Hester Street Collaborative

Why is design a good skill for young people?

Our work tends to be very hands on, fun, and play­ful.
Anne Fred­er­ick: Design is very inter­dis­ci­pli­nary by nature. You can con­nect design into almost any cur­ricu­lum. In the ele­men­tary school we con­nect to sci­ence, art, social studies…design allows you to con­nect what you are learn­ing to very tan­gi­ble activ­i­ties. That becomes empow­er­ing for stu­dents because they get to actu­al­ly see their efforts lead to tan­gi­ble changes. They are build­ing things, plant­i­ng things…which then actu­al­ly become a part of their local built envi­ron­ment.

That process is par­tic­u­lar­ly reward­ing for stu­dents who have a hard time pulling it togeth­er in the class­room. Some stu­dents are a dif­fer­ent kind of learn­er. Design allows for the dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles to be cel­e­brat­ed and exercised…we see our stu­dents keep com­ing back to learn and they get engaged more and more.

Hes­ter Street Col­lab­o­ra­tive usu­al­ly works with under­served com­mu­ni­ties, and brings the tech­niques and process­es of design and com­mu­ni­ty advo­ca­cy.

How do you define an “underserved community?”

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Anne Fred­er­ick: For us, “under­served com­mu­ni­ties” are com­mu­ni­ties that might not have a say oth­er­wise in the devel­op­ment of their neigh­bor­hood. We take our cues from the peo­ple that make up a place. We always part­ner with groups that are doing orga­niz­ing work and have a mem­ber­ship, or real­ly have their ear to the ground. The­se are com­mu­ni­ties that might be fac­ing issues of dis­place­ments, lack of afford­able hous­ing — peo­ple who have iden­ti­fied them­selves as need­ing the resources of a design stu­dio.

We real­ly look toward the social jus­tice and com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions around the city, who have already iden­ti­fied a need, and we see if the types of resources and ser­vices we provide can help. If there is some way we can work togeth­er, we then col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly shape that scope of work togeth­er.

How did the collaborative get started?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Hes­ter Street Col­lab­o­ra­tive was start­ed by myself and the two part­ners of Leroy Street Stu­dio, where I used to work as an archi­tect. When we moved our offices down to the Low­er East Side, we felt that there was an oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate a prac­tice that relat­ed to the neigh­bor­hood in a mean­ing­ful way. It also hap­pened that when we moved down­town, 9/11 occurred, slow­ing down the whole busi­ness and giv­ing us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rethink our­selves. It had been an inter­est of the part­ners and myself to do some­thing ground­ed to the com­mu­ni­ty pri­or to 9/11, but that event real­ly gave us a moment to move in new direc­tions.

We start­ed by devel­op­ing design edu­ca­tion pro­grams with pub­lic schools. I had a par­tic­u­lar inter­est in work­ing with young peo­ple. Since I had been already teach­ing in oth­er design-relat­ed edu­ca­tion pro­grams, which hap­pened to be locat­ed across the street from a mid­dle school, we thought, “Why not just walk across the street!”

We take our cues from the peo­ple that make up a place.
We start­ed out by found­ing Ground Up, which is our Design Edu­ca­tion pro­gram with [pub­lic school] MS131. We kicked every­thing off by think­ing about how stu­dents could impact spaces, either in their school cam­pus­es or com­mu­ni­ty. We start­ed this with­in a small lit­tle sculp­ture gar­den in front of the school.

From there we grew into more design edu­ca­tion work, as well as work­ing with small com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions on larg­er open space projects around the neigh­bor­hood, and then more recent­ly city­wide.

So, you started as a group engaged in projects local to the Lower East Side; are there are any plans to widen your scope?

Anne Fred­er­ick: When we start­ed, it was real­ly impor­tant to acknowl­edge the place that we are locat­ed. Since the Low­er East Side is such a rapid­ly gen­tri­fy­ing neigh­bor­hood, we real­ly want­ed to be aware of the impact hav­ing a stu­dio in this neigh­bor­hood had on accel­er­at­ing that gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in what­ev­er way it does. So it was impor­tant to start out with the idea that the [com­mu­ni­ty] needs are here first.

The past ten years we have real­ly focused local­ly, even though our mis­sion is tru­ly city­wide. We have start­ed here, but through word of mouth and with the help of our part­ners, [we almost always work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions on each project] have received the oppor­tu­ni­ty to work in oth­er neigh­bor­hoods.

Right now we feel we are at a moment where we feel we can con­tin­ue to con­tribute to our neigh­bor­hood, but begin to serve more com­mu­ni­ties. We are think­ing about how some of the tools and exper­tise of design­ers can aid social jus­tice move­ments not just near us, but through­out the city.

So the project devel­op­ment and design process is guid­ed by team­ing up with com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tions, rather than propos­ing design plans from a loca­tion far removed?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Exact­ly, that is very impor­tant to us.

What is the usual process for making the type of public space projects Hester Street Collaborative develops?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Usu­al­ly it starts with some stake­hold­ers — orga­ni­za­tions or indi­vid­u­als — who have iden­ti­fied a need for some­thing.

I’ll use the East River Water­front as an exam­ple — there was a coali­tion of orga­ni­za­tions who are imbed­ded in that neigh­bor­hood, and who want­ed to have a say in the devel­op­ment of the [local] water­front.

They were con­cerned that the fur­ther devel­op­ment of the water­front would accel­er­ate the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion of the area, and place addi­tion­al pres­sure on the con­stituen­cies who are already being squeezed out.  This group had already iden­ti­fied needs, and just by being based in the neigh­bor­hood and hav­ing rela­tion­ships with the orga­ni­za­tions in the coali­tion, HSC start­ed to have con­ver­sa­tions with the orga­ni­za­tion to see if they need­ed help with the com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing process for envi­sion­ing and visu­al­iz­ing the water­front.

Usu­al­ly the work evolves from a group or coali­tion, who express­es inter­est about a pub­lic or open space issue and we will part­ner with them. Those part­ner­ships can be very long term, because the­se projects just don’t hap­pen overnight. Projects of this nature can hap­pen over many years and decades.

Does HSC work with grassroots organizations [bottom up] in addition to city-based agencies [top down]?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Yes, we work with city agen­cies a lot. Often we are work­ing to be a bridge between the more grass­roots groups and city agen­cies. For exam­ple we have been work­ing on a project titled Peo­ple Make Parks for sev­er­al years with Part­ner­ships for Park. The project is attempt to make the parks cap­i­tal process more trans­par­ent and eas­ier to engage with.  For groups who want to have a role in how their parks are redesigned, Peo­ple Make Parks pro­vides a road map for that process.

Do you ever face any resistance from the communities you engage with?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Work­ing with lots of peo­ple is nev­er easy. Democ­ra­cy is not a neat and tidy process. Part of the inter­est­ing part of col­lab­o­ra­tion is allow­ing dif­fer­ent opin­ions and con­cerns to arise, and work them­selves out. We don’t advo­cate for one view or the oth­er but be try to devel­op a broad plat­form where par­tic­i­pa­tion can hap­pen. Not every­one is always going to be hap­py, but that is the nature of the beast.

So HSC is broken down into education programs, advocacy, and community design. What kinds of projects and activities fall under those categories?

Anne Fred­er­ick: For the edu­ca­tion pro­grams — we work in pub­lic schools, with ele­men­tary, mid­dle, and high school stu­dents all in the LES com­mu­ni­ty. We are real­ly com­mit­ted to have that longer term com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment here, [Low­er East Side] so we can have a more in depth expe­ri­ence with indi­vid­u­al stu­dents rather than serv­ing thou­sands of stu­dents. One of the goals of the design edu­ca­tion pro­grams is to impact the youth that we are work­ing with. We feel that the best way to do that is through sus­tained engage­ment. For exam­ple, the ele­men­tary school we have been work­ing with, we have been build­ing an out­door class­room (school gar­den) since 2004. Every year, each group of stu­dents who par­tic­i­pates, adds anoth­er lay­er to it. Some­times we work with the same stu­dents from grades 2 through 5.

Thats awesome! You get to see some of your students grow up and witness the development of their education.

Anne Fred­er­ick: Yes, its a great process.

What falls under “community design,” and “advocacy”?

Anne Fred­er­ick: In regards to our com­mu­ni­ty design, we work with orga­ni­za­tions and con­stituen­cy groups in the neigh­bor­hood, and pro­vid­ing resources of plan­ners, artists and design­ers to impact the com­mu­ni­ty space. Like I said, often those are very long-term projects. For exam­ple, we have been work­ing on the Allen and Pike Street cor­ri­dors since 2004, and we coor­di­nate com­mu­ni­ty par­tic­i­pa­tion, to ini­ti­at­ing the the cap­i­tal process and devel­op­ing an ongo­ing series of pub­lic art and design inter­ven­tions at the site, as a way to con­tin­ue to draw atten­tion to that space, and envi­sion what it could be.

Design allows for stu­dents with dif­fer­ent learn­ing styles to be cel­e­brat­ed.
Often there’s a flu­id­i­ty between our edu­ca­tion­al pro­grams, advo­ca­cy, and com­mu­ni­ty design because our stu­dents will con­tribute to the art instal­la­tion. Each area of our orga­ni­za­tion is not dis­tinct from the oth­ers, but all are work­ing togeth­er to empow­er com­mu­ni­ties to impact change of com­mu­ni­ty pub­lic spaces. We sort of address the issues we care about through the­se dif­fer­ent ways.

For us, advo­ca­cy is about work­ing with our part­ners to try and bring about the change they want to see in their com­mu­ni­ties. So we work with with elect­ed offi­cials and city agen­cies to chan­nel com­mu­ni­ty con­cerns and aspi­ra­tions.

How do you feel that this sort of process helps to build social connections between community members?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Our work tends to be very hands on, fun, and play­ful. So pro­vid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties for indi­vid­u­als to par­tic­i­pate in a fun inter­ac­tive way, is a much less intim­i­dat­ing for­mat than going to a town hall meet­ing and hav­ing to stand up in front of a lot of peo­ple and voice your con­cern. We try to take the process and meet peo­ple where they are at, to insure their ongo­ing par­tic­i­pa­tion.

How does Hester Street Collaborative envision a more sustainable city?

Anne Fred­er­ick: Hav­ing engaged, invest­ed cit­i­zens that have a clear and trans­par­ent abil­i­ty to effect change in their neigh­bor­hood. [That] allows for more peo­ple to invest more effort in the place where they live. If you think your thoughts and actions mat­ter, you are going to be more of a stew­ard of your envi­ron­ment — that, for me, is sus­tain­abil­i­ty.

About Hester Street Collaborative:

Hes­ter Street Collaborative’s (HSC) mis­sion is to empow­er res­i­dents of under­served com­mu­ni­ties by pro­vid­ing them with the tools and resources nec­es­sary to have a direct impact on shap­ing their built envi­ron­ment. We do this through a hands-on approach that com­bi­nes design, edu­ca­tion, and advo­ca­cy. HSC seeks to cre­ate more equi­table, sus­tain­able, and vibrant neigh­bor­hoods where com­mu­ni­ty voic­es lead the way in improv­ing their envi­ron­ment and neglect­ed pub­lic spaces.

HSC was found­ed in 2002 by the archi­tec­ture firm Leroy Street Stu­dio (LSS). The East New York Urban Youth Corp, a non­prof­it group spe­cial­iz­ing in build­ing rehab and com­mu­ni­ty out­reach, approached LSS to work on an afford­able hous­ing project and Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter. As a result, the LSS partners/HSC co-founders designed and built a series of play­ful inter­ven­tions for the court­yards, as well as a lob­by with local sculp­tors and tile mak­ers, and future ten­ants. The lob­by design replaced stan­dard tiles with mosaics and hand carved clay tiles, and installed fer­ro-cement planters in the court­yard. The trans­for­ma­tion was dra­mat­ic, and the project led to the for­ma­tion of Hes­ter Street Col­lab­o­ra­tive.

About Anne Frederick:

As the found­ing direc­tor of HSC, Anne has worked to devel­op a com­mu­ni­ty design-build prac­tice that responds to the needs of under-resourced NYC com­mu­ni­ties. Her unique approach to com­mu­ni­ty design inte­grates edu­ca­tion and youth devel­op­ment pro­gram­ming with par­tic­i­pa­to­ry art, archi­tec­ture, and plan­ning strate­gies. This approach is root­ed in part­ner­ship and col­lab­o­ra­tion with var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ty based orga­ni­za­tions, schools and local res­i­dents. Pri­or to found­ing HSC, Anne worked as an archi­tect at Leroy Street Stu­dio Archi­tec­ture and as a design edu­ca­tor at Par­sons School of Design and the New York Foun­da­tion for Archi­tec­ture. Anne grad­u­at­ed from Par­sons School of Design and The New School for Social Research in 1998, and has rep­re­sent­ed the work of HSC at var­i­ous con­fer­ences, lec­tures and exhi­bi­tions.

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Pho­tos: Jes­si­ca Bru­ah