ODP: Towards a Pedagogy of Prefiguration

DRAFT written for Visible Pedagogy - to be revised for this site by November 2017.

For 8 of the 9 semesters that I’ve taught, I have taught the 101 course in the Urban Studies Department at Queens College. Entitled ‘Poverty and Affluence’, this class introduces students to the history and various manifestations of inequality (economic, social, political, material, experiential and more) as they intertwine with urban development. Because we live, work and/or learn in (or in close proximity to) New York City, and because NYC is such a well-researched and unequal place, much of the course material and our conversations about inequality focus specifically on the development of NYC. This is both useful and challenging.

The proximity of course material to the everyday lives of my students helps them take it in, connect with it and think critically about it. However, this proximity can be intimidating as well – because the world can seem like a very dark and threatening place when you’re wrapping your head around how inequality has and is taking place in the context of your everyday life. When things are intimidating, we develop coping mechanisms – and students in my class developed a myriad of them: from wanting to learn more or get more involved in social justice and community building activities, to distancing themselves from or denying or struggling to accept course material (and relatedly, our socio-political reality).

The need for coping quickly became apparent, and I attempted to find ways of encouraging students to go down the path of more engagement rather than less. This took many forms: from analytically reflective essay assignments, to field trips and class outings, to modeling the ways I understand and cope and struggle with the course-related realities that define my own life, to sharing information on intellectual and activist events around the city. Most recently, I have been experimenting with using a variety of digital tools in the classroom (i.e WordPress, Googe Drive, StoryMaps, JSTimeline and more). As a whole, these efforts aim(ed) to encourage students to engage course material in and beyond the classroom; to both understand material in the context of the class, but also in the context of their lives, and to (re)imagine their positionality in and disposition to our city/world. My ambition with using a select set of digital tools in the classroom went farther; it was undergirded by a desire to move students beyond engaging and (re)imagining, and into the realm of enacting (or actively experimenting with) alternative ways of being and seeing and knowing and sharing.

I have documented my experimentation with digital technologies in the classroom at length elsewhere, but in short, over the course of three semesters I involved students in a community-based research project, asked them to engage in and lead public online discussions and asked them to create digital public education tools on a topic related to course material. We also started cooperatively making other resources including an urban dictionary and a library of NYC-based social justice organizations. In general, these assignments and activities often called on students to coordinate with and support one another, and otherwise co-learn course material. Moreover, I hosted the majority of course information, readings, some class discussions and the resources we created on a public WordPress site. Thus when taken as a whole, someone could feasibly, ‘take’ our Urban Studies 101 course by going through the readings, assignments and lecture slides and following along with our online class discussion.

This semester I’ve started transitioning away from teaching, and so while I’ve continued experimenting with these tools and aims in the one class I am teaching this semester, I’ve also been trying to unpack (and document, hence this post) my pedagogical praxis so that when I return to teaching in the future I know where I’m starting from.

A Pedagogy of Prefiguration

In reflecting on my pedagogy, the word prefiguration comes to mind. Prefiguration, sometimes referred to as prefigurative politics, describes future-oriented socio-political formations or collectives that reorganize social, material, economic and political relationships in a preferred and counter-hegemonic way. This reorganization is enacted through coordinated embodiment by members of the collective (see Yates, 2015 or Trott, 2016 for references). The encampments of Occupy are perhaps the most accessible example of prefiguration – where, in the seized spaces, protesters reclaimed public space for public discourse, enacted forms of horizontal and deliberative democracy, and in some cases developed local economies based on bartering and the sharing of services rather than monetary exchange, matching their notorious chant, ‘this is what democracy looks like’. However, prefigurations do not always resemble the direct-political-action structure of Occupy. Permanent or semi-permanent collectives, organizations, or institutions that inherently – though more or less intentionally – organize individuals into collective embodiments of counter hegemonic logics and modes of relationality, such as community land trusts, also count (Hackett, 2017).

Instead of structure, the main component of prefiguration is the idea of becoming by doing and being; it is coordinated enactment that makes action prefigurative. In addition, 5 other characteristics have been identified by a scholar researching and comparing a set of prefigurations in Barcelona (Yates, 2015):

  • active experimentation with everyday practices and projects;
  • engagement with and critical reflection on political perspectives and ideas as a way of reimagining practices and/or reorganizing social relations and guiding experimentation;
  • establishing new collective norms that draw on political and social ideals and practices of experimentation;
  • develop interventions in material environments and social orders;
  • and diffuse ideas beyond immediate the group.

To a large extent, these criteria map onto the values, practices, assignments, conversations and activities that flesh out my courses. We have critical, reflective discussions about the policies that have and are forming the context of our everyday lives (i.e. changes in labor and housing policy at the national and municipal level); and these conversations take place in ways that are both in-person and amongst ourselves and public and transparent and shared and otherwise diffuse. The use of various digital technologies that have supported the public nature of our class, class discussions, and the resources we’ve created can be understood as an intervention in the material and social – and digital – orders that define our education, university and broader lives. Through the practice of public writing and the community structure of the classroom, we are enacting an alternative set of collective norms and experimenting with non-hegemonic ways of being and doing and becoming and relating and learning in the world. In sum, we as a community are collectively prefiguring a way of learning and being and relating vis-a-vis each other, the university, and the public that contrasts with the hegemonic logics of the neoliberal academy and the neoliberal political economy more generally.

For me, the significance of prefiguration in the classroom – or ‘a pedagogy of prefiguration’ – lies in staving off despair and disengagement by providing students with an outlet for action – a sense of not just taking in course material, but of sharing it in meaningful and loosely productive ways. In this way, a ‘pedagogy of prefiguration’ approach is related to the transformative ‘pedagogy of hope’ advocated for by Paulo Freire (1994) and bell hooks (2003). Despair, each scholar argued, was ‘the greatest threat’. Beyond interrupting learning and education, as hooks notes, “When despair prevails we cannot create life-sustaining communities of resistance”, a pedagogy of hope has significance for society at large as well (2003, p12). Similarly, a pedagogy of prefiguration is not only centered on learning in the classroom, but with engaging in and being active, supportive and critical members of society and prefiguring a certain kind of citizenry. Through engaging one another and writing for a public audience, students are engaging these skills while also experimenting with alternative ways of being and doing and becoming and relating that extend well beyond the classroom. Thus, as a final point of comparison between the two pedagogical perspectives, ‘hope’ is certainly at the center of each approach, however, the heart of a pedagogy of prefiguration is embodied hope, or hope that both drives and is supported by action on the part of the student.

Concluding Thoughts

After having written this, I realize this sounds Grand and ideal. And it is. Of course there were many uneasy and challenging moments throughout this process, which I have and am in the process of reflecting on elsewhere. However, among the collection of posts I’ve composed, this one intends to begin to theorize my pedagogy. In part, this is because my teaching is coming to an end (for now), and this reflection can serve as a starting point in the future. Perhaps moreso, however, because I haven’t seen other pedagogical frames similar to this, at the same time that I think many of us are engaging similar values to similar ends or similar tools (i.e. digital technologies) to similar or unknown ends. Thus, this perspective stands as a point of discussion, around which a conversation about the unique particulars of how similar pedagogical styles are enacted or similar tools deployed and what challenges and tips we have in this endeavor can be had.

 

About this Project

cropped-walking-300x300.jpgThe Walking in My Shoes (WIMS) Project is an open digital pedagogy project that began as a way to: 1) more deeply involve the students in my class with the issues we were discussing, 2) publicize the the conversations that took/take place in my public university setting, 3) to stretch and experiment with my pedagogy. In sum, I created specific assignments over the course of 3 semesters that aimed to achieve these goals.

Over its two year life-span, the project has grown and shifted form based on the community groups and students we worked with, and the way the relations took place.

This site aims to 1) document this history of this project,  2) act as an open educational resource (OER) to which others may turn in  learning more about topics of urban inequality, particularly as it manifests in NYC City and 3) be in conversation with other teachers aiming to achieve similar means in their classrooms. For a look at the history of the project, continue scrolling down – the various posts tell the tale of the twists and turns and roadblocks the project has endured over time in reverse chronological order. For the OER, and more information on urban inequality, click on the red menu icon in the upper right-hand corner (hexagon with 3 bars).

This project is forever incomplete and able to grow, and I hope to continue growing this project in the future.

Table of Contents (in chronological order):

… to be continued.

Acknowledgements: This project could not have been made possible without the efforts, thoughtfulness, and cooperation of the students in my courses. To them (and my future students), I am forever indebted. In addition, I would like to thank the residents of ENY/CH who shared their stories with my students and I and the Teaching and Learning Center at the CUNY Graduate Center for their gracious support.

 

Student-Created Digital Public Education Tools – Part 2

In the Spring of 2017 I asked students in my Urban Studies 101 course to culminate their class-experience by creating digital public education tools that would 1) allow them to go deeper into a topic of interest to them and 2) organize what they learnt through their deeper dive in a way that it could be communicated with a larger public audience. These are their projects.

[More on assignment description here.]

Table of Contents

People of NYC

Street Optics, by Jake Shellow
This ongoing project captures the lives of those who go unnoticed on a daily basis.  It is often that these people are not given the time of day, and their voiced are rarely heard.  Through this project I hope to lend a hand in helping those speak out about the urban issues in our society.  I have shot and developed all of the photographs myself.  The writings are composed of notes from my many notebooks.  I gained permission to photograph every person seen throughout this project.   There is still a lot of work to be done with this project but this is what I have to present to the class.  Enjoy.

Disenfranchisement of Minorities and Women, by Keith Rogers
For my project, I conducted an interview with my parents to ask them about their experiences or remembrances of past policies put in place that kept African Americans and other minorities, as well as women disenfranchised.  They talk about public and corporate policies that impacted them years ago and how the impact still has an effect on them today.

Neighborhood and Community Studies

Brooklinfication: A Details Study of Gentrification in Brooklyn, by Shevin Narine, Paraskevas Xenophontos, Matt Gomes, Raiaan Valle and Aalya Ismail
We have examined the effects of gentrification on particular areas of Brooklyn, namely: Williamsburg, Bedford-Stuyvesant, South Slope and Bushwick and presented our findings using WordPress.

A Whiter City, by Christopher Caba
“NYC will become a whiter city if gentrification keeps happening.” I displayed my findings using Story Maps.

Inequality in Housing due to Racial and Ethnic Backgrounds, by Mishel Sanchez
The purpose of this project is to learn and have a general sense of why there is so many disparities in housing today because of racial and ethnic backgrounds. As you progress through the site, you will learn historical practices and policies that have made it almost impossible for minorities to have equal opportunities in housing, that have led to the gap today.

The New Jamaica: Gentrification at its Best, by Nicole Valle
I recognized that gentrification was happening all throughout Jamaica, Queens and followed it development by researching news articles and observing the area myself. I displayed my findings using Story Maps.

Barclays Center Community Issues, by Vahe Atakhanian
In this project I’m going to show how eminent domain was abused with the Barclays Center. Also I’ll discuss a host of other issues that the community has with the arena using story map.

History of Sunnyside, by Ariful Malik
In my project I wrote a timeline about the history of Sunnyside. From its beginnings as a farm to the present day, where it is currently dealing with gentrification issues.

Public Space

‘You can’t be here, this is our property’: The Militarization and Privatization of Space, by Ashley Bruno I conducted an interview with a resident of a gated community in eastern Queens, New York and a resident of Hillside Avenue to compare and contrast methods of militarization and privatization of space. The interview sheds light on these practices and provides possible solutions in hopes of informing listeners and encouraging changes to help communities grow. The interview is inspired by podcasts and is posted on Soundcloud.

Educational Equity

The Cyclical Nature of Education and Poverty, by Henry Yam, Kylle Cassela Mendoza, & Jerry Yan Chen
A link to ourStoryMap. Please view first. Then see our summary on our findings. Finally our proposed solutions to end the cycle.

Starting with Students: Working Towards Educational Equity in New York City, by Sara Pepkin
This project used Story Maps to show the history of educational inequity and the problems associated with it.  Educational equity can be achieved through policy changes, increased knowledge of students, parents, and teachers on educational rights, and equitable funding.  There are also organizations such as the Campaign for Educational Equity that provide information for those seeking to make a change in their schools.

Criminal Justice

A Never Ending Problem, by Daniel Matos
This timeline is meant to show the never ending problem and conflicts that people of color have to face with the criminal justice system and how its still occurring today.

Immigration

Immigration History, by Rafael C.
The project focuses on some major dates that have a large impact on immigration policies. I used Timeline JS for this project

Immigration: A Battle Led by President Trump, by Lauren Hondolero, Michelle Recalde, & Victoria Tyszka
Our group researched and studied Trump’s perspectives and establishing of immigration issues and policies and arranged our project into a Prezi presentation.

Other Unique Perspectives

Dog Whistles in Mainstream Media, by Shannan O’Neil
Take a look at my final project, a blog I started about how media portrays poverty and how it can shape how people see it!

Classroom Exchange & An Interdisciplinary Dialogue about Pedagogy

In the spring of 2017, I was accepted as a participant in the ‘Classroom Visit Exchange’ Program, a part of the Open Teaching Initiative of the Teaching and Learning Center at the Graduate Center, which aimed to “foster cross-disciplinary dialogues about teaching among Graduate Center student instructors”. For this program, I was paired with another graduate student in another department, who taught at a different school in a different discipline than the one I taught in. We were to visit each others classes during Open Classroom Week and observe their teaching style, and subsequently compare and contract our praxis, and our experience visiting each others classroom.

This experience culminated in a jointly written, peer-reviewed piece for Visible Pedagogya digital publication edited by the Teaching and Learning Center at the CUNY Graduate Center. Our piece was entitled ‘Assessing Active Learning Praxis: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue‘. In the piece we co-reflect on what active learning means for us, and how it grounds our pedagogical values, as well as how classroom dynamics can make implementing active learning techniques challenging. Overall, it was a great experience, and I am happy to have had the opportunity the share some of what I learned through this experience with a peer and the larger public in this way.

Assessing Active Learning Praxis: An Interdisciplinary Dialogue

 

Student-Created Digital Public Education Tools – Part 1

During the Spring 2017 semester, the final project in my Urban Studies 101 class was to create a digital tool that could be used as a public education tool about an issue of interest to the student or group of students and related to course material. Below is an overview of the assignment.

Assignment Description:

The point of assignment 6 is to create a space for you to dig more deeply into a topic of interest to you that is relevant to course material. Maybe you live in a gentrifying neighborhood or a neighborhood that has been targeted by the rezoning and you want to examine what’s going on more closely, or maybe there’s a new or recent policy that relates to another topic we (will) touch(ed) on in class (CJ, Immigration Policy, Housing, Public Space, Privatization of Risk and Well-being, etc.). This is broadly conceived intentionally, to allow for flexibility in the topics you choose. Make this interesting for yourself and choose something that you want to know more about.

More than digging into an issue, this assignment also asks you to teach what you learn back to a public audience. The final product for this project is a digital educational tool that can be used to educate a member of the general public about the issue at hand. You will give both an overview of the issue and a critical analysis wherein the issue is sifted through perspectives grounded in course material.

Students will work individually or in groups based on responses to a survey (via Google Form) asking about preferences.

Examples (w/ Suggested Technologies)

  • Critical historical tour of a gentrifying neighborhood that offers an insiders look at the changes taking place or assumed to be coming. You could take pictures, talk to people, research the neighborhood online, etc and use StoryMaps to tell a current narrative of the neighborhood.
  • Create a Scavenger Hunt around NYC using Google Maps or StoryMaps that gives people an alternative history of the city – e.g. remaining public housing or cooperatives..
  • Use Timeline JS to tell a critical history of a particularly neighborhood such as the South Bronx or Jamaica. You can reflect on the practices of redlining, racial steering, etc and the consequences for the community. But also maybe how they are responding today to any contemporary threats.
  • Discuss an issue critically and curate as a podcast or video using YouTube or Soundcloud.
  • Create a WordPress site on Qwriting around a particular issue.
  • Use Storify to curate a twitter conversation you feel adds insight to an ongoing public debate or help tells us a story about public debate. For example, the “Criming while white” / “Criming while black” twitter conversation a few years ago.

Other topics

  • Examine an issue through the history of a particular statue or body of water or building or street, or neighborhood or mode of transportation etc of significance to you.
    • Tell a story of transportation inequality through the ‘eyes’ of Citi Bike, for example.

Project Timeline:

WEEK 1: Introduction to project and group assignments

WEEK 3: Proposals due (See template below).

WEEK 5/6/7: In-Class Peer Workshopping of final projects (More on structure below)

WEEK 7/8: Final Project due.

Proposal Template

(Students were asked to use the following template to complete their project proposals.)

Project Title: This should have a main title and a more descriptive sub-title, both should be specific to your project (e.g. The ‘Walking in My Shoes’ Project: A Radical Oral History Project).

Group Names (In alphabetical order)
Course, Semester, Year
College

General Description of the project. In one paragraph, give a description of the overall project. Be sure to highlight the key parts of the project succinctly and directly.

Topic Description. In 1-2 paragraphs, give more information specific to your issue/topic including a brief summary of the topic, and an outline of the key issues, arguments or perspectives on that topic.

Technology. In 1 paragraph, discuss the digital tool are you planning to use to tell your story, and give a rationale for choosing this one in particular.

Timeline to Completion. Fill in a list of deadlines for steps you need to take to complete this project. Consider when you want to have background research on the issue done. When do you want any written parts written by? Do you want to have a draft of the assignment done by a certain point? What do you need to have prepared before the peer workshop session on May 8th? This may require you first making a list of the tasks that need to be completed.

Week Countdown x Day / Date Corresponding Task Deadlines
Week 6 (W Apr 19) Proposal Submitted Friday 4/21
Week 5 (W Apr 26)
Week 4 (W May 3)
Week 3 (W May 10)  Peer Review on M 5/15. Prepare something to share.
Week 2 (W May 17)
Week 1 (W May 23)
   0       (F May 26) Turn assignment in.

Peer Workshopping

Below is the Peer Workshopping Worksheet that was shared and discussed with students in the lead up to our in-class workshopping session. The aim was to convey to students how they might prepare for a ‘successful’ workshopping experience – one in which they could give and receive constructive feedback that would improve their projects.

In creating this worksheet, I reviewed the suggestions of other educators who use the practice of peer workshopping in their classrooms. What I found was that while there are a myriad of tips and suggestions for conducting peer review available online, they largely focus on written text as the medium for workshopping.

The worksheet here attempts to rethink, reapply and expand on some of these principles with the aim of facilitating the peer workshopping of digital projects, which incorporate a myriad of ‘texts’ (images, video, audio, maps, etc) in conveying a point.

Download (PDF, 46KB)

Sharing the Voices of ENY & CH, June 2017

In the Fall of 2016, The ‘Walking in My Shoes’ Project, with the support of the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, conducted walking interviews with 5 residents of East New York and Cypress Hills. These interviews were a part of a larger effort to understand the relationship between residents and their neighborhood. This study was prompted by the recent approval of a rezoning for the neighborhood, which was expected to bring new new (and taller) buildings, businesses, landlords, developers and residents to the neighborhood. The ambition of our walking interviews was to understand how current and long-standing residents’ lives may be affected by this impending change, and to garner an understanding of how they think the neighborhood should change, if at all.

Below we highlight not only the resident’s stories, but also attempt to contextualize them in the history and current state of the neighborhood. Moreover, we try to elucidate the competing perspectives between the city and neighborhood residents. We hope that this project will provide insight into the complexities of these perspectives.

We will continue to investigate how the rezoning is playing out in East New York and Cypress Hills over time and will update periodically as we see fit.

Last Updated: March 26, 2017.

For more context on East New York and Cypress Hills and/or the impetus for this project, see this reflection and/or this project description.

Open Digital Pedagogy & Urban Studies 101 at QC

Image Credit: Laura Navas Valle

Image Credit: Laura Navas Valle

A History

During the Fall of 2016 I also began experimenting with what could generally be classified as open digital pedagogy. I supported my class mostly on Queens College’s open WordPress platform, Qwriting – though I needed Blackboard for some copyrighted material. Through this course site, students participated in focused online discussions related to the readings (first initiated by me through Crowdsource, then initiated by them through blog posting), contributed to a class dictionary, began a library of social justice organizations combatting some of the issues we discuss in class, and writing reflections on the development of their ideas and understandings about urban inequality. The assignments are arranged in a way that aims to scaffold their thinking and use of the digital technology for course assignments.

There is a description of the assignments here on the Requirements page, and you can find a course schedule here, on the course site. Though it has been rearranged to better accommodate external viewers, the site contains all of the original content of the course. Thus, to a large extent some one could retake the course by following this schedule.

Through this schedule you can see the progression of assignments. In the beginning students are expected to familiarize themselves with the course site. I refer to in class since it contains nearly all of the information they’ll need to be successful, and I think this helps. Then they begin commenting on a post that I make. This crowdsource assignment also aims to scaffold online class discussion because it asks students to engage one another and share their opinions about the readings. The step is that they are doing this in the comments section, for now.

During the first half of the assignment I also introduce them to the Dashboard, the practical aspects of posting to the blog and the larger realities and complexities of the public writing they’ll be doing and the underlying ethics). Following that class they were asked to post a reflection to the blog – on that had been due 3 days prior. Thus, their first blog posting assignment was merely about the mechanics of this activity. They has to add a new title, insert their content, add and image or video or both, categorize their post according to guidelines I prescribed and add at least three unique identifiers as tags.

That class we also talked about blogging and what blogging was, but students didn’t start blogging until the 2nd half of the semester. While I mimicked this scaffolding in the Spring of 2017, in the Fall of 2017 I had students blogging from the beginning. This was for two reasons. First, as I’ll discuss, students in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017 were able to pick up technology relatively quickly (despite in one instance reporting that they didn’t feel that confident in their abilities). How necessary was all the scaffolding I was doing then? Second, though students generally seem to engage in the course, the majority of student feedback was it was too many assignments for a 101 course. In prepping a new iteration of the course for Fall 2017, I wanted to heed this advice; not only because students were pushing back, but also because I felt the ‘bombardment’ of assignments might actually impede more than facilitate the learning process. Balance was needed.

In the Spring of 2017, and likely related to my reviews though some students really enjoyed this assignment, I also had students create digital public education tools for their final assignments. They had the option of working in groups or individually, and were charged with doing a 6-week, scaffolded digital research project. The outcome would be a digital public education tool that could be accessed by outside readers to learn more about a topic related to urban inequality. I did not give in-depth overviews of the different tools I recommended to students, but I gave them a list, and a couple weeks to explore them and think about which one(s) they might use. These included JSTimeline, StoryMaps and Qwriting/WordPress. You can read more about this assignment in the next post, but in sum, all students were able to make the project work for them.

In the Fall of 2017 I ultimately cut this assignment too, and the reasoning points to the larger challenge of integrating technology into one’s course. In their reviews, the students were right – this was a 101 course. There is certain material (in this case, a baseline understanding of urban inequality and skills (critical thinking, academic writing, class discussion, synthesis of reading, etc) one needs to get from a 101 course. The integration of digital tech needs to be considered in relation to the course more generally, and the overall goals of the course; in most cases, learning digital tech will not be the ultimate aim, it will just be a tool and/or a classroom space.

With this in mind, I also made the ‘Course Blog Contributions’ (at 25% of their grade) a more pronounced part of the class. This included the 4 blogs they needed to sign-up for and post throughout the semester, and the weekly commenting, even on weeks they were blogging. To scaffold their learning of blog posting, I kept the initial reflection assignment that required them to submit the assignment before we discuss WordPress, and then to go through the mechanics of posting that same assignment to the blog. In addition, I pointed students to other student blogs including QC Voices and The Buzz, City Tech OpenLab’s student blogging team. After the first week of blogging, I also pointed out some blogs and comments that I think were done particularly well. I am currently eagerly waiting to read the 2nd week of post.

To be continued Spring 2017.

Why ODP?

A major impetus for going down the rabbit hole of ODP was to understand how it could support my aims of agentive, cooperative learning. In my classrooms, I strive to blur the binary between teacher and learner in the endeavor of creating a diverse community of learners (and teachers) who contribute to (others might say ‘take responsibility for’ but this rephrasing is intentional) the group’s learning by sharing their own experiences and interpretations, and growing their understandings of course material through understanding their relations to others.

Online writing, as I’m doing here, offers another space for discussing and dialogue that can complement our in-class conversations and other coverage of course material. The challenge I have found is reaching a populace, and a populace that has extreme pressures on their time and thus have to be selective of what they choose to read no less.

Moreover, online writing in public spaces – like Qwriting – can publicize the conversations in my public-university classroom. In some ways, this feels like a form of ‘giving back’ – which feels particularly pertinent given the time we’re in. Relatedly, I feel that students need to learn to find and/or have opportunities to use their voice to engage in public and peer-to-peer discussions about issues they’re learning about daily. And they need to know how to talk about these issues with a diverse community of people who may hold different views from themselves, or be at different points in the process of understanding an issue. I like the idea that students in my class are getting exposure. Even if no one outside our class ever reads these writings (and even if they do we will likely not know) I think it gives students an opportunity to practice putting their voice out there in an informed way.

In addition, I like the idea of having students write for a public audience, rather than – for me, or ‘the professor’.  We talk about writing for a public audience when we talk about blogging as a writing practice – and the importance of being able to communicate your thoughts. I like to think this emphasis on writing as a form of communication rather than as an assignment improves their writing, though at the time, I have no hard evidence to that effect.

Resources:

Course Sites: Fall 2016 | Spring 2017 | Fall 2017 | F17 Blog

 

The Demand for Land in ENY/CH – A Blog Post

 

Image Source: MMZach

Image Source: MMZach

I had been following the Mayor’s housing plan for a while before I began working in ENY/CH. The following is a reflection I wrote a few months into my time working in the neighborhood.

Whether you live in New York City or not, you are probably aware  that the real estate market is hot. In recent decades, housing prices have been rising citywide, with some neighborhoods seeing dramatic spikes in housing costs. These spikes are often related to a neighborhood’s geographic location (near water, near midtown, near a shopping district) or amenities (transportation hub, dog run, multiple parks, shorter buildings and more neighborhood appeal) which increase the ‘demand’ for the neighborhood, and drive up the real estate value.

By ‘demand’ I mean two things. First, demand refers to the housing demand of the residents – both new and long-time – who are seeking an affordable home in the city. Second, demand refers to the profit desires of land speculators. Land speculators track housing price fluctuations across the city and buy property(ies) in cheaper markets with the intention of selling the property and cashing in  as the cresting wave of spiking real estate properties moves through the neighborhood. This process, known as house flipping, becomes endemic in neighborhoods just on the horizon of spiking real estate values, and these transactions create a meta-demand as land speculators come to compete with one another for properties in the neighborhood.

Both demands work together to drive up real estate prices in the neighborhood. Though increasing costs may be beneficial to stable homeowners, they can be particularly threatening and dangerous for lower income households, many of whom are renters, that may be residing in these neighborhoods. It is no secret that housing affordability is an important factor in perpetuating or preventing homelessness, and that both have serious consequences for mental and physical health and well-being and overall quality of life.

When we think about these shifts in the real estate market, some specific neighborhoods may come to mind: the Lower East Side, Harlem, Crown Heights, or Brooklyn more generally, to name a few. Increasingly the neighborhood of East New York is thrown in this mix.

Similar to the other neighborhoods on the list, both the location and the amenities of East New York have played a role in its increasing demand.  East New York is just east of the wave of gentrification moving through Bushwick and Bed-Stuy at the moment, making it seem like the logical next target. Moreover, East New York is home to a number of current and envisioned amenities. An important amenity is access to local and regional transportation: with a number of bus and subway lines running through the neighborhood and an LIRR stop, East New York acts as a hub that provides easy access to neighborhoods throughout Queens and Brooklyn, a straight shot to Manhattan and  easy access to regional travel.

In addition, East New York is the first of fifteen neighborhoods identified for rezoning by the De Blasio administration. The rezoning is part of the new housing plan for the city, which combines neighborhood rezoning with a plan for mandatory inclusionary housing (MIH). Basically, certain neighborhoods will be rezoned to allow for taller buildings and more residential and commercial development. The intention is to drive investment into the neighborhood. Investment make the form of developers buying, building, and improving properties/buildings in the neighborhoods and residents and businesses moving in – in sum, demand for the neighborhood will increase. Critics fear this will drive up the value of real estate in the neighborhoods, threatening the ability of lower income households to remain in their homes and neighborhoods. The MIH is the mechanism charged with controlling for this effect. MIH requires all citywide new residential development properties to market 20-30 percent of new households as ‘affordable’.

Critics have identified a number of issues related to this housing plan, all of which together assert one important flaw with the plan – that it ultimately encourages and quickens the gentrification of formerly disinvested neighborhoods that in recent history have been occupied by lower-income and working class communities of color. This understanding is tied to three important shortcomings of the plan:

First, by creating a list of neighborhoods for rezoning, the city also identified fifteen neighborhoods primed for speculative practices. And in fact, recent research suggests that speculation has increased since De Blasio’s announcement of these fifteen neighborhoods. Increased speculation increases the demand for the neighborhood, agitating housing prices further.

Second, though many argue that MIH is a huge improvement in comparison with recent citywide housing plans, critics argue that generally speaking the scale of affordability devised by the administration isn’t deep enough, and doesn’t consider what is affordable from the perspective of long-time residents of these neighborhoods scheduled for rezoning. For example, the scale of affordability is based on the AMI of the entire city, which is considerably higher than the AMI in these neighborhoods. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of affordable units will be created for those who fall near the middle of this scale – around $50,000 – though the need for affordable housing is much higher among households making much less.

This leads many critics to believe that in addition to the anticipated improvements for these communities – more investment, lower crime rates, cleaner streets and parks, more housing, etc – the rezoning will also contribute to the mass displacement of the current community, and really a replacement by wealthier – and probably whiter – community.

This is where our project comes in. We aim to speak with long-time residents in the community to understand their perceptions of and relationship with the neighborhood and how the rezoning or speculation in the neighborhood is affecting their everyday lives. Moreover, we aim to use these narratives to contribute to the debate about housing policy in the city – and more specifically, to advocate for community-centered policy development approach.

RESOURCES

Housing New York: A five-borough, 10-year plan. The City of New York, the Administration of Bill de Blasio.
This is an overview of de Blasio’s ten year housing plan

Zoning for Quality and Affordability. Housing New York, NYC Planning:
This is an informational webpage on the NYC Planning website that lays out de Blasio’s plan and intention for rezoning

East New York Neighborhood Plan, NYC Planning:
This the rezoning plan for ENY. 

Coalition for Community Advancement. East New York Re-zoning Community Plan. July, 2015.
This is a plan proposed by the Coalition for Community Advancement, which is a collective of community members and leaders from East New York and Cypress Hills that have come together in response to the rezoning that intends to assess and monitor the consequences of the rezoning for the residents of ENY as well as advocate for the community in relation to how the rezoning unfolds in neighborhood.

The Impact of Property Flipping on Homeowners and Renters in Small Buildings. A report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods. April 18, 2016.
This report examines the spatial distribution of housing flipping  in NYC.

What happens to homeless families in Redeveloped East New York? A report by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. June 2016
An analysis of how the rezoning and ramped up speculation may be affecting the most vulnerable of ENY

For more on how other communities are addressing the rezoning of their neighbohroods: Check out some of the work being done by grantees of the Neighborhoods First Fund.

A Proposal to the GC Teaching and Learning Center

screen-shot-2017-10-02-at-8-24-53-pmIn the Fall of 2016 I applied for a TLC grant in response to a call from the Teaching and Learning Center at the CUNY Graduate Center. Much to my chagrin, I was called in for an interview, and was offered the grant. Though the WIMS project had already begun, this gave the project more legs to continue building the project out.

Below is the description of the grant, along with a copy of the application I submitted outlining my thoughts on the project at the time.

DESCRIPTION: TLC Grants of up to $2,500 will support the planning, execution, and public reflection upon a teaching and learning project that extends beyond an individual assignment, and which will make a broader contribution to conversations about teaching and learning. Examples of the kinds of proposals that might be funded in this category include research on teaching and learning, a workshop series or seminar on a specific pedagogical strategy, the purchase of software or hardware to facilitate a specific course or set of projects, and the beginning phases of research and development of educational technology tools, platforms, and projects. TLC Grant winners will be expected to design their project in collaboration with TLC staff, launch or implement the project in Spring 2017, reflect upon the project on the TLC website, and make a public presentation about the project.

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A Saturday, October 15th Community Event!

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Cypress Hills Senior Center at 3208 Fulton Street is located on the corner of Richmond St and Fulton St, two blocks from the Crescent Street stop off the J/Z.

On Saturday October 15th, available students and I made our way out to the “Cypress Hills Local Development Corp. Rent Freeze and Exemption Information Session.” Held at the Cypress Hills Senior Center (3208 Fulton Street, Brooklyn) from 10:30a – 2:00p, we spoke with attending residents about the rezoning about our plans to collect oral histories from residents in the neighborhood. For the most part, we were well-received, though it became immediately apparent that language would be a barrier – about half of the residents who we ‘spoke’ with at the event were Spanish-speaking; no one in the course including myself were fluent in Spanish.

Environmental Psychology and ENY at The New School

 

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This image shows a streetscape of traffic and 3-5 story commercial buildings on Atlantic Avenue. This busy thruway marks the border between Cypress Hills and East New York, and serves as a major commercial street and commuter artery for the communities. Image Credit: Kristen Hackett

In the Fall of 2016, I was invited to teach an Environmental Psychology Course at the The New School. As an PhD student in an Environmental Psychology Program, I was thrilled – excited to compose a course that shared the theoretical perspective that had become home to me, and to share my research and interests on Environmental Psychology with students. In addition to introducing them to the syllabus and requirements of the course, in the first couple of weeks, I also introduced them to the ‘Walking in My Shoes’ Project, which was narrowly conceived at the time as a oral history project take place in and with residents of East New York and Cypress Hills.

Below is a draft of the syllabus and a draft of the WIMS  project proposal I shared with the class in those first few weeks.

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CHLDC Hosts a ‘Researcher Meeting’

downloadIn August of 2016, the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation held a ‘researcher meeting’ at their Fulton-Street office, off the Cleveland Stop on the J Train. The community had been banding together over the last year to contest the Mayor’s rezoning plan for the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the rezoning had recently been made official, having successfully navigated the ULURP process. The researcher meeting was a response to this reality – and the desire to have people documenting how the rezoning took place in Cypress Hills and East New York – the neighborhoods targeted by the rezoning. Documentation was seen as a means of resisting the rezoning in their neighborhood and others across the city which were being considered for the same fate and identifying specific policy positions that might help keep people in their homes and in their community. Researchers from ANHD, Center for NYC Neighborhoods, Pratt Center for Community Development and more were in attendance.

I went into this meeting wanting to do oral histories with residents in the community. I saw this approach as a means to understand and elaborate the the complex relations  that existed between community members and their place – an angle I felt the City nor mainstream media or gentrification scholars were really illuminating (I elaborate on this in a theoretical way in my 2nd Doctoral Exam). In that it was a qualitative inquiry, this project also seemed to complement the research proposed by the other groups at the table, and the research being pursued by CHLDC themselves).