What is the Connected Communities Initiative?
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?
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.
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.