Looking back through the past five decades of development in the five boroughs, the Pratt Center for Community Development has played an active role in the issues shaping the city. From RFK’s community development agencies in the 1960s to housing preservation and building reclamation in the 1970s and ‘80s, from community development and job creation initiatives in the 1990s to community rezoning plans over the last decade, the center has been an important influence in the city’s typically top-down planning and land-use policies.
Now, as sustainability comes to the fore, the center announced last week that Adam Friedman will take the reins at the center. Friedman, the former director of the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), has made it his mission to help push sustainability at the community level and to continue the work of integrating the Pratt Institute’s diverse art and design faculty into the center’s work.
“That’s why I came, to bring all these resources to bear on the issues,” Friedman said in an interview. “The issues really aren’t that different with NYIRN, but the center can provide so much more support.” For example, Friedman said he would push for more local resources to be used in the school’s industrial design department. “It creates good paying jobs for local manufacturers while also building important understanding and relationships for students,” Friedman added.
Gary Hattem, chair of the center’s advisory board, said it is this unique approach to economic development that captured the board’s notice. “I think he can leverage the design capital of the institute with his incredible skills in economic development and sustainability,” Hattem said.
In addition to his work with NYIRN, Friedman served as director of economic development for former Manhattan borough presidents David Dinkins and Ruth Messinger. He has also taught urban planning at the Pratt Institute and Columbia University, and in 2005 he convinced the city to create Industrial Business Zones, one of NYIRN’s longstanding goals to protect manufacturing businesses in New York.
Given the current economic downturn, and the city’s still high cost of living, it is a challenging time for the center, but these challenges underscore the importance of its mission. For Friedman, the key to preserving communities is not just about affordable housing and the quality of the urban fabric, but also creating and retaining sustainable jobs. “Part of the challenge is how you make these communities more hospitable for organic economic growth,” Friedman said.
That challenge remains to be addressed, but Friedman’s work at his previous job provides a template. At NYIRN, Friedman and his team fought to protect blue collar work—say, from encroaching hotel development—as well as create new models such as higher-end artisanal manufacturing and sustainable production.
“He’s a great leader with a diverse constituency, from labor to business to government,” Mike Pratt, chair of the institute’s board of trustees, said. “He really understands this city, and he’ll put that understanding to work at the center. We’re thrilled to have him.”