Community Education

Envisioning Development
Read more Envisioning Development

Envisioning Development

New York City land-use law includes requirements for public participation, but the complexity of development terminology can discourage even committed community advocates. As a result, public discussion of development proposals flattens into “pro” and “anti” positions, and many community members who could provide valuable input simply stay silent. Maybe the experts like it that way, but given the large and long-term community impacts of land-use decisions, that’s not the way it should be.

Community education isn’t the only barrier to meaningful participation in the New York City land-use decisions, but it’s one of the biggest. With access to key concepts and technical jargon, community members can develop and articulate positive, nuanced visions for their neighborhood to the experts. More community members participate effectively, and experts get more responsive. Shouting matches can turn into discussions.

Envisioning Development is a set of portable, interactive, workshop tools designed to help experts and laypeople communicate. Advocates, policy wonks, community board members, developers, and others can use the tools as a centerpiece for workshops and conversations that describe and clarify problems and propose and communicate solutions.

The toolkits are visual, tactile, and interactive. Each tool translates abstract concepts and language into straightforward activities and physical objects that let people learn by looking, doing, and listening to each other. Participants teach themselves and others as they use the tools. Concepts and jargon turn out to be less complicated than they seem.

CUP works with an advisory board of housing organizations and land use and planning experts to determine which topics they most need assistance explaining to their communities. CUP researches the concept and works in consultation with community partners to break down the concepts into visual, hands-on interactive teaching tools. The tools are tested extensively through hands-on workshops led by our community partners. They are distributed citywide to housing and planning organizations, who use the tools in their own advocacy and organizing work. Each tool comes with informative graphic guides to help organizers facilitate workshops, so that they can more efficiently establish a shared understanding of planning terminology and more quickly move on to their organizing work. CUP also facilitates workshops upon request, and provides trainings on how to run the workshops.

CUP launched its first toolkit, on Affordable Housing, in 2010. The second toolkit, on Zoning, launched in 2013. A toolkit on the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure is currently under development.

The toolkit has served our advocacy movement, to educate our partners on what affordable housing really is, and what affordable housing development means in NYC. We purchased it to explain technical jargon.  The toolkit helps visualize everything.  – Richard Lee, Asian Americans for Equality

Find out more about the Affordable Housing Toolkit here and the Zoning Toolkit here. To request a workshop or training, or suggest a topic for future toolkits, email mark (at)


The Center for Urban Pedagogy
  • Franknews
  • May 22, 2018

For most of our projects, community organizations apply to work with us, and they tell us what issues they’re having a hard time explaining to their constituents. What policy or planning process they’re having a hard time explaining, and why that’s creating injustice in their community

A new tool teaches NYC developer lingo by making you an all-powerful urban planner
  • Architect’s Newspaper
  • April 04, 2017

Building on the What is Zoning? toolkit, CUP’s What is FAR? helps users get savvy with developer lingo—particularly the concept Floor Area Ratio (as readers may know, FAR determines the height and bulk of buildings). Language is power, and CUP, along with eight community partners, reasoned that it’s helpful for ordinary folks to speak the language of bureaucrats and capitalists when discussing changes in their neighborhoods.

Affordable Housing Appraised: A Review
  • Urban Omnibus
  • December 14, 2015

This wealth of diverse material, rounded out by interactive features like the Center for Urban Pedagogy’s digital “What is Affordable Housing” toolkit and the Citizens Housing and Planning Council’s “Inside the Rent” app, manage to convey not only why government is involved in affordable housing (because the private sector alone can’t, or won’t, provide it), but who that housing is for (a wide spectrum of individuals who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to live).

Where Will NYC’s 80,000 New Apartments Go?
  • Epoch Times
  • September 13, 2014

As a starting point, many Council members, including Reynoso, Levin, and Carlos Menchaca, are using kits that explain zoning and affordable housing created by the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP).