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How To Keep A Changing East New York Equitable And Resilient

At a workshop held by Perkins + Will, designers brainstormed solutions for a downtrodden area of Brooklyn that is starting to get swept up in gentrification.

The neighborhood of East New York—one of the poorest areas in Brooklyn, which faces challenges from unemployment to a lack of education to a lack of green space—is also (of course, because it's New York) quickly gentrifying.

A controversial rezoning plan, part of the city's $41 billion affordable housing plan, will build more than 6,000 new apartments in the area by 2030; only about half will be below market rate. Land prices in the area recently tripled.

In a workshop at Fast Company's Innovation Festival, a group of participants dug into the risks the neighborhood faces, the interests of stakeholders, and potential opportunities, creating a detailed overview of the area's resilience issues. Global architecture firm Perkins + Will hosted the session, using the same tools the designers have used to study resilience in other places—such as Atlantic City, where the firm previously proposed turning the city's casinos and hotels into a new center for resilience research.

The matrices and frameworks help make complex systems more understandable. "It makes connections between disparate things more obvious and consumable," says Janice Barnes, principal and global resilience director for Perkins + Will. "It's not that if you ask someone about those things that they would struggle, necessarily. But the systems approach makes a complex topic tangible."

The process also led to some creative ideas: to help address challenges like a lack of local health care and the fact that parents often can't afford to take time off work to take their kids to the doctor, one group suggested healthcare clinics based in schools. A new economic focus on restaurants and food, drawing from the diversity of the neighborhood, could help address bring new business to the area, help build a sense of community, and help give residents healthier options.

Perkins + Will plans to share the ideas with the city government—and hopes that participants will begin to use the same framework to better understand resilience issues in their own work and communities.

"In my opinion, resilience is the biggest design challenge facing all of us," says Barnes.

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