The Center for Urban Pedagogy
May 22, 2018
This interview with the Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP), was conducted and condensed by frank news.
What is CUP?
The Center for Urban Pedagogy, or CUP, is a non-profit organization that uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement, particularly among underrepresented communities. There are many barriers to civic engagement, but the one we focus on is the barrier to how hard it is to understand the policy and planning issues that impact peoples' lives. In order to address that, we partner with community-based organizations. We're trying to reach people where they live, work, or go to school, and help create tools that break down those complex policy and planning issues so that they can have a voice in the decision making on the issues that impact their communities.
Can you talk about the Toolkits you make?
For most of our projects, community organizations apply to work with us, and they tell us what issues they’re having a hard time explaining to their constituents. What policy or planning process they're having a hard time explaining, and why that's creating injustice in their community.
For the Envisioning Development Toolkits, we were finding from our community partners that there were certain land-use processes that organizations were having to spend a long time explaining to their constituents. Every time they'd have a meeting to organize around a particular issue, they would have to go back and re-explain these complex issues, such as how affordable housing actually works, how zoning works, and so on.
They found that people would get shut down in public hearings and other conversations because they didn’t know all the terms and how to hold developers and elected officials accountable in the process.
They were looking for a tool that would help people understand those complex concepts so they didn't have to go back into it from the very beginning every time. That's what the toolkits grew out of. We spent a long time working with a steering committee of community-based organizations to work on land-use issues to understand what tools they needed, what concepts they needed to explain, and testing with them.
These are hands-on workshop-based tools. They're very interactive, and we spent a long time, at least a year of research, and developing the mechanics of how the workshop will work and extensive testing with those community organizations, with their constituents to make sure that the workshop is actually explaining information they need, and in an accessible way.
We also interview a lot of stakeholders and many decision makers to create an accompanying guidebook as part of the toolkits. The ULURP guidebook includes detailed information about the ULURP process, who is involved, case studies, and how to run workshops on your own.
Which particular communities are engaging with the toolkits?
All over New York City! Just a few of the organizations that we've worked with for quite a long time include Fifth Avenue Committee, which is based here in Gowanus. They do a lot of affordable housing development, and they've been a partner of ours for many years. They're actually going through a rezoning right now. The neighborhood is going through a rezoning, so we're also working with them on doing affordable housing, zoning, and ULURP because each piece of that is really critical to understanding rezoning overall and how they can be involved in the rezoning process.
Other organizations include Community Voices Heard in East Harlem and GOLES, which is an organization on Lower East Side, those are some of the organizations that are really on the ground on land-use issues.
What is ULURP?
ULURP stands for the Uniform Land-Use Review Procedure.
ULURP is the main public review process that New York City has for major developments, rezoning, large scale land use changes. They have to go through this very specific process, and there are a variety of players throughout the city, and there is a very specific timeline. A lot of people find the process very hard to understand and intentionally or unintentionally opaque. This process really impacts people across the city, and most people don't know how to engage in it.
The interactive workshop lets people learn about the ULURP process, the different players involved, and the role they can play in decision-making. We actually use a sandwich metaphor for the workshop (instead of reviewing a decision about a building, players are reviewing a proposal for a new sandwich) and each participant plays the role of a different stakeholder or decision maker in the ULURP process, so they really learn the process by being a part of it.
Has it been tested with community members directly already? Are people able to engage with it in an effective way?
Yes. We've been testing it for over two years. Doing workshops with community organizations who are going through a ULURP process, communities that haven't gone through ULURP yet, but know that it is going to happen in their community at some point. But really just getting extensive feedback about what works and what doesn’t.
When we do the workshops, we do pre and post evaluations in terms of, do people know what ULURP is at the beginning of the workshop, how comfortable are they at talking about it, how comfortable are they about the concepts? And then, having them do a survey at the end of the workshop to really make sure they're feeling confident in understanding this very complex process and these concepts.
What are CUPs long-term goals? What else do we need to know about CUP as an organization?
We want you to understand that land-use really impacts every community in New York City.
People are dealing with this on a daily basis. No neighborhood is not going through something. We have had so much interest in these tools and making sure people have this information.
We’ve created other tools, including an online affordable housing map, so if you live in New York City, you can go online and look at the income levels for your neighborhood to see who really lives there and what is truly affordable for that neighborhood. As a companion for the Zoning Toolkit we did an online component called, "What is FAR" which stands for Floor Area Ratio. The online tool lets users build out a neighborhood and understand how buildings get built, the sizes of the lots, and their setbacks. It lets you understand how zoning shapes buildings and neighborhoods.
CUP works on all kinds of other issues too, from projects that explain the rights of immigrants to how to navigate complex processes in the legal system. People can learn more at welcometocup.org!
More information on What Is ULURP? can be found here!
The Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP) officially launched their What Is ULURP? Toolkit on May 2nd, with a weeklong series of free workshops for community organizers, community board members, and neighborhood advocates.