Press |

Breaking Blocks

  |  November 16, 2011

Rosanne Haggerty, president of Community Solutions made a presentation at the Municipal Arts Society Summit in October that recast the troubled Brownsville public housing in Brooklyn as a major public asset. Rethinking the housing block, Haggerty proposed a surgical approach that preserves original buildings and emphasizes breaking up the superblock with through-traffic streets, integrated urban agriculture, ground floor retail, and the incorporation of social services—all without displacing a single resident.

In 1990 Haggerty founded the not-for-profit Common Ground, with a stated mission of ending homelessness in New York City. Two of the group’s better-known projects, the Times Square and the Prince George hotels, provided housing for the homeless while integrating social services in turn-of-the-century hotels that were about to face the wrecking ball. With the buildings saved, gilded age lobbies became 21st century community centers.

Common Ground began work in Brownsville five years ago in an effort to prevent homelessness before it happens. The organization stopped 300 evictions, which in turn became the impetus for launching Community Solutions, a new spin-off of Common Ground that strives to apply the same principles used at the hotels to the public housing superblock.

“How do you create a healthy, sustainable, and vibrant community in the superblock that can be preserved instead of resorting to the Chicago and St. Louis model of demolishing them?” Haggerty posed in an interview. She pointed out that despite a $6 billion deferred maintenance budget, the New York City Housing Authority continues to maintain their vast stock of buildings. “They never got to that point of complete decay where the only alternative was to demolish and replace.”