AAP NYC Workshop Partners with Senator Sanders, Community Leaders in Southeast Queens
The fall AAP NYC Urban Planning Workshop influences policy decisions in proposals on COVID-related planning issues unique to New York State Senate District 10 in Queens.
The New York City-based Urban Planning Workshop taught by Robert (Bob) Balder, Gensler Family Sesquicentennial Executive Director of AAP NYC, is a cornerstone of the Department of City and Regional Planning program. The class typically works with three-to-four different clients each semester, organizing students into small teams covering a broad range of study topics such as coastal adaptation to climate change and opportunities for local economic development.
But this semester has been exceptional. District 10 in Queens, which is led by Senator James Sanders Jr., has been hit hard by the pandemic. An exchange between the senator's office and CRP department chair Jeffrey Chusid evolved into a mutually beneficial partnership to help address issues the district faces now and for some time to come.
Chusid explained how the relationship with Senator Sanders began.
"The senator's office reached out to CRP a little over a year ago, describing the major projects ongoing in Queens, as well as the many challenges they face. The senator suggested that this presented an opportunity for students and faculty to get deeply involved with a community, to learn, and to have an impact."
An exchange of ideas continued as the district began to experience some of the worst effects and highest death tolls of the spring pandemic in the U.S.
"CRP decided to go ahead and focus this year's New York City workshop on a range of the issues confronting the district," Chusid said.
Working remotely from locations in the city, in Ithaca, and as far away as Hong Kong, a mix of undergraduate and graduate student teams are developing key skills as they investigate five topics crucial to the district: internet access, COVID-19 impact and recovery, economic development, urban agriculture, and expansion of a terminal at JFK International Airport.
"We built the entire workshop around this one client," Balder said. "These topics resonate with critical issues in southeastern Queens."
"A mother who is trying to work but whose child needs her help to figure out online classes; an elderly woman who can no longer go into her doctor's office but doesn't have the technology to participate in telemedicine check-ups; a man who depends on ride-sharing apps to get to work while there is little to no cellular service in his neighborhood — these stories are why our small contribution to the issue feels so timely and needed."
Senator Sanders affirmed, "The work that the Cornell AAP students are conducting is being put into immediate action in partnership with community leaders in Southeast Queens. The students have brought fresh vision, insight, and genuine community engagement to my district over this past semester. It was a joy to work with them, and I am greatly looking forward to our continuing partnership," Sanders said.
Balder and Chusid hope to see this evolve into a multi-year initiative, potentially including student placements or internships in the spring and summer and a new workshop topic in New York City next fall. Balder said a more durable long-term relationship with financial support would help supplement the effort.
"The workshop gives students an opportunity to lead and develop their project management skills, as well as practicing the kind of work that we do in planning, from mapping analysis to researching case studies — all of that is embedded in the coursework," Balder said.
At a community meeting last month hosted by the senator, students Savanna Lim (B.S. URS '20) and Michael O'Key (M.R.P. '21) gave a presentation on their project titled Closing of the Digital Divide: A Digital & Spatial Analysis of Technology Access In New York Senate District #10.
"We took this on without knowing where it would lead," O'Key said. "Before we knew it, we sat on a panel among a wide range of professionals, civic leaders, and community members."
O'Key was moved by the experience. "A mother who is trying to work but whose child needs her help to figure out online classes; an elderly woman who can no longer go into her doctor's office but doesn't have the technology to participate in telemedicine check-ups; a man who depends on ride-sharing apps to get to work while there is little to no cellular service in his neighborhood — these stories are why our small contribution to the issue feels so timely and needed," he said.
The students will present their projects and get feedback during final reviews in an online presentation on December 18. Chusid, Senator Sanders, and his senior leadership team will participate.
Balder is enthusiastic about the anticipated results. "We are working on the district's behalf in an academic environment to produce what we believe will be a report that will be beneficial to Senator Sanders and very much a benefit to his constituents," he said.
Chusid also sees promise. "The early results of the students' efforts have indeed proved to be helpful to the district as well as important learning experiences for the workshop participants."
The other students and projects are:
Nathan Abel (B.S. URS '20) and Xiaojun Ge (M.R.P. '21), JFK International Airport Expansion (American Airlines, Terminal 9).
Catherine Cullen (B.S. URS '22) and Ashlyn Koh (B.S. URS '21), COVID-19 Impacts & Recovery
Jared Cisneros (B.S. URS '22) and Yu Gu (M.R.P. '21), Local & Regional Economic Development
Chunan Gao (M.R.P. '21), and Yuan Jian (M.R.P. '21), Urban Agriculture