The City Is Their Laboratory

Pratt students invent the next New York—for real.

"They are turning out a professional product," says preservation specialist Vicki Weiner. "That was a rare opportunity to do something quite intensive and with a big, big scope."

Both Kray and Tauber worked on the New Orleans project, with Kray spending a summer there. "In New Orleans, the feasibility of developing anything was challenged by larger unanswered infrastructure questions—inflated construction costs, and a bankrupted populace," says Kray. "Whereas in New York, time is of the essence."

Kray was so taken by his New Orleans experience that he is considering moving there to start his own construction company, one he envisions evolving into a neighborhood-scale version of Habitat for Humanity.

Cypress Hills is a mash-up of cozy residential lanes and chaotic commercial strips.
photo: Willie Davis/Veras
Cypress Hills is a mash-up of cozy residential lanes and chaotic commercial strips.

"It's one thing to have the idea, to promote it and talk about it, and to try to get other people excited about it, but eventually you have to have someone still build it," Kray says. "I'm going to go down there and investigate that possibility."

Closer to home, Lander names the South Bronx, Staten Island, and City Hall as sites of Pratt Center successes. The Center teamed with community groups to clean up the Bronx River, building a greenway and reclaiming the area for public use. In the West Brighton neighborhood of Staten Island, where the Markham Gardens public housing development was to be demolished and replaced without tenant input, the Center is helping negotiate agreements with the City Housing Authority to grant current residents a say in redevelopment plans, as well as a right to return there to live. And though Lander says much more could be done, efforts by the Center to promote affordable housing through inclusionary zoning and tax incentives have garnered support from the City Council and the mayor's office.

Among the Center's other projects is a critique of Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030, which the academics are offering in hopes of narrowing the livability gap between the city's rich and poor in a time that promises—or threatens—to be a period of unprecedented growth.

"There's no doubt that because of all the development taking place in the city there's more public and popular attention to planning," says Lander. "What do we mean by growth? How should it be shaped? Who should it benefit? I definitely see more people in New York grappling with those questions."

Back in Cypress Hills, Kray speculates that its remote location and historically weak economy have kept the neighborhood relatively intact.

"People have not had the desire or the resources to tear down and rebuild," he says. "It will be interesting to see if it remains this safe haven of affordability."

Adds Tauber, "If you get an idea of how you want your neighborhood to be, you're ahead."

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