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?”


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.


Pho­tos: Jes­sica Bruah