Jeffrey Chen is currently co-teaching INT 401, a senior level design studio at Pratt Institute with professor Jack Travis, FAIA NOMAC and Latoya Kamdang, AIA. Productive Collisions focuses on issues of gentrification in Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn and aims to raise student awareness of the social impact of design via multidisciplinary collaboration and direct engagement with local community based organizations.
[image above: Pratt students visiting Caples Jefferson Architects]
The neighborhood was changing no matter what,” O’Shea says. Someone was going to open the first café, and it wasn’t going to be these guys. I think a lot of people can see that. When retail happens, instead of it being Duane Reade and Starbucks, why can’t there be more projects like this one, which only cost us $30,000 to start?
– Father Jim O’Shea –
Co-founder of Vernon Avenue Project & Reconnect Cafe
With on-going rapid neighborhood transition in Bedford Stuyvesant – how do we, in the short term, locate opportunities for “productive collisions”? That is to say, as market forces have accelerated neighborhood change, how do we, and where do we, as design professionals find opportunities to interrupt normative patterns of gentrification in exchange for more inclusive projects and narratives? How do we as design professional and affiliates become creative stewards for a broader understanding of neighborhood identity? For instance, as organizations such as Vernon Avenue Project/Re-Connect create pathways to opportunity within the backdrop of rapid neighborhood transition how might such models inform design interventions in neighborhoods undergoing re-zoning as per Mayor DeBlasio’s 10-year affordable housing plan? This conversation and any subsequent proposals, we believe, require a multidisciplinary, multi-scalar approach. Our hope is to bring more like minds to the table in order to push projects such as these forward while not otherwise negating the vitality surrounding longer-term visions for social and economic equality.
We will begin by examining the efforts of Vernon Avenue Project/Re-Connect to create an entry level economy and merchant class among disconnected youth in Bedford Stuyvesant. The effort augments a parallel initiative to develop a mutually beneficial partnership between VAP and Pratt’s School of Design whereby students are given the opportunity to engage systemic social challenges locally while also bringing Pratt Institute’s expertise to bear on a rapidly growing social entrepreneurial organization.
For students our initial provocation is to imagine small scale, relatively affordable yet highly impactful design interventions that augment, amplify or make more widely legible, existing community led efforts. This is not to say we are interested in singular outcomes. Rather, our goals will be to link projects in a manner that can scale within a neighborhood, a city or even globally. While ambitious in range our research and subsequent proposals will, for example, examine the neighborhood storefront as a site for “productive collisions.”