New York City, USA

Category Winner Supporting Cohesive Communities 

Why is New York a wellbeing city?

>>> New York City’s Housing Authority is innovatively placing wellbeing at the core of its design standards by integrating considerations on social cohesion and sense of security.

>>> The initiative is highly inclusive as it directly involves residents, local associations, and a range of city services at every stage.

>>> We also value the comprehensive measurement of wellbeing through both quantitative and qualitative data.


What is the Connected Communities Initiative?

Situation:

In New York City, years of federal divestment have severely tainted the quality of public housing developments, leaving buildings fenced off from the surrounding  community, with confusing circulation, insufficient lighting, and inaccessible outdoor space - factors known to lead to a proliferation of anti-social behavior and a disproportionately high level of violent crime. How can the City leverage the design of its built environment to address issues of social isolation, physical and mental health, and safety in public housing communities?

Response:

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), home to 1 in 14 New Yorkers, is the largest public housing authority in North America and the city’s largest landlord. Its  Connected Communities initiative seeks to address issues of social isolation, physical and mental health, and safety in public housing communities by re-prioritizing the 75 percent of its land portfolio currently fenced off and largely inaccessible to residents. 

NYCHA’s Connected Communities initiative aims to reconfigure open, public space to achieve a variety of goals, including destigmatizing public housing, promoting social equity, increasing accessibility, and empowering residents. The last goal rests at the heart of the initiative, as it promotes residents’ stewardship and ownership over the design of public space. Utilizing their expertise and lived experiences, NYCHA partnered with several New York City agencies, non-profits, and private entities in implementing physical renovations to their housing units to improve quality of life and foster a more vibrant urban realm. Connected Communities has already shown a direct impact on lowering levels of violent crime and increasing social cohesion,  setting the standard for future open space design at NYCHA.

Connected Communities was launched in 2018 as a pilot project focused on implementing and testing design tools and methodologies to renovate open space. Since then, the project has developed into a 5-year strategic plan that comprehensively addresses community connectivity of over 300 public housing developments across New York City. Through the research, analysis, and implementation phases of the initiative, NYCHA has created a Connected Communities Guidebook, which establishes a holistic, resident-centered framework that will guide all of the city’s future urban design goals, while taking historical, socio-economic, and neighborhood-specific concerns into account for each initiative.

Moving forward: 

Connected Communities brings awareness to the need for investment in public housing for the most vulnerable New Yorkers; 90% of NYCHA residents are Black and Brown and all residents are low-income. With New York City as the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US from March to June 2020, the NYCHA population was one of the hardest hit. This underscored the value of the Connected Communities initiative in its mission to directly improve people's daily life through increased access to open space throughout the city.

“In 2018, NYCHA partnered with the Mayor’s office and several city agencies to develop an urban design initiative focused on leveraging the 2,400 acres of open space the Authority oversees for the 400,000-plus residents living in public housing. Connected Communities is the result of that effort, providing best practices on such civic goals as increasing green space equity; activating city streets and pathways; providing better access to public transit options; and connecting NYCHA residents to vital neighborhood resources. We are excited by the promise of this initiative and are honored to be considered as a Wellbeing Cities Awards Finalist.”

Gregory Russ
Chair and Chief Executive Officer, New York City Housing Authority

Featured photo by Lukas Kloeppel from Pexels.
Photos of Connected Communities Initiative sent by the City of New York, USA.