Harlem Children's Zone
Chief Urban Designer, New York City Department of City Planning
New York City
Geoffrey Canada is a an educator whose goal is to end the cycle of poverty in Harlem. He has promised that every child in Harlem will go to college. To make good on his word, runs an organization called the Harlem Children's Zone and builds schools called Promise Academies. In 2009, he needed to expand with a new school for another 1,300 students, and he made an agreement with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to put the school directly into public housing.
The Urban Design group at the Department of City Planning met Canada, and we were given a mission: to lead a site planning effort with NYCHA and the Harlem Children's Zone to find a home for the new school that would be as beneficial as possible for the public housing community and the neighborhood.
Public Housing in New York is built on superblocks whose designers closed city streets and isolated the towers from the surrounding neighborhoods. We wanted to break that isolation and reconnect the housing to the city.
We rebuilt 129th Street to connect the project to the city's street grid and streetscaped it beautifully with flowering trees and pocketed benches. We put the new school building directly along the new street, bringing a thousand new "eyes on the street" that would eliminate gangs' influence over public space, and we preserved a magnificent stand of trees behind it as a shared amenity and new "back yard" for the community.