Aerial view of Hart Island, off the coast of Peltam (Bronx), New York.

Photo Credit: Erlend Bjørtvedt (CC-BY-SA)
The Design Trust Equitable Public Space Fellowship Program supports the next generation of urban designers, architects, landscape architects, and planners in contributing to complex public space challenges in our global city. 

Catherine Betances (she/they pronouns) is a Design Trust 2021-22 Equitable Public Space Fellow, dedicated to community-building, collaboration, and radical equity. While at Design Trust, Catherine took their first steps into city placemaking and understanding the structures and systems that shape the built environment. As they conclude their fellowship, Catherine will join the Urban Design Forum as their Forefront Fellowship Program Manager.

As part of their fellowship at the Design Trust, Catherine’s independent research project works to reimagine Hart Island’s public cemetery through design, incorporating artistic collage and inspiration from African and Indigenous burial grounds to map this public space towards the future. Catherine chose to create a digital zine as its medium instead of a traditional research paper.

“This research began as an investigation into love: what it would feel, look, smell, and sound like to be in a loving relationship with place and land in the present and future. Mourning is such a deep act of love and devotion, and this led me to the narratives, policies, and power that have shaped Hart Island and those who are interred there. Hart Island periodically reemerges into the public realm, most recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the legal transfer of land ownership away from the Department of Correction. Its long legacy of cruelty is rightly told during every “unveiling” of Hart Island, but I also want to take this as a special opportunity to imagine beautiful paths forward, ones guided by love and hope. Pouring through the stories of those interred, like those shared through the Hart Island Project and W.J. Hennigan’s piece for TIME, also led to an exploration of how artists are richly engaging with the public imagination of Hart Island, like artist Ayanna Dozier’s Cities of the Dead,artist Coco Fusco’s Your Eyes Will Be an Empty Word and playwright Tracy Weller’s Hart Island. The artists’ work greatly influenced the poetics of this research.”

Read more of Catherine’s reflections on memory and mourning in their last blog post: Water as Memorial

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The Design Trust Equitable Public Space Fellowship Program support is provided in part by the New York State Council on the Arts.