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The Pratt Center Story
For over 45 years, a group of planners, architects and organizers at the Pratt Institute have helped New Yorkers outside the city's circles of wealth and power come together to build better places to live.
In 1963, Pratt Institute Department of City and Regional Planning chair George Raymond set out to educate New Yorkers about how urban planning, done right, can build better neighborhoods. The Rockefeller Brothers Fund sponsored a Community Education Program at Pratt Institute to "help community groups in New York City obtain a basic understanding of planning theory and the political and economic realities of housing and urban renewal programs, as well as achieve a realistic appraisal of what citizens can rightfully expect of government in these several fields."
Raymond and a Pratt Institute planning student named Ron Shiffman began working with a group of ministers on a study of Bedford-Stuyvesant, anticipating a city urban renewal program planned for part of the area. The Pratt Center's work with central Brooklyn organizations to develop a comprehensive plan to rebuild Bedford-Stuyvesant through job training and other economic development programs became the model for the Ford Foundation and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's project to create community development corporations, in New York City and across the country, to contend with urban poverty, decaying housing and disinvestment.
As thousands of New York City buildings were abandoned by their landlords in the 1970s, the Pratt Center launched an architectural practice that worked with neighborhood groups to reclaim their buildings. At the same time it also convened community organizations citywide to advocate for expanded government action to support housing preservation and development.
In 1983, The Village Voice's Jack Newfield praised the Pratt Center's track record of advocacy to help New Yorkers improve their neighborhoods, using words that could as easily apply today. "They have been the voice of the voiceless inside the closed, elitist world of developers, bankers, lawyers, planners, and politicians," Newfield wrote. "They have been asking the question, who will provide decent housing for poor people? while the rest of that closed, elitist world contemplated interest rates, luxury apartments, amenities, new parcels, and evictions."
In 1997, the Pratt Center played a pivotal role in founding the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), which has since worked with more than 2,100 local businesses employing 93,000 people. NYIRN’s research and policy work has gained greater public recognition for the importance of blue-collar businesses and workers in the city and its neighborhoods. NYIRN helped create New York City's 16 Industrial Business Zones and has leveraged more than $20 million in energy efficiency improvements for industrial businesses in New York City. In 2010, NYIRN became part of the Pratt Center.
Core to the Pratt Center's mission all along has been the premise that much more than decent housing goes into building livable neighborhoods. The Pratt project has been a story about building community: constructing playgrounds and day care centers; fostering community agriculture, greenways and green building; bringing diverse communities together around the table to find common purpose in planning.
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