NYCHA’s Open Space Masterplan partner, Grain Collective, was recognized on March 23, 2022, by the American Society of Landscape Architects with a Merit Award in the Analysis and Planning Category for the organization’s extraordinary contribution to a comprehensive framework and toolkit for reimagining the outdoor spaces at 133 New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments.
The minority- and women-led landscape architecture and planning firm worked with the Authority to convene resident input and conceive open space designs for encouraging active and passive recreation across all age groups, while leveraging existing NYCHA landscape features to better connect residents to surrounding community amenities.
“We have worked diligently to solicit the perspective of knowledgeable partners who can help the Authority conceive of new ways to utilize public-facing assets,” said NYCHA Chair & CEO Greg Russ. “Grain Collective’s recognition by the American Society of Landscape Architects is a testament to the quality work it has done on NYCHA’s behalf and speaks to the firm’s leadership in urban planning and design.”
“NYCHA has facilitated dozens of partnerships with public, private, and nonprofit organizations around the overarching goal of improving the quality of open spaces at our developments,” said NYCHA Executive Vice President of Capital Projects Steve Lovci. “The community planning and site analysis campaign conducted for the Open Space Masterplan provides a vision for a more active and more connected NYCHA, reflecting the best practices in urban design today.”
“The collection of public areas at NYCHA campuses across New York City offer a gamut of experientially diverse environments that speak to the vast potential of open space equity and design – which informs so much of our practice,” said Grain Collective Director of Landscape Architecture Kate Belski. “We are honored that the American Society of Landscape Architects recognized the active design principles and connected community-building efforts that form the backbone of the Open Space Masterplan, and to NYCHA for its partnership on this vital initiative.”
In March of 2020, NYCHA engaged landscape architecture and design firms around undertaking the ambitious task of creating an Open Space Masterplan for 133 developments in the NYCHA portfolio. Grain Collective was one of the selected candidates, overseeing an innovative and robust urban design campaign comprised of data analyses, on-the-ground field research (including resident and staff interviews), and site assessments. The firm’s analysis underscored that while 73 percent of residents are over the age of 18, only 3.5 percent of active recreation areas are designed for that age cohort.
The findings were then incorporated into a revised concept design that reflected the application of open space planning principles and provided a vision for realizing the full experiential potential of each NYCHA campus. As part of that effort, Grain Collective helped develop high-level cost estimates on potential play space projects at different scales. These schematics were not designed to be a replacement-in-kind strategy for the spaces that currently exist, but rather a comprehensive re-evaluation of how entrances, walkways, central greens and other public-facing areas can be repurposed to facilitate healthy recreational activity.
Additionally, Grain Collective was also cited by the American Society of Landscape Architects in the Community Impact category for its role in facilitating a resident-informed restoration of the playground at Alfred E. Smith Houses. In that role, the firm worked to gather significant feedback from residents on playground equipment, seating color preferences, and play area age ranges through several design charrettes. With that information, it helped to oversee the construction of a multi-generational two-way play space that accommodates the needs of children, young people, and seniors. The materials incorporated recycled plastic lumber that is non-toxic and long-lasting.
While the masterplans are not intended as final site designs, the cost estimates for the landscape concepts will be built into the most recent Physical Needs Assessment (PNA) – to be released later this year. At present, the masterplans will inform both internal and interagency project planning, as well as serve as a starting point for engagement, request for proposals, and in seeking public and private financing.
NYCHA also recently received city funding for resilient grounds renovations across multiple vulnerable developments, whose design will be informed by the masterplans. The full Open Space Masterplan report is available here.
Photograph by Grain Collective.
About the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA)
NYCHA’s mission is to increase opportunities for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers by providing safe, affordable housing and facilitating access to social and community services. Over 390,000 New Yorkers reside in NYCHA’s 316 public housing developments and PACT/RAD developments formerly managed by NYCHA around the five boroughs. Over 190,000 receive subsidized rental assistance in private homes through the NYCHA-administered Section 8 Leased Housing Program.