Project Abigail was founded to provide expertise in building healthy, accessible, and sustainable spaces. Working with research and development organizations, and engaging with municipal and state-based initiatives, it seeks to address and promote solutions to environmental and social challenges through the exploration of new technologies, conscientious process, and innovative strategies. In this article Former Fellow for Housing and Open Space (1990-2001), Petr Stand writes about the inspiration behind his ongoing initiative.

Urban design, anthropology, ecology, finance, and development are all tools for crafting our built environment. Cultural memory is formed and molded from this environment as communities are built from and upon the remnants of the past . With compassion, respect, and responsibility these tools create more vibrant, meaningful spaces that celebrate place and the people who give place meaning.  

The idea of Project Abigail began in 2017 while working in the Bronx on affordable housing and cultural development projects. In January 2018 we co-wrote a proposal, with Nos Quedamos and the NYC Community Gardens Coalition, to the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation, and Development (HPD) on a Community Land Trust RFEI. Our proposal, the South Bronx Land & Community Resource Trust, was one of the ten selected by NYC HPD for development and 2-year participation in the monthly CLT Learning Exchange sponsored by the New Economy Project. During this Learning Exchange, we realized that our collective professions and deep roots in design, research, development, and engagement offered unique insights into a more equitable and sustainable planning process. The impact of this is national in scope--Community Land Trusts are forming across the United States preserving and developing affordable housing, open space, and promulgating climate resilience policies. However, very few of our colleagues in the urban design, architecture, and engineering professions are aware, informed, or participating in the CLT conversation. The result was two papers presented at the 2018 American Society of Civil Engineers Low Impact Development Conference - Community Land Trusts: A New Model for Urban Equity and Environmental Resilience and Economic Development Impacts of Low Impact Green Infrastructure - An Emerging Case Study in Ripple-Effect Infrastructure Economics. Our work broadened with the Bronx Cultural Collective in their South Bronx Baton program. At the request of the NYC Economic Development Corporation to hold workshops on urban design issues, we co-developed Reflections on Change. The workshops brought together the leadership of South Bronx CDC’s reflecting on generational transitions as the narrative of how place transforms with older voices giving way to younger and newly arrived voices.

In 2019, we began a deeper study on gentrification and transition as it relates to issues of climate resilience. This led to our participation in the 2019 Greenbuild Conference through a presentation and panel discussion entitled Responsibility at a Crossroads: Climate Gentrification and the Dilemma of Long-Term Resilience. In early 2020 we partnered with Pivot Energy, a European company leveraging their software to reduce financing costs by guaranteeing that designed energy and resilience models are met and measurable through a building’s life-cycle. Already consulting with Pivot on a grant from the New York State Energy Research Development Agency, we also developed a proposal to the Enterprise Foundation for innovative financing. 

Then COVID-19 forced everyone to reevaluate their work and priorities. 

Project Abigail is now expanding our attention to the effects of this pandemic as we seek to bring together the disconnected nature of society into new places of cooperation and understanding, taking into consideration the changes in the landscape due to COVID-19. As a society we need to manage the emotional boundaries of social isolation and the reality of social (compassionate) distancing; to rethink the architecture of density and the concentration of activities that address a myriad of modern issues, all overlaid by existing issues of inequality and access, environmental and economic resilience. Crisis has presented us with an inflection point. There is little doubt that our social, economic, and political interactions will change, but how we manage that change is of the utmost importance. How we adapt, adjust, and amend our lives in response will persist long after the medical means to alleviate the symptoms of this disease are at hand. This presents us all with the opportunity to understand places as interdependent, living spaces – that support lives, not uses and exist as interconnected networks, not in a vacuum – and allows our team to leverage diverse professional backgrounds and varied partnerships to explore new approaches. We invite you to join us in shaping a better future.

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