevant to design, communicate it to park decision-makers in a timely way, and transition into long-term park stewardship.

The People Make Parks Toolkit encourages a diversity of participants to lead in the creation of meaningful places. The initiative engages people from a variety of backgrounds, including youth and non-English speakers.

We are currently developing and testing People Make Parks tools in several Lower Manhattan parks, to help inform how community groups can use them:

Luther Gulick Park, a People Make Parks Case Study Site

HSC and Partnerships for Parks are working with the Friends of Gulick Park to support efforts to improve the park. The Friends of Gulick Park is a community-based organization working to create a greener, livelier, and safer Luther Gulick Park & Playground on the Lower East Side. Formed in June of 2009 in response to over a decade of park neglect, the group decided to take the lead catalyzing its revitalization.

Through this activism, the Friends of Luther Gulick Park have successfully secured funding for the renovation of the park. They are currently using People Make Parks tools to learn about the DPR Capital Design process and gather input from the local community to develop design recommendations for the playground.


The Friends of Gulick Park
People Make Parks


Sara Delano Roosevelt Park

HSC was a lead participant in the redesign and reconstruction of the Hester Street Playground at Sara Delano Roosevelt (SDR) Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. HSC became involved in response to the local community’s advocacy for the improvement of the park. Residents were concerned about the lack of appropriate recreational spaces for children, and HSC worked with the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation to ensure that SDR Park received priority designation for funding and revitalization.

HSC worked with a broad coalition of neighborhood groups to carry out a visioning and planning process that involved over 1,000 residents participating in interactive park visioning activities. Based on this process, many of HSC’s recommendations for the park’s renovation were adopted. In 2010, the reconstructed playground opened and a permanent art installation created by local youth in HSC’s Ground Up program was installed in the new space.

Today HSC continues its active participation with the SDR Park Coalition to ensure community park stewardship is fostered and advocating for the further revitalization of the park. The Coalition is currently advocating for the creation of a community center in the park house at Stanton Street.

Links and Downloads:

Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition

SDR_groundbreakingSDR Park Mosaic Block wall

Allen & Pike Pedestrian Malls

HSC has been leading the effort to reclaim the Allen & Pike Street Pedestrian Malls as a viable public space for the Lower East Side since 2004. The Malls are one of the largest areas of public open space in the neighborhood stretching from the East River waterfront at South Street north for 14 blocks to Houston Street.

As part of the United Neighborhoods to Revitalize Allen & Pike (UNRAP), HSC advocated for capital funding for the renovation of the corridor and engaged community members in a participatory design process. Our process included site analysis, surveys, usage studies, and community visioning events working with local residents, organizations, elected officials, and city agencies. These activities were all designed to build consensus and generate design recommendations for the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and Department of Transportation (DOT), as both agencies are responsible for the site. The recommendations are gathered into a report, which HSC used to advocate for the City’s attention to community needs.

Today, the DOT and DPR have unveiled and begun implementing their plans and next steps toward reconstructing the malls. HSC successfully integrated many community priorities in the design of the malls, including safer pedestrian crossings and protected bike paths. This is a major victory for HSC and the Lower East Side community, which will benefit from a safe, newly renovated, and culturally relevant open space.

Public Art at the Allen & Pike Street Malls

Though the renovation of the Allen & Pike Street Malls is moving forward, it will take many years to complete the entirety of the proposed project. Even then, the renovations will only include five of the 14 Malls.

Throughout our work around the Allen Street corridor, HSC has used community art installations as a mechanism to activate and draw people to the Malls, and build upon our advocacy work for their renovation. These art installations have been instrumental in facilitating community participation in the space and play a vital role in modeling what a more vibrant park space could be like. The installations invite people to ponder the built environment and explore their neighborhood while having a little fun.

Past Installations:

Mall-terations was created by artists Carolina Cisneros, Marcelo Ertoteguy, Mateo Pintó, and Sara Valente. Through a series of five “compass” benches that rotate around maps and way-finding information of the Lower East Side, the project evokes the history of the Allen Street corridor and elevated railway that was once there. The benches are constructed out of reclaimed railroad ties and car tires, and timelines of the history of immigration waves to the Lower East Side are depicted through a “track” connecting the bench locations. (2010-2012)

Avenue of the Immigrants
“The Avenue of the Immigrants,” our first installation, celebrated immigrants, artists, activists, and even buildings that have contributed to the rich cultural history and diversity of the neighborhoods adjacent the Allen Street malls. The installation was a culmination of a two-year inter-generational collaboration of local residents, cultural organizations, and public school students at M.S. 131. This project highlighted the community-led effort to reclaim the Allen & Pike Street corridors and advocate for preservation of the Lower East Side’s diverse communities. (2006-2008)

Links and Downloads:

Allen and Pike Final Report
NYC DOT Allen/Pike Street Improvements