Neighborhood Advocacy

On May 4th, 2017, our trustees and staff explored Gowanus, Brooklyn where there are ongoing discussions about the Gowanus canal and the neighborhood rezoning. From 2003 to present day, there have been numerous government and community initiatives that continue to shape Gowanus as we know it.


The Gowanus Canal

Built in the 1800s, the Gowanus canal was a major transportation route taking in waste from paper mills, tanneries, and chemical plants that operated along its banks. Given its reputation as one of the most noxious bodies of water in the United States, no one was surprised last November when video footage surfaced of a local fisherman hooking a three-eyed fish from its murky depths.

The neighborhood retains echoes of its industrial past but evidence of change is everywhere. “What’s going on in Gowanus?” (click here to see full document) was created by the Fifth Avenue Committee, the Center for Urban Pedagogy and the Pratt Center for Community Development to help explain to community residents the many plans now in progress that have the potential to alter the neighborhood.

Click here for full document

The Fifth Avenue Committee and its coalition partners want to ensure that local residents directly affected by the rezoning of the Gowanus area have an opportunity to participate meaningfully in land-use decisions that will affect them and their community. The coalition’s goals are: to preserve industrial space and jobs in the face of skyrocketing land values; protect existing rent-stabilized and small-home residents; win commitments from New York City Housing Authority to maximize affordability in the Wyckoff Gardens project; increase public space and infrastructure improvements; and maximize economic opportunity for low-income residents.

New York Foundation trustee Kerry-Ann Edwards (left) speaks with New York Foundation staff member Melissa Ellison and Isabel Rivera close behind. In the back executive director Maria Mottola (left) laughs with trustee Mike Pratt.


Featured Grantees


Fifth Avenue Committee

Fifth Avenue Committee has been working to advance social and economic justice in Brooklyn since 1978 by developing and managing affordable housing, creating employment opportunities, organizing residents and workers, and combating resident displacement. The New York Foundation has supported its work to: prevent the displacement of long-time Park Slope residents; organize low wage workers; and support residents of public housing. Recently, Fifth Avenue Committee has participated in public dialogues related to many of the projects listed above, including the Bridging Gowanus process led by Councilmember Brad Lander; Fifth Avenue Committee also has a process to connect low-income residents, especially NYCHA tenants to both decision-making and economic opportunity in post-Sandy climate mitigation and adaptation projects.


Center for Urban Pedagogy

Center for Urban Pedagogy uses the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement, particularly among historically underrepresented communities. Center for Urban Pedagogy collaborates with community organizations, advocacy groups, students, artists, designers, and educators to create accessible, visual explanations of the complex policy and planning issues and decision-making processes. Through the New York Foundation’s capacity building program, the Center for Urban Pedagogy has worked with our grantees to create engaging visuals to illustrate complex ideas. The group’s Envisioning Development Toolkits are a series of portable and online learning tools that help people understand and shape development in their neighborhoods. Using these hands-on tools, communities engage in the planning process in a concrete way that can lead to meaningful and shared decision-making.

Who We Met


Michelle de la Uz
Executive Director, Fifth Avenue Committee
Michelle de la Uz became executive director of Fifth Avenue Committee in January 2004. She has more than twenty years of experience in public and community service. At the Center for Urban Community Services, she oversaw social services in supportive housing for 400 low-income tenants with special needs in Washington Heights and Harlem. From 1995 to 1999, she was Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez’s first director of constituent services and directed her South Brooklyn District Office. Ms. de la Uz serves on the National Board of Directors of the Local Initiative Support Corporation and in 2012, was appointed to serve on the New York City Planning Commission.
Shatia Strother
Program Coordinator, Families United for Racial and Economic Equality
Shatia Strother (Tia) is a native of Bedford-Stuyvesant and activist in social, food and environmental justice movements. In 2014 she was hired as the lead organizer for Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (a former grantee of the New York Foundation) and shortly thereafter, promoted to program coordinator.
Christine Gaspar
Executive Director, Center for Urban Pedagogy
Christine Gaspar is the Executive Director of Center for Urban Pedagogy. She has over fifteen years of experience in community design. Prior to joining CUP, she was Assistant Director of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she provided architectural design and city planning services to low-income communities recovering from Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she was identified as one of the “Public Interest Design 100.” She holds a master’s in Architecture and in City Planning from MIT, and a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University.
Ingrid Haftel
Community Education Program Director, Center for Urban Pedagogy
Ms. Haftel is the community education program director for CUP. Before CUP, she was curator of exhibitions at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Chicago’s leading forum for the exchange of ideas on urban design. While there, Ms. Haftel developed major exhibitions that helped public audiences think critically about complex issues related to urban planning and architecture. She received her bachelor’s degree in English and Comparative History of Ideas from the University of Washington, and her master’s from the University of Chicago.
Andrea Parker
Executive Director, Gowanus Canal Conservancy
Andrea Parker is the executive director of the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, she works with environmental stewards and design advocates in the rapidly changing Gowanus Watershed. She’s a landscape architecture instructor at City College of New York and previously worked as a landscape designer focused on urban and community resilience after Superstorm Sandy. She received a master’s in Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia.