Visioning Process

In order to gather the broadest swath of data representative of our community, we understood from the onset that we would have to go to the community rather than expect the community to come to us. We also knew that the community visioning survey would best serve our needs because of public health and public safety concerns that precluded our organization from conducting visioning events at the site.

Before we began to officially gather information for our survey, we experimented with a beta-survey. For the beta-survey, we interviewed the officers and members of the Executive Committee of Manhattan Community Board 10, and we would revise our survey based on the critical and thoughtful responses from the Manhattan Community Board 10 leadership, which included professionals from the NAACP, the National Urban League, city and state governmental agencies, political staffers, community based organizations, business and education professionals, and religious leaders. 

With the revised survey in hand, we returned to the Community Board to conduct interviews with attendees at one of the monthly general meetings, as well as the monthly meetings of the board’s standing committees. That experience gave us the confidence and preparedness to hit the streets!

Working with youth interns from the Manhattan Borough President’s office, we first surveyed the regular park users. Many of the people surveyed that day were unhoused and suffered from substance abuse and mental health challenges. Those challenges, however, did not prohibit those park users from having a vision for the future of the site. In fact, we learned that many of the people who were perceived by the extended community as park abusers were helping in their own limited way to preserve and maintain the site.

We connected with community members and stakeholders more broadly at local events where we tabled to canvas participants and conduct our survey. We attended two annual summer events, both pre-COVID and post-COVID, to collect data; the One Africa Celebration along 116th Street – the main business corridor of our neighborhood – and the Harlem Park-to-Park Festival along Saint Nicholas Avenue.

Working again with another group of interns from the Manhattan Borough President’s office, we canvassed the large NYCHA development at 139 Saint Nicholas Avenue, where Ms. Gloria Wright, the Chairwoman of our trustee board, serves as the president of the development’s residents’ board.

In addition to the NYCHA development, we also canvassed residents at the two city-owned properties located at 201 and 203 West 117th Street, where three members of our Friends group reside.

After canvassing the public housing and city-owned properties, we set up tables outside the historic landmark apartment building Graham Court and met with residents there and passers-by along the popular avenue. 

In February 2020, just two weeks before the COVID emergency lockdown, A. Philip Randolph Square Neighborhood Alliance (the Alliance) held a well-attended community meeting to discuss its visioning strategy with the community. Partnering with the community board, elected officials, and community stakeholders, the Alliance made a concerted effort to notify community members about the meeting by posting flyers throughout the neighborhood, making announcements at community meetings, sending announcements through email blasts, and posting on various social media platforms in concert with our community partners.

During that meeting, attended by over fifty residents, leaders, and stakeholders, the Alliance gave a presentation to the community on the history of our group, models of other parks' capital projects, our visioning survey—the central component of our  visioning strategy, and an update on our capital campaign and capital commitments. We had a productive discussion around the alarming public health and public safety concerns and ended the meeting by outlining the next steps we would pursue. Then COVID brought everything to a screeching halt.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we could no longer canvas in-person, so we began the process of evaluating all of the data we collected. We were surprised to learn that our findings were totally inconsistent with the social reality of our neighborhood’s constituents. Based on our data collected on income, our average was well above the figures provided by the United States Census, as well as the Pratt Institute’s Neighborhood Data Portal.

To correct our data, we set up a phone, mobile, and text canvassing initiative using such databases as VoteBuilder, Hustle, and VAN.

Over a two-week period, we contacted over one hundred resident-participants living in low-income housing in our catchment area. That initiative helped to make the data we collected more representative of our community, and more importantly, we also learned that different income groups respond differently to participating in surveys, an important lesson that would inform all of our subsequent visioning initiatives.

The key step in the visioning process was scenario building, which involved leading stakeholders in a charrette or community input meetings focused on forming a vision of the community five, ten, and twenty years into the future. In those meetings, stakeholders identified the community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and discussed potential development and redevelopment scenarios and their potential effects. These scenarios included any hypotheticals devised by the participants, such as the removal of parking spaces, the build-out of a defunded senior center, preservation of remaining developable land on underused and undercapitalized NYCHA properties, and redevelopment of a community garden. The steering committee and its experts developed distinct scenario concepts and presented those proposals at public workshops that gave community members the opportunity to choose a preferred scenario. Graphic representation of the scenarios was incredibly helpful. The experts working in partnership with the committee helped to create these conceptualizations and visualizations.