Our History

Pratt Center is the oldest university-based community planning organization in the U.S.

Pratt Center was founded in 1963 when graduate planning students and faculty at Pratt Institute partnered with community organizations to address urban poverty by empowering local residents to participate in the official planning processes that affected their communities. Our work in central Brooklyn served as the model for Senator Robert F. Kennedy's project to create Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and develop safe, stable housing and economic opportunities in New York City and other urban areas throughout the country.

We built on this experience in the 1970s, fighting successfully to ensure that federal community development assistance was invested in poor neighborhoods amidst the fiscal crisis. As residents of the South Bronx, Harlem, central Brooklyn, and the Lower East Side faced a wave of disinvestment and arson, we launched an architectural practice that worked with neighborhood housing groups to reclaim their buildings. The Pratt Center's architects pioneered the conversion of abandoned tenement shells into safe and decent housing for residents who refused to leave.

In the 1980s we expanded our community-driven architectural practice, providing technical assistance to numerous CDCs to rebuild and preserve affordable housing in low- and moderate-income communities. We also worked with local groups and local government to secure millions of dollars in public loans to rehabilitate abandoned City-owned buildings as mutual housing co-ops.

In the 1990s, Pratt Center became an invaluable resource to New York City’s budding Environmental Justice movement. We provided  local groups with planning, architectural and other technical assistance to reform the unjust siting of solid waste facilities, create parks and open space in communities with the city’s highest rates of asthma, develop brownfield cleanup laws, and launch a comprehensive effort to decommission the underutilized yet environmentally destructive Sheridan Expressway. In 1997, the Pratt Center played a pivotal role in founding the New York Industrial Retention Network (NYIRN), which worked with more than 2,100 local businesses employing 93,000 people to retain and grow quality manufacturing jobs throughout New York City.

In the first decades of the 21st century, Pratt Center successfully advanced innovative policies to support sustainable communities while continuing to help local groups convert underutilized space into schools, community centers and much-needed green space. In partnership with numerous community-based and citywide organizations we helped transform the City’s 421-a affordable housing tax abatement to mandate expanded affordable housing in communities undergoing rapid luxury development. We successfully advocated for and supported implementation of the City’s Select Bus Service program to address the stark racial and socioeconomic disparities in commuter time and transportation access. And we launched community based social marketing campaigns to ramp-up residential retrofits in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

In 2011 we merged with NYIRN, incorporating sustainable manufacturing growth strategies and the Made In NYC brand into our overall work for more equitable local economies. 

In 2014, we celebrated Pratt Center’s 50 years of shaping an equitable and sustainable New York City by curating “50 Things”, a selection of 50 reports, mementos, photos, and other ephemera that mark our history.

Pratt Center continues to be an innovator and leader in the community development field, building on our 50 years of successes to foster a more sustainable and equitable New York City.