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
We think a lot about how to create a visual environment that’s non-threatening, especially when you are dealing with an issue that’s stressful, complicated, and may affect whether or not you can afford to stay in your home. We want things to feel familiar and accessible and to avoid people feeling that they might not understand the concept.
“CUP helps us deconstruct our environment in order to advocate for social justice”
“It really helped people break past the jargon and the acronyms and help people understand what affordable housing is.”
The Toolkit translates abstract concepts and language into straightforward activities and physical objects that will hopefully engage folks who otherwise wouldn’t participate.