Formation of Visioning Steering Committee 

The A. Philip Randolph Square Randolph Square Expansion is the first community-driven capital improvement campaign in Central Harlem in recent history. Usually local governments and governmental planning agencies will lead the visioning process, often as part of a larger comprehensive planning process or neighborhood rezoning; however, the visioning process can be more grassroots in nature—spearheaded by a group of committed residents, as the leadership around the A. Philip Randolph Square Expansion demonstrated.

One of our first steps was to form a visioning committee; which included residents, business owners, government officials, and representatives from community groups; under the leadership of the organization’s founder, Gregory Baggett, who appointed Mr. Vernon Ballard and Ms. Shamier Settle as the community visioning (remove space) project directors. Throughout the process, the steering committee encouraged community participation, led meetings and presentations, promoted the visioning process, and guided the implementation and follow-up of our visioning work. Our steering committee represented a diverse range of stakeholders and community groups from all segments of the community to help keep the committee accountable to the public, to ensure that no voices were left out of the visioning process, and to boost community participation and buy-in.

Creation of a Catchment Area

Before embarking on a community visioning process, it was crucial to define the boundaries of our community; since a community can be as small as a single neighborhood, business district, or municipality, or as large as an entire county, watershed, or region. Even though A. Philip Randolph Square is a public space created to serve all New Yorkers, establishing a boundaries or a catchment area helped us identify which stakeholders to include, as well as identify the scope of our visioning exercises, canvassing, and surveying. The goal in creating a catchment area was to draw a boundary that included people who would be directly affected by decisions related to the expansion and redevelopment of A. Philip Randolph Square. 

Our catchment area is loosely defined by Lenox Avenue to the East, Morningside Avenue to the West, West 111th Street to the South and West 124th Street to the North.

Visioning Experts and Partners 

Without a budget to hire visioning and planning consultants to advise and guide our steering committee efforts, we were fortunate to receive expert advice about growth scenarios and potential funding strategies, navigate technical aspects of the process (e.g., producing graphic renderings), and develop effective community participation strategies from a variety of sources. NYC Parks assigned its director of community visioning to our project; community member and business owner, TK of Design Wild, attended meetings and developed beautification concepts; the urban planning departments at Clemson University and the Pratt Institute collaborated on key visioning projects; and Columbia University, City College, CUNY, and the New School provided various form of technical training and assistance.

Community Asset Map 

Our first project after completing our Community Visioning Cohort training was to take inventory of our community’s existing resources such as parks, public transportation, facilities, natural areas, housing, religious organizations, businesses, and developable land, among other assets. The Community Asset Map, which currently exists in the form of a spreadsheet, was best accomplished by surveying our entire catchment area, block by block, avenue by avenue. For instance, we developed extensive lists of resources we needed, wanted, disliked, or needed change, as well as resources the community lacked, and the liabilities in the communities such as vacant land, illegal businesses, small businesses in need of enhancement, abandoned buildings. drug trafficking sites, and buildings operating in obvious violation of building codes. We also identified sites for potential conservation or development, especially in the areas targeted for historical designation. Since completion, the inventory in the asset map serves as the basis for community priorities and informs potential development scenarios. Because there was no funding to create the asset map, the document is not fully digitized and exists in the form of a spreadsheet with aerial and street level photographs of the various planning typologies.