Tag Archives: featured

Wise to terminate PSEG and restructure LIPA


After Superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Isaias in August this much is clear: storms are getting worse and more frequent, and trust in LIPA’s public-private partnerships is plummeting. And we fear that Long Island will experience such outages again unless LIPA undergoes serious structural change.

Extensive reports of PSEG Long Island’s management of Tropical Storm Isaias have led LIPA board members to propose several paths forward. Of these choices, only full municipalization can bring the affordable and reliable electric services that Long Islanders deserve.

Localizing Procurement for Wellness-Based Development

This report, by the Center for the Study of Brooklyn at Brooklyn College is an investigation into possibilities for strengthening the system of connections and contracts between local vendors and institutional procurers in Central Brooklyn today, gained from interviews with anchor institutions and M/WBE vendors alike.


Despite an economy which is officially booming, communities of color and minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs), particularly those that are Black-owned, often struggle in New York City. This is especially the case in Brooklyn, which is a hotbed of both increasing business development and intense gentrification and displacement of Black and Latinx communities. This is troubling for many reasons, especially since the MWBE category was designed to bring recognition and support to communities unfairly excluded from a critical source of economic activity: government procurement and contracting. Yet there is hope because the number of MWBEs is increasing, and institutions such as hospitals, universities, and libraries that possess considerable buying power are located amidst these same communities and are ready to engage. Indeed, the “anchor model” framework was designed as a way for these large scale institutions that provide crucial public services to reflect on the ways their employment and procurement practices can support local communities.

This white paper was born of years of work done by community organizations and healthcare institutions to create a wellness-based development framework. As Interfaith Medical Center was threatened with closure, the Coalition to Transform Interfaith fought to build wellness at scale through the restructuring of the institution. That coalition first saw anchor institution procurement as a possible driver for scaling economic transformation inspired by the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative. Since then, a base of local stakeholders has grown to support a vision of development based in community wellness. This paper, focusing on opportunities for and barriers to local MWBE procurement at anchor institutions in Central Brooklyn, is one piece in a step to achieve that vision.

From Defunding to Reinvestment: Why We Need to scale Participatory Budgeting


“Defund the police.” The demand is righteous, and at the same time, destabilizing. It requires not just reform, but systemic change in policing, incarceration, and budgeting.  It calls us to both divest and to reinvest our money differently.

Defunding the police is a proposition to invest in our communities in a different way, to treat the budget as a “moral document,” and to place those most affected at the very center of the decision-making process. One arm of this strategy to defend Black lives is a call for community control and self-determination.

Over the last 10 years, the Participatory Budgeting Project has worked to spread the use of “participatory budgeting,” or PB. Alongside nonprofits, community members, elected officials, and coalitions, including organizations that are members of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), we’ve sought to transform budget processes into opportunities for developing democratic capacities and promoting equity. While PB has been used across the US, it has not been used to defund the police. But that may be about to change.

Around the country, people are wondering and discussing what “defund the police” might actually mean. To answer this question requires addressing a related question: What does a democratically transformed budget process look like? What does it look like to repurpose municipal policing budgets in a way that dismantles structural racism and white supremacy, while building safe, healthy, and empowered communities?

Resilient Participatory Budgeting

Creating Resilience Curriculum for CUNY and Public Libraries to promote “green” proposals for the new city-wide Participatory Budgeting Process

“Resilient PB“ will create academic and non-academic programming on the topic of “creating a more just and resilient NYC” for the new city-wide participatory budgeting process (PB) as part of the civic infrastructure building activities of/for the new Civic Engagement Commission created in 2018 per the referendum to amend NYC’s charter.  The geographic focus is Brooklyn, but open to other jurisdictions.  Project planning starts in Spring 2020 and the grant runs officially through May 2022. 

The goal of the project is to further spread informed, participatory and justice-oriented discourse about climate change and how to make specific community-based social, economic and infrastructural proposals to adapt to it in a way that enhances equity and socio-ecological resilience. The geographic focus is Brooklyn.  The venues are Brooklyn College (BC), and select community boards (TBA), and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (and others). 

Due to COVID-19 restrictions on face-to-face gatherings and interactions, the first phase (summer 2020) will begin with a completely online process utilizing civic technology platforms such as pol.is, slack and Loomio.

Keep reading for more details on: programming and the course module.

Review an initial project of Resilience PB:

Community Partners

The community partners for this project will likely include several of the following: the Participatory Budgeting Project, the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay, Community Boards (TBA), the Canarsie Neighborhood Alliance, and the Civic Engagement Commission.

At BC/CUNY we are linked with the Urban Sustainability Studies Program, the Center for the Study of Brooklyn and faculty in at least three different schools including the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Koppleman School of Business, and the School of Natural and Behavioral Sciences.   

Funding & Support

This project is funded and supported by the Center for the Humanities at the CUNY Graduate Center as part of the  2020-2022 Seminar on Public Engagement and Collaborative Research, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Office of the Provost at the Graduate Center, and the Center for the Humanities.


The programming will have three manifestations:

  • a “Resilience PB” module to be used in undergraduate classes at CUNY (incubated at Brooklyn College);
  • the creation of display media explaining resilience and city wide PB for a non academic audience to be installed in libraries throughout the Brooklyn Public Library System;
  • to train 5+ CUNY students and faculty to present, or co-present, on resilience and PB NYC for at least 3 Community Boards in Brooklyn. 

This proposal fits most directly under the “civic discourse” frame but also connects in large part to the “urban neighborhoods” frame and to a lesser extent to the “blue humanities” since water is a key part of resilience for coastal neighborhoods in NYC. 

The first phase begins in Summer 2020 with a BC student intern who will receive training in the civic tech platforms and be able to teach and support other students going forward.  

1/ The Resilience PB undergraduate class module.  There are still very few classes at CUNY that deal with the basic concepts of climate change, climate adaptation and socio-ecological resilience.  While developing new courses and programs is crucial, it is more expeditious in the short term to introduce this topic in a wide range of classes to expose a greater range of students to the basic concepts and develop their agency by connecting them to a participatory democratic governance process like PB and the CEC creating a “Resilience PB” module to be used in undergraduate level classes at CUNY.  The module will be constructed so that instructors can do a 1 day session or a 2 week session in which students will learn about resilience in a manner that enables them to formulate proposals to enhance resilience in a participatory democratic way using PB.  

2) Train CUNY students to present at support Community Boards.  To train 5-8 CUNY students to present, or co-present, on resilience and PB NYC for at least 3 Community Boards in Brooklyn (TBA).  Students will learn about existing NYC and non-city databases which have critical information that can assist neighborhoods in making decisions about what infrastructure projects and programming can enhance resilience and improve quality of life.  

Course Module

For BC, a course module will be developed on socio-ecological resilience that is informed by the principles of climate justice that we hope can spread across CUNY. The module will contain readings, media, assignments and activities integrating these topics. The content is interdisciplinary invoking history, philosophy, political science, Caribbean Studies, business, sociology, and ecology.  It is designed for courses in multiple disciplines and will be doable in a varying time frames: from a one class presentation to a two week utilization.

It will also contain an in-class PB exercise so that students can learn participatory resilience by doing it and start to develop a sense of collective agency that interconnects government and community. This module will be designed to be fully on line as well as face to face. Students will then learn about the new city wide participatory budgeting process and develop the background knowledge to work with their communities to create proposals that can be submitted in PB NYC in 2020-1. 

Another jurisdiction where NYCers have an opportunity to influence policy especially around land use is community boards which have been renewed and further empowered in the last year. We will create dedicated programming to present at CB meetings as well as a webpage to keep CBs up to date on what’s happening (to be housed at www.srijb.org where I am the Associate Director of Public Engagement). We aim to train 5+ faculty and students to present in this increasingly important and contentious NYC political space.

The 3rd venue is the Brooklyn Public Library though again it is now being designed to be fully on line in the initial roll out.  Libraries themselves are critical spaces of resilience especially for low income NYCers as well as old and young people as Eric Klinenberg’s work has shown. We will develop a different versions of our materials to be on display in a library setting where people interact with the materials in a non-academic setting and must be attractive in ways different from the captured audience of the classroom.  

Community Participatory Transformation (Brooklyn to Brazil)

Community Participatory Transformation is a joint research project between the Center for the Study of Brooklyn and the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Federal University of Brazil, Porto Alegre (UFRGS).  I created a joint agreement with Prof. Eber Marzulo for a five year comparative research study (2019-2024) between Brooklyn College and the Federal University of Brazil, Porto Alegre on participatory democracy and urban social movements with a focus on participatory budgeting, housing, cooperatives, and sustainability.

The Center for the Study of Brooklyn hosted the first visit in May 21st. 2019 with community-based researchers in Brooklyn, faculty from the New School and Brooklyn College faculty and students. 

The second meeting was a Seminar on Participatory Community Transformation hosted by UFRGS in September 2019, and there have been three Skype public events since (see my CV).   

In November 2020 we collaborated again, inviting our guests from guests from Brazil and Puerto Alegre to present for CUNY’s School of Labor and Urban Studies.

The first publication from this partnership is Menser (2020, in press).

Justa Trama

While in Brazil, my second site visit was to a sewing cooperative on the outskirts of Porto Alegre called Justa Trama. This place was an interstellar explosion of participatory democracy. They are a sewing coop of more than 40 women, buy their cotton from a mill which is a worker coop of more than 400 members, and they get their cotton from farms that are coops and grow their cotton organically! There is some info in English here: https://b2brazil.com/hotsite/justatrama

This place is remarkable on so many levels: first off, it started by making tote bags for the world social forum that took place in 2004 in Porto Alegre. I received their bag when I went in 2005! Since then their coop was able to grow in large part to participatory budgeting. They got money from PB to fix up the building, pave the adjoining streets and also get sewage lines in their neighborhood which is a self built settlement but now has full services. Their building is powered by solar panels and they do their own rainwater catchment! And now they make shirts, dresses and dolls. But there is more, they also have their own credit union which issues a local currency in which the workers are partially paid in and is used to promote purchasing with all the other local businesses! Justa Trama then not only co-created a sustainable and democratically owned supply chain, they helped to democratically develop their neighborhood by improving infrastructure and services and by creating good paying jobs, especially for women.

In Conversation with Felipe Samuel



Cycles of Resilience

The Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay, along with Public Agenda, CUNY-Brooklyn College’s Center for the Study of Brooklyn and other partners, is working with Canarsie residents to identify issues, use science to refine ideas for action, and align emerging priorities with city, state, and federal efforts. To do this, we are developing an annual sequence of games, mapping, idea generation, and community-building. This ‘cycle’ can help create a stronger role for residents in prioritizing research and action in Jamaica Bay, including the 2020 participatory budgeting cycle. 

As a member of SRI@JB and Brooklyn College, I am currently part of a team doing a climate change adaptation process in the neighborhoods of Canarsie, Brooklyn and Eastern Queens. This is part of the second round of “Cycles of Resilience” funded by the NY Community Trust.

The first round of Cycles was funded by the Spitzer Foundation and focused on Canarsie. Phase one began in November of 2018 with the formation of a working group of community leaders who met with the team of scientists from SRIJB, social scientists and engagement experts from the non-profit Public Agenda, and the BC college based Center for the Study of Brooklyn (I am a member of its board). The goal of this initial working group was to build trust and set the parameters for the process and the division of labor. It also served as a venue to educate each other about the history of Canarsie, the landscape of current actors, and meet local electeds.

In the phase two, the goal was outreach to the broader community. Here we departed from the standard “information session” and instead developed a game which utilized the format of the popular game show Jeopardy to teach people about the history of Jamaica Bay, the social history of Canarsie, the ecology of Jamaica Bay, and the role of the different government agencies in the area and JB. 

These events spurred additional interest among some who wanted to know more and set us up for Phase 3 “getting to know the bay.”  After the “light” engagement of Phase 2, some community members wanted to learn more so SRI@JB and Public Agenda set up a three hour boat ride on the CUNY1 research vessel to learn more about JB, see the marshes, the birds, and dolphins, and talk with scientists and agency officials as they also enjoyed complimentary food and played a scavenger hunt game. We did two of these events with about 25 community members on each trip.

In Phase 4, “ideas and action,” after the deeper engagement of Phase 3, community leaders formed action teams to discuss and deliberate about community priorities and the projects that best serve those priorities.  The action teams are on specific topics–civics, streets and transportation, blue and green infrastructure, and a community center–and anchored an “assembly” in a church basement attended by more than 50 people. This phase led to the cultivation of a new set of community advocates on “action teams”; those who want to work together to further refine a specific proposal and meet with relevant agencies to seek out funding.

We are also supporting the community as the NY Rising process moves to implement its projects to enhance resilience in response to Superstorm Sandy.  

The second site for this process is funded by the NY Community Trust and is in the neighborhoods of Eastern Queens and Canarsie.  This process started in the Fall of 2019 and is ongoing.