Hester Street is a nonprofit planning, design and development organization which works with community based organizations, private firms and government agencies. Effectively a nonprofit development firm, the group works at all phases and levels of urban action, focusing on democracy and social justice.
Hester Street originally grew out of the architecture firm Leroy Street Studio (LSS), after they were approached by East New York Urban Youth Corp to collaborate on an affordable housing project. The project was successful enough that it inspired the eventual creation of the Hester Street Collaborative (now, Hester Street), and the twenty years of work since.
The different threads of their work are united by a conviction that residents in growing boroughs face an ongoing risk of gentrification. Where urban decisions are being made, residents need to have a voice – even those who might be poor, undocumented, or not speak English. To that end, Hester Street often functions as something of a mediator, both between residents and designers, and between residents and their own city agencies.
Like Project H, Hester Street’s programs maintain a heavy focus on education.
Their Ground Up program introduces students to design through classroom exercises and participation in campus improvement projects. Since 2002, the Ground Up project has improved neighborhoods with planning projects, community gardens, internships, public murals and other student led 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.
Have a listen here.