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made in lower east side (miLES)

what is MiLES 2 why the lower east side 3 preserving a rich cultural history gentrification of a low-income neighborhood opportunities of 212 vacant lots and stores who in the lower east side 9 common ground for action identifying stakeholders how are we doing it 10 two prototype blocks five parallel labs four metrics when is it happening 14 our vision beyond the lower east side 15 our origin story 16 the team 17 join us 19

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what is miLES

212 lots and stores are vacant in the Lower East Side of New York*, amounting to the stasis of an estimated quarter million square feet of valuable storefront real estate. These sites are awaiting gentrification: the opportunity for landlords to attract bars, restaurants or condominiums as the dominant form of development. The status quo stifles the creativity and diversity that once defined the cultural richness of Lower East Side. Originated from the creative forces from OpenIDEO’s Vibrant Cities Challenge, Made in Lower East Side (MiLES) is a multi-disciplinary initiative that cultivates the authenticity and creativity of the residents of the Lower East Side. MiLES facilitates and curates an open process of temporary transformations of underutilized sites by listening, co-creating, prototyping and operating with a blend of digital and physical platforms.

MiLES embraces the untapped and authentic aspirations of the community to reinvent the processes for occupying urban spaces. By listening to landlords, we seek to better understand the realities of the Lower East Side real estate market. By engaging with local community groups, we uncover the latent needs of the neighborhood. By cocreating with residents, we build dialog and social capital to explore imaginative ways to revive vacant sites. By prototyping and operating with small businesses and organizations, we channel local capabilities embedded within the neighborhood. By documenting our methodologies, MiLES becomes a living proof-of-concept demonstrating the replicability of an inclusive approach to build common ground for action amongst diverse stakeholders. Our ultimate goal is to build a movement for open and bottom-up urban planning, one neighborhood at a time. *The data was gathered by the team in April 2012 in the larger area of Lower East Side governed by Community Board 3, covering parts of East Village and Chinatown.

Lower East Side on East Broadway, photo courtesy of Vivenne Guwca

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why the lower east side

Preserving a rich cultural history The Lower East Side was home to tens of thousands of immigrants when they first arrived in the United States. Since the 1840s, multi-family dwellings in the form of tenement buildings, and streets filled with pushcarts become symbols and evidences of the rich and diverse cultural history of the working-class that lived here: Germans, Irish, German Jews, Russian Lithuanian Jews, and Italian. Immigrant entrepreneurs emerged quickly in all different forms in the active and densely populated neighborhood. Lower East Side has also been a home to a rich arts scene since the 1980s, home to notable arts group such as ABC No Rio. The arts scene continue to thrive today with numerous performance groups, arts groups and galleries. The cultural history gives a rich backdrop and diversity of cultural traditions to a uniquely vibrant and multiplicitous neighborhood that is quickly transforming through gentrification.

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why the lower east side

Gentrification of a low income neighborhood In recent decades, gentrification has begun to remake the once working-class neighborhood. Notable restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes, condominium buildings have scattered across the Lower East Side. This attracted a new demographics of well-off and creative class that aspire to live in this neighborhood.

With vocal local community groups that advocate for the “old” long-term residents of the neighborhood, and economic benefits that the “new” demographics bring to the neighborhood, Lower East Side presents a challenging problem of balancing the benefits and needs of its diverse population.

The long-term residents of this neighborhood has been affected adversely by the increase in rents and real estate prices of this neighborhood. The median family income in the Lower East Side is $35,626, less than 50% of that in the New York City metropolitan area. The tension between the “new” and “old” Lower East Side is visible and real, with star-architect designed condominium buildings interlaced between tenement buildings, and bars and restaurants displacing local mom-and-pop stores. In many cases, landlords deliberately hold out stores to be vacant awaiting the next notable chef to move in serving this new population demographics.

MFI (median family income) of Lower East Side / Chinatown is

$35,626 = 46% of NYC metro area *

*based on data from Center for Urban Pedagogy in 2006, graphics courtesy of Center for Urban Pedagogy made in lower east side 4

why the lower east side

Opportunities of 212 vacant stores and lots In April 2012, the team took an analog approach and walked the neighborhoods of Lower East Side to identify 212 vacant sites including both lots and stores. A majority of these lots and storefronts are privately owned, while we discovered that five of these sites are owned publicly by Housing and Preservation Department. Some of these lots have been vacant for a long time, with beautiful natural vegetation and even trees in some instances.

We believe that the 212 vacant sites, whether they are stores or lots, provide a tremendous opportunity of temporary and perhaps a sustained means of occupation for the needs of the community. MiLES is a multi-disciplinary experiment with a renewed approach to build community, enhance small businesses, and create new value across multiple stakeholders by identifying underutilized and shared resources.

The processes of temporarily occupying these sites are different depending on the ownership of them, and varies vastly between lots and storefronts. The team discovered that lots generally may provide a longer term occupation, while landlords of storefronts would want any programming to move in as quickly as possible and also move out as soon as possible in anticipation for future tenants.

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Concert at vacant lot on E 3rd Street

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who in the lower east side

Common ground for action

Identifying stakeholders

To succeed, this project needs to balance the interests of competing groups. Landlords have different goals than long-time residents, and active community groups don’t share the same aspirations as business owners. We want to create a common ground to identify local inadequacies, collect local talents, channel local capacities and synthesize relevant potentials into systematic and sustained actions for a neighborhood where residents take ownership of changes.

Residents We aim to listen extensively and identify the needs of both ‘new’ and ‘old’ residents and find intersecting needs of these groups Landlords We aim to identify strategies to incentivize landlords to allow programming on their stores or lots for local communities Small businesses We aim to find opportunities for small local businesses to occupy in whole or in part some of these sites to test their market or products or boost sales, or enable the activities of other stakeholders Local organizations We aim to empower not only the communities they represent, but also the vision and goals of these organizations

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how are we doing it

Two prototype blocks Our goal is to create a proof-of-concept that shows the potential of community-driven action to revitalize unused spaces. We have started with two very different blocks: Orchard Street, and East Fourth Street. East Fourth Street

Orchard Street

East Fourth Street is the first cultural district of Manhattan, with a wealth of cultural and performance groups including but not limited to Alpha Omega Theatrical Dance, DUO Multi-Cultural Arts Center, IATI Theater, La MaMa E.T.C. , Rod Rodgers Dance School, and Fourth Arts Block. A number of universities are also within close range of the block including Cooper Union and New York University.

Orchard Street is one of the centers of transformations, with new galleries and restaurants sprung up at selective parts of the street, interlaced with traditional and local businesses such as printing shops, landromats and small retails, including numerous vacant stores. The intersection of “new” and “old” is vivid. The street and its vicinity also houses numerous cultural organizations including Tenement Museum, Lower East Side Business Improvement District, and Hester Street Collaborative.

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how are we doing it

Five parallel labs Based on the complexity and wide-implications of the problems and opportunities of vacant lots and sites, and the multiple stakeholders that would be involved, we are dividing the project into five parallel tracks. Each would be independent yet would provide useful feedback from each other in regular intervals:


The StoryLAB is a workshop and documentary system for listening to and recording the stories of the multiple stakeholders in the neighborhood: the residents, small business owners, landlords, developers, and the community leaders. It explores the means of recording and communicating the stories of a culturally diverse neighborhood facing gentrification. This effort would be led by Listenin Pictures.


The engagement lab runs small and large scale workshops and conduct dialogues with residents through different engagement methods, refine these methods and document the result of these workshops. This effort would be led by TYTHEdesign.


The prototype lab tests and produces design prototypes that can be placed in existing stores, vacant stores and vacant sights to engage user reactions and interaction. It tests both its design and engage small businesses in using and funding these designs. This effort would be led by Architecture Commons.


The research lab coordinates the efforts of faculties and students of several educational institutes, in both refining and research methodologies, and exploring the breath of the project to uncover possible needs, aspects and researches specifically as it relates to vacant stores and lots.


The technology lab builds a digital interactive platform to enhance the dialogues and document sites in question. It also helps to disseminate the lessons learnt, the stories documented, and the methods that could be scaled for different neighborhoods. This effort would be led by CityAPI.

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how are we doing it

Four metrics for success We define our metrics for success as: Diversity a wide range of viewpoints from diverse participants in the neighborhood Authenticity a spirit of community feedback without forcing preconceived ideas Empowerment empower not only residents, but partners and institutions in the neighborhood Sustainability create a financially, socially and environmentally sustainable solution beyond our involvement

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when is it happening

Twelve-month pilot Phase 1: Preparing (May-Jun 2012)

Phase 3: Co-Creating (November-February 2013)

During this preliminary phase, the team defines timeline, budgets, scope and metrics of the project. Two prototype blocks have been selected to limit the scope of the 12-month pilot at Orchard Street and East Fourth Street. Initial outreach is conducted to identify and partner with active Lower East Side organizations in preparation for the upcoming listening phase.

Building off of the listening phase findings, the co-creating phase will focus on ideating and generating concepts with different community user groups in a collaborative manner. Throughout this phase, ideas will be selected and prioritized according to feasibility and usability criteria, as we move towards the Prototyping phase.

Phase 2: Listening (July-October 2012) During the listening phase, we will facilitate dialogues with different user groups and community influencers to understand their aspirations the Lower East Side, and how they perceive opportunities of change for underutilized spaces in their neighborhoods. A number of community observation and design research methodologies will be used to uncover latent needs and map the experience of users within their environment: individual and group interviews, role plays, shadowing, diaries, and other various activities. Findings and lessons learned from this phase will be documented and shared with the community via our online blog, print, and in-person methods such as town hall feedback sessions. Feedback will also be gathered in parallel with our online platform.

Phase 4: Prototyping (March-June 2013) Ideas selected at the end of the co-creating phase will then be taken to life. Prototypes and business plans will be taken back to the communities to be iterated. Usability testing and business model development will be a significant focus throughout the iterative process, as we approach the final implementation phase. Phase 5: Operating (Summer 2013) The most usable and successful prototypes will be fully implemented in the two pre-selected prototype blocks during the operating phase. Implemented ideas will serve as a proof-of-concept, telling a story and sharing action toolkits that we hope will inspire similar initiatives and provide frameworks for action beyond the Lower East Side.

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our vision beyond the lower east side

Towards open planning Ultimately we want to build a movement for user-centric developments in our cities parallel to capital-centric developments, one neighborhood at a time. Instead of relying on capital investments for the acquisition of properties as the only model for development, we want to identify local inadequacies, collect local talents, channel local capacities and synthesize relevant ideas and concepts into systematic and sustained actions for a neighborhood where residents take ownership of changes. We believe in the collective creative power generated through a bottom-up approach, and we aspire to facilitate this process by building social capital, trust, and venues for sustained dialogue among diverse stakeholders. The Lower East Side, or any other neighborhood, needs to preserve its edge, celebrate its heterogeneity and amplify its character. From this basis we believe we can promote mass collaboration among constituents of different scales and capacities to inspire a new model for urban development.

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our origin story

The origin of MiLES started in New York and Palo Alto simultaneously. Eric saw the numerous vacant sites and stores in Lower East Side, and came across several exciting ideas in OpenIDEO’s Vibrant Cities Challenge authored by Sarah Fathallah, Matthew Goble & Matthew Rouser, and Rebekah Emanuel. Over the course of a number of video chats and emails, they decided to collaborate more deeply to bring renewed vibrancy to the Lower East Side. Months of planning and strategising later, Eric, Sarah, Matthew and Matthew have been joined by three other core team members: Chloe Tseung, Rick Lam, and Tamara Greenfield of the local community group Fourth Arts Block. Together they formed an initiative called Made in Lower East Side (MiLES), a multidisciplinary, 12-month pilot project to co-create solutions for vibrancy – specifically in ways that best meet the needs and aspirations of local community stakeholders. Since then we have been growing the partnership to include different engagement experts, academic institutions, local community groups, local business owners to continue growing the movement.

We began with a belief in open sourcing for generating creativity a crowdsourcing platform, which sparked ideas aiming at vitalizing cities and neighborhoods. The Lower East Side is our pilot: a neighborhood where a diverse demographic offers a wealth of creativity and knowledge, and where active local organizations take root in a vibrant setting thriving with change, resistance, and grit. We want to capture and facilitate the untapped collective creativity of this diverse crowd, and we want to achieve visible change through a synchronized collaborative effort of creating physical projects on vacant sites.

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the team

Organizing Team

Extended Partners

Sarah Fathallah Business Strategist, Ethnographic Researcher & Service Designer | Research, Design & Business Strategy

Listenin Pictures Partner in Documentary and Storytelling

Matthew Goble Interaction Designer, Branding Consultant, and Art Director | Communications Design & Visual Storytelling

Lucky Ant Partner in Crowd-funding

Tamara Greenfield Artist, Community Organizer | Mentor

Projective Space Partner in Co-working and Venue

Eric Ho Designer & Architect | Program Management, Stakeholder Engagement & Design Strategy Ashley Jablow Community Manager | Mentor Rick Lam Designer & Architect | Project Execution & Implementation Matthew Rouser Strategist & Urban Planner | Digital Communication & Platform Development Chloe Tseung Management Consultant | Program Management, Community Engagement & Communications Core Partners Architecture Commons* Partner in Architecture and Urban Planning *project lead City API Partner in Technology Fourth Arts Block Partner in Arts and Community Engagement OpenIDEO Partner in Human Centered Design

TYTHEDesign Partner in Service Design The Value Web Partner in Multi-stakeholder Facilitation Academic Partners Design For America Partner in Student-Led Design Activism NYU Wagner (Pending) School of Visual Arts Design for Social Innovation Advisors Shaun Abrahamson Founder, Advisor on Social Production Susannah Drake Principal, dlandstudio Advisor on Public Projects Thaler Paker Principal partner, Thaler Pekar & Partners Advisor on Communications Nathan Waterhouse Co-lead, OpenIDEO Advisor on Human Centered Design

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the team

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join us

MiLES is a bottom-up and inclusive interdisciplinary project, we welcome partnering and collaborating in many different ways: Sharing your story of Lower East Side

Become our partner to co-create MiLES

T: @madeinLES

Providing venue for MiLES


Contributing expertise to faciliate our process


Identifying a vacant site to work on Suggesting programs for a vacant site Providing services and programming to a vacant site Collaborating on existing projects on vacancy Anything you want to tell us about Lower East Side!

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MiLES July Updates  

July updates of the MiLES project

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