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Serena Adlerstein: Notes on Resilience

Serena Adlerstein blogs about the MAS Summit for NYC and community resilience

Mural at The Point CDC (940 Garrison Ave., Hunts Point, NY): Photo


Our 2014 Program Intern, Serena Adlerstein, contributed this guest blog post on community resilience after attending the Municipal Art Society’s Summit for New York City.


Last week I attended the 2014 Municipal Art Society’s Summit for New York City. One of the first panels I saw was entitled “Community Based Resilience: Developing Innovation Networks from the Ground Up,” moderated by Mary Rowe. The speakers included Councilmember LaToya Cantrell from the New Orleans City Council, Bishop Mitchell G. Taylor, the founder and CEO of Urban Upbound, and Kellie Terry, the Executive Managing Director of The Point.


Rowe first asked the panelists to define community resilience. After a reflective pause, Councilmember Cantrell asserted that it is when a community lifts themselves up when nobody else cares what happens to them, when neighbors join together to find solutions even when the government and public eye has no regard for their future. Taylor and Terry nodded in agreement.


The panel continued as the three speakers traded stories of their communities creatively problem-solving, using their existing assets, and creating solutions to the barrage of social inequalities that each community faces respectively, be it lack of funding after Hurricane Katrina in Broadmoor, New Orleans, deficient economic development in Hunts Point, or the failure of the government to invest in pubic housing in Queens. Each panelist spoke proudly of the strides their community had taken without assistance from the government or other outside investors, but there were still many daunting challenges that “kept them up at night.”


Each speaker lamented that the gravest danger facing his or her community was a fear of being displaced from the home that they had worked so hard to improve. “Victims of our own success,” they agreed. Better schools, more cultural centers, neighborhood beatification, these results of long-fought battles are now not reasons to celebrate, but to fear rapid gentrification.


Gentrification, more specifically real-estate-driven development that out prices and displaces longtime residents, is far from a new topic of conversation for me or anyone else in New York. What I had neglected to consider, however, is that the process may not only begin with artists moving into a neighborhood, or with developers targeting specific areas near subways lines, it may also be the result of powerful community resilience, with the rest of the city noticing after the fact. Community resilience is both a necessary solution to societal neglect, as well as the possible reason for those same community members’ displacement. In either scenario, it seems clear that the structures of power do not care what happens to the people in these communities, which are predominately low-income and working class communities of color.


The question that then arises for me is what I can do as somebody clearly participating in the process of gentrification, a young, white upper middle class college-educated transient renter living in Bushwick (for now). As new residents, how can we not only fight to preserve affordable housing, but also pay homage to the struggles and successes of our neighbors, those who have lived in the area for years and have made the effort to improve it for themselves? What successes might I not be noticing due to lack of time spent in the neighborhood, or differing cultural perceptions of progress? Which ‘improvements’ came from the community, and which from outside developers for the newer residents?


A community must be resilient when those in power don’t care enough to help. The strides that a community can take on their own can be incredible, as evidenced in Broadmoor, Hunts Point, and Urban Upbound’s work in different neighborhoods in Queens. When their accomplishments could be their own demise, however, it is everybody’s responsibility to recognize what those communities did for themselves, respect their efforts, and collectively problem-solve to ensure that they do not become “victims of their own success.”





SerenaSerena Adlerstein is a senior at NYU and a founder of Know Your City, a student group interested in educating the NYU student body about the implications of gentrification, tenants’ rights, and affordable housing.

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