Released in 1965, “Stuyvesant Heights: A Good Neighborhood in Need of Help,” was the groundbreaking product of Pratt Center’s first community-driven planning project.
The project emerged when Church Community Services, a group of ministers in the African-American community of Bedford Stuyvesant, approached Pratt Institute Department of City and Regional Planning chairman George Raymond and the future founding Director of Pratt Center Ron Shiffman (who was then a planning graduate student) to evaluate the impact of a proposed urban renewal plan on their neighborhood. Already facing poverty, overcrowded housing, and pockets of urban blight, the local group feared that the proposed plan could exacerbate the challenges it was supposed to address. At their request, the Pratt Department of City and Regional Planning’s launched an innovative planning study to identify “how a core city community can be conserved, rehabilitated, and renewed,” by preserving and strengthening its existing assets through community-driven action.
The report presented several recommendations to Church Community Services to assist them in their “efforts to save some of the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant which are still socially and physically sound from the deterioration which… engulfed” central Brooklyn in the early 1960s. The report offered a holistic model for community development, proposing the creation of: community-based social service offices; architectural, financial and other advisory services for local residents; technical resources to coordinate various City planning and development agencies and code enforcement; rezoning; strategies to increase parks, schools, and affordable housing; and cultural and recreational spaces, among other things. Furthermore, as a result of this work, Raymond and Shiffman created the Community Education Program – the neighborhood planning entity that would later become the Pratt Center for Community Improvement (and then Pratt Center).
Subsequent research in Bedford-Stuyvesant identified hundreds of vacant and abandoned properties ripe for community-driven redevelopment. Based on these findings, Pratt proposed a program for vest pocket parks, and the Institute’s architects and planners collaborated on designs for parks and playgrounds. Local residents and institutions participated in envisioning uses for the new spaces, including day care and community centers.
Perhaps most significantly, the planning model at the heart of the report – developed in partnership with the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council – attracted the attention of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and led to the establishment of one of the first community development corporations (CDCs) in the country – the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. In addition to providing planning and support for Restoration, Pratt Center continued to play an active role in Bedford-Stuyvesant through the 1960s by operating the Central Brooklyn Neighborhood College which offered training and education for local residents, especially African-Americans and Latinos who had either dropped out of high school or lacked access to higher education.
“Stuyvesant Heights: A Good Neighborhood in Need of Help" launched Pratt Center's tradition of strategic research and advocacy in support of community-based organizations in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we invite you to read this landmark report.