in Politics and Plans, System Change

Brooklyn is Charitable

Baruch College’s CNSM found that there are 46,595 nonprofits in New York City. Unfortunately, only a few of them understand the reciprocity required of a helping relationship at least, in the way Paulo Freire describes it in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Below you will find a sample of not-for-profit organizations with addresses and website links. It is entitled, “Brooklyn is Charitable.” It is offered as a list in search of those capable of creating system change.

Review the resources of CNSM if you haven’t already. Then, review the list below alphabetically or randomly if you prefer. Finally, use the experience to devise strategies for introducing your organization’s services to Executive Directors and staff.

I use one assumption regarding the effort of various organizations to create coalitions for social change as it is affected by the rapidly changing physical landscape of New York City. In this case example, I will call the organization Joe. It is an outfit designed to be a system changer. It has a strong combination of social programming, architecture, and design expertise on its staff. The expertise needed for a system change could be many other things, a group of lawyers combining areas of knowledge in human rights, health advocacy, and housing justice. It could be a group of medical professionals working to prescribe “safe and healthy housing” as a matter of national health policy. It is up to you to write Joe’s mission is to…(write it, then rewrite it to adapt to change). 

You have to be careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.

Yogi Berra

Make Lists

Before sharpening a listing of the most relevant hundred places to go, a review of those Joe (that would be you) finds interesting will help produce prospects for a pitch and a concept that works to “get there” as Yogi would say. Housing is developed on a preliminary basis (here) with an overview of housing issues and some mapping of a few community-based housing organizations. Another important resource regarding the location of child care services (here). In other words, in New York City, information is not a serious problem. The problem is choosing what to do with this rich source of data, combined with Joe’s expertise, and our experience on the street.

Here are some examples. Joe could be immediately recognized as a professional design/architecture service and a community advocate. But, local organizations fighting negative change may not ask, how can we get the best design solution? Some on the list below might pick up on Joe’s experience designing and constructing educational and office space and seek that kind of help. Others may seek a consultant for reviewing a major housing proposal, still others for a straightforward design/build service for a training center. In addition, a few Sunset Park groups serving immigrant households (Chinese and other Asian groups for example) may see Joe in a unique light because two of Joe’s staff members include experience in Asian countries.

One more tidbit, imagine you have an office in Industry City and learn of Turning Point Brooklyn associated with Brooklyn Community Services (BCS).  You learn Turning Point is an opportunity to meet its director and introduce Joe’s mission. You also discover a project by BCS that fascinates Joe— a city bus redesigned to be a mobile shower. With some solid industrial design work, that idea could help demonstrators, health advocates, there are hundreds of possibilities. Fundamentally, this is what business people call a “lean startup idea.” There is a post on that subject here.

In this case example, the idea behind reviewing Brooklyn-based nonprofit organizations is to ask how best to introduce Joe. In addition, you could conduct an interview. For example, “What is Turning Point’s opinion of public service planning, design, and architecture in NYC?” Is it possible for you to say, “Joe has the staff funding, talent resources, and offices to choose one project in 2022 that is fully paid for if it meets a criterion Attempting to form a public action partnership on issues is very different than offering a free service.

The criteria, of course, would be based on meeting shared but concrete goals, such as a carbon-neutral building, ten units of rehabilitated housing, or something basic such as the redesign and furnishing of a training center to improve productivity. The limitation is Joe can only offer planning, design, and architecture services to the partnership. The reciprocity required must be more than “a need.”

With a subscription to GuideStar or CauseiQ as another source, Joe can see the revenue picture of prominent organizations and those with zero revenue. For example, University Settlement’s annual revenues approach $40 million. Without a membership, Joe is limited to a few detailed “look-ups” a month. Nevertheless, it may be helpful to take a subscription to find those who would discover Joe to be a highly compatible partner in some areas. Joe will be on lists like this sometime in 2022. The list that follows is for thinking – where will Joe fit and how should Joe present its service ideas?

Also, a recently published report, “US Nonprofit Compensation is an online Interactive Report 2021 (here). It is $300, but the website has teaser resources such as listing all eighteen tech solutions for nonprofits using the UN’s sustainable development goals. Most of them have a design component.

Neighborhood Data Profiles

Many community-based organizations on this Brooklyn list carry real estate management responsibilities, a role in economic development associated with new housing construction, and services to mitigate displacement and problems more specific to their locality. However, tightening fiscal policy is no longer in tandem with local needs at the refinement level expected.  The opportunity for design improvements to increase the supply or distribution of services is therefore present but difficult to see.

The NYU Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy has a “core data” service that can help in a conversation with a community-based corporation about your services. The citywide overview data on housing and demographic trends helps to source and inform citywide policy. However, as reduced resources affect local program implementation, it increases opportunities for innovation.

I recommend going to the Neighborhood Data Profiles (map left) as a first step followed up with some of the “core data” resources.  You can download data to identify specific demographic conditions in the housing market, changing land uses, and social services that offer common ground.

Like Minds in Action

Will Joe be the only nonprofit service program providing design, architecture, and technical assistance in Brooklyn? Probably not. There are plenty of interested parties on the subject. In the for-profit concept of service, measures of competitiveness would be useful. In the not-for-profit view, the concept of competition aligns with a search for partnerships on common interest issues.

I could look into them a little more, but so far, all of the following small groups and individuals seem to work with private firms or have their own. However, all of the following individuals had at one time been members of ACD or Design Corps (SEED and the Structures for Inclusion Conference). Design Corps is building a global image of colleagues sharing interests (see map here). There are nine NYC projects on the map. One is a Design/Build in the Bronx. Architecture for Humanity collapsed, and some of its participants created the Open Architectural Collaborative with a set of Chapters worldwide. The NYC crew is here. University-based help has a minimal set of offerings. Planners Network is the most progressive and out of Hunter (Angotti). I think Tom picked up the Flushing megaproject (here).

Another strategy would be to get referrals from established sectors:

  • Erick Gregory, Deputy Director, Urban Design Office, New York City Department of City Planning
  • Joshua Langham, Assistant Director of the Active Design Program, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute, and Lay Member, New York City Public Design Commission
  • Delma Palma, Community Design Architect, New York City Housing Authority
  • Karen A. Phillips, Landscape Architect and Community Advocate

Like Minds in Policy & Practice

Whatever your purpose might be, to volunteer, write stories about the organizations, assist in research on public legislation, or reveal a design/build process, the main function of the following references on policy and practice is essential reading. The links below are bundled and distributed by Candid, thus a filter on priorities may be in place, but it is a good start.

A survey conducted by Stanford University examined samples of giving and volunteering to find them offering it generously as if a family member needed help. The behavior is a policy shift to counter a growing public opinion that major philanthropies avoid tax and dampen public debate in a politically democratic process. This lack of discussion in government has become a controlled reduction. Furthermore, personal philanthropic acts are not traditionally accounted for, leading people to believe these large groups do what is right with their donations. Measures are needed to gauge our behaviors.

The purpose of the following two lists is to make one of your own and to imagine relationships that will successfully offer what you have with what they need. One can call it reciprocity, but as Marshall Sahlins (1930-2021) observed, three distinct varieties are found: generalized, balanced, and negative. Consequently, it is important to understand the differences fully. The first list is a selection of “Joe-like” agents, and the second a list of those who may want to work with what Joe would like to accomplish –more afffordable housing, better community facilities and sustainable/resilient neighborhoods.


Ascendant Neighborhood Development

421 East 116th Street New York, NY 10029

Ascendant Neighborhood Development (AND) owns and operates 28 buildings with 690 permanently affordable rental apartments, all located in the Northern Manhattan neighborhoods of East and Central Harlem. First, a talk with its director would be useful, and then one with ANHD on the changing role of community-based housing development. The best example of the change in outlook is ANHD used to be the association of neighborhood housing developers. Now it is for neighborhood and housing development.

NYVARCH Architecture

Venesa Alicea-Chuqui AIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, a registered Architect in New York State, is wholly committed to civic architecture and encouraging community engagement through design practices. Her interests vary widely but present as stone-cold serious.


I think this is a 1% model of public service.  Daniel Horn just took the leadership role of the Queens AIA office.

Preeti Sodhi

Columbia Urban Planning grad, active, good website/CV

Bridget Sheerin

Via SEED network, very involved in projects, one was on Industry City.

Urban Design Forum

The forum is a not-for-profit outfit built alongside the Regional Planning Association and essentially replaced Ann Ferebee’s Institute for Urban Design. She was angry about it but had been the whole institute forever. The forum is devoted to the generalities of urban design and its contribution to creating dynamic, sustainable places.


One of California’s programs to fight homelessness will be compared with the lesser-known “hotel” strategy in NYC. The CA production is impressive (6,000 new units mostly hotel/motel conversions, however, the tiny house idea, college dorm, and single-family conversions are attracting architects.

Coming and Going List

Architecture for Tibet
Center for Community Design Research
Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access

Center for Urban Pedagogy

The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) is a nonprofit organization that uses design and art to improve civic engagement. CUP projects demystify the urban policy and planning issues that impact our communities so that more individuals can better participate in shaping them.

Design Trust for Public Space
Engaged Learning + Research
GA Collaborative
Gowanus by Design
Hester Street Collaborative
IDeA Center
IMPACT! Design for Social Change Workshop
Institute for Public Architecture
J Max Bond Center
Made in Brownsville
Parsons Design Workshop
Pratt Center for Community Development
Rochester Regional Community Design Center
SCALE Studio
TAP, Inc.
UB Regional Institute (formerly Urban Design
Urban Landscape Lab

Next Page: List of NGOs

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