The Urban Design Forum has announced its 2022 cohort of Forefront Fellows made up of a diverse and multidisciplinary group of designers, community planners, environmental justice advocates, policy experts, and developers all working around social and political challenges in New York City.
This year’s class, the seventh in the program’s history, will address approaches to waste management in urban planning with re-envisioning ways of making the city of 8.5 million a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable community as it looks to adhere to a set of climate goals set forth by the previous Mayoral administration.
The jury shares that the members of the cohort have distinguished themselves through their work on housing, urban farming schemes, community gardens, public infrastructure, and other types of projects that are shaping the future of how the city lives, works, and receives basic goods and public services.
This year’s jury was led by the Department of Sanitation’s Victoria Dearborn and Carmelo Freda, along with six former Forefront fellows.
Scroll down to learn more about how the next group is prepared to meet the unique set of challenges facing America's largest metropolis.
Rafael Berges - Senior Urban Designer, NYC Department of City Planning
"Originally from Queens, Rafael is a Dominican/Puerto Rican designer and artist. His work focuses on how our built environments form our cultural identities and how, in turn, our environments are shaped by our inhabitation. Rafael holds an M.Arch from the California College of the Arts and a B.A. from SUNY Albany."
"Katy is the senior program manager for waste capital projects at NYCHA where she facilitates infrastructure upgrades, programs, and procedure revisions to divert material from landfills. In her free time, Katy helps compost at local community gardens and organizes litter cleanups with BedStuy Strong and her run group."
Alexandra Burkhardt - Project Manager, Urban Design, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
"Alex is an urban designer with a passion for equitable, livable, and resilient cities. With a background in architecture and urbanism, her work focuses on community engagement, climate resilience, and visual storytelling. She works as a project manager at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill where she leads interdisciplinary projects and teams within their City Design Practice."
"Fernando is a licensed architect from Madrid who works as an urban designer for the Predevelopment Planning Unit at HPD. He envisions the design of 100% affordable housing developments bringing much-needed services to the neighboring communities while reimagining the public space around them."
Asad Dandia - Graduate Student, CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
"Asad is a born-and-bred Brooklynite with a deep passion for all things urbanism. He is a member of Brooklyn’s Community Board 13, a member of the NYC Civic Engagement Commission’s Language Assistance Advisory Committee, and an urban studies MA student at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies."
"Betsy is a community-oriented urban designer, who strives to have the built environment be inclusive, healthy, and accessible for all people. Through her professional career, resiliency and sustainability research, civic leadership work, and design for equity efforts at her workplace, Betsy aims to collectively work together to envision a brighter, environmentally just, and liveable future for our cities."
Judith Desire - Executive Director, Uptown & Boogie Healthy Project
"Judith (Judi) is a native New Yorker with four years of experience as a Master Composter and currently enrolled at the Farm School NYC Citywide Program’s urban agriculture training program. Her passion for cycling launched Uptown & Boogie Bicycle Advocacy, which works in tandem with Uptown Good Food (Farm Stand) as well as the Bronx Park East Farmer’s Market and Community-Supported Agriculture."
Melissa Gutiérrez Soto - Urban Designer, NYC DCP
"Melissa is an urban designer at the NYC Department of City Planning. She holds a Master of Science in Architecture and Urbanism from MIT and a B.Arch from Universidad de Monterrey. She is interested in making design more accessible and equitable, and working closely with the community to build healthier and more resilient neighborhoods."
Brittany Hodges - Project Manager, Alloy Development
"Brittany is a project manager at Alloy Development, where she manages the architecture and engineering teams as well as the development process of large-scale projects in NYC. She has experience working and collaborating with multiple stakeholders and city agencies. She holds a Masters of Architecture from the University of Kansas and is a Registered Architect in New York."
"Shivam is an economist and urban planner in Buro Happold’s Cities team with over seven years of experience in economic development, real estate, and infrastructure revitalization. His most recent projects include the $300M Reimagine the Canals initiative in upstate New York and an Off-Broadway industry assessment for New York City."
"Nicolas is a co-founder of Other Projects and a lecturer at Parsons School of Design. He has practiced in Europe and the US, focusing on cultural, public, and mixed-use building typologies that engage with contemporary urban issues. Lee holds a Master in Architecture from Harvard University and a Bachelor of Architecture from Syracuse University."
Yoo Jin Lee - Architect, Marvel
"Yoo Jin is a registered architect and an urban designer with experience in leading numerous projects through design and construction across a wide range of clientele and project types. Stemming from her professional and academic background in architecture and urban design, she aims to understand, explore, and design built environments that are equitable and livable across multiple scales."
Aixin Li - Project Manager, NYC HPD
"Aixin manages a portfolio of supportive and senior housing projects from predevelopment through construction, and completion at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. She comes from a background of housing, homelessness prevention, and social service, and is committed to providing sustainable, high-quality affordable housing for vulnerable population."
gil lopez - Freelance Environmental Educator & Ecological Design Consultant
"gil lopez has a degree in landscape architecture and lives in Lenapehoking (also known as Queens) as a community organizer and environmental educator. gil has started multiple community composting sites in Queens. He has worked for the NYC Compost Project and currently serves on the Queens Solid Waste Advisory Board (QSWAB)."
"Gabriella is an educator, creative strategist, and program designer at the High Line. She grew up in Queens, New York. Gabriella loves to explore how the spaces we create and the designs we develop impact communities through our understandings of justice and nature."Astrid Mayak - Planner/Urban Designer, Stantec
"Astrid is an urban designer/planner working now in the Urban Places Group of Stantec NYC. During undergraduate studies, she focused on self-built housing in informal settlements. Prior to studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, she collaborated with the Architectural Association (AAUK) in Haiti on designing core housing in lightweight materials."
Graci Mills - Project Architect/Urban Designer, COOKFOX Architects
"Graci is a licensed architect, urban designer and educator with over a decade of diverse experience across New York City and Aotearoa, New Zealand. Focused on public realm, housing and infrastructure design, Graci’s work is unified by a constant interrogation of how publicness can infiltrate all facets of the built environment, no matter the project type or scale. Graci is an architect at COOKFOX Architects, where she brings her expertise as a Certified Passive House Designer to multi-family housing projects."
Dana Moore - Architect, Dattner Architects
"Dana is an artist, activist and architect from San Antonio, Texas passionate about beautifying cities. She holds bachelor’s degrees in architecture and liberal arts from the University of Texas at Austin and now designs transportation and infrastructure for the city of New York."
Marisa Prefer - Manager of Sustainability and Environmental Engagement, Pioneer Works
"Marisa works on projects related to environmental justice and stewardship, drawing from alternative pedagogies, deep observation and ancestral wisdom to engage in tactile experiments that cultivate care among multi-species communities. Marisa is a NYC Master Composter, NYC Trees Community Pruner, NYC Parks Super Steward and stewards unceded Canarsie and Munsee Lenape lands in Red Hook, Brooklyn as the manager of sustainability and environmental engagement at Pioneer Works."
Peter Rampulla - Land-Use Specialist, Rampulla Associates Architects
"As a land-use specialist at Rampulla Associates Architects, Peter leads strategic planning for zoning conflicts and analyzes complex regulations affecting properties throughout New York City. Peter is also a licensed Class 2 Code and Zoning Representative with the NYC Department of Buildings."
Veronica Rivas Plaza - Project Designer, Street Plans Collaborative
"Veronica is a project designer at Street Plans Collaborative. She has a background in architecture, urban design, and sustainable city-making. She holds a degree in architecture from The City College of New York and a master of science in the Urbanism Studies Programme at KTH, Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. She believes that design should be informed by the social, ecological, and cultural environments that shape our lives and advocates for creating more walkable communities to improve quality of life for all."
Xavier Rumph - Multidisciplinary Designer
"Xavier is a multi-disciplinary designer & strategist. His work is at the intersection of user experience, strategy, visual and spatial design. His diverse skillset allows him to craft strategies to a variety of conditions ranging from consumer needs, as well as sociological, ecological, and urban matters."
Akemi Sato - Co-Founder & Principal, Sustrato
"Akemi is co-founder and principal at Sustrato, a non-profit focused on collaborative design and implementation of community-led projects. In addition to her work at Sustrato, she is a senior urban planner and designer at the Design Trust for Public Space. As an architect and planner, she has directed internationally recognized sustainable development projects, including: an ecologic restoration strategy for Barrilaco Ravine in Mexico; a campaign to crowd-source Mexico City’s first transit map, called 'MapatonCDMX'; and an SMS-based mental health program for disaster survivors in Peru and Puerto Rico, called “Libremente."
Alex Shapanka - Assistant Project Manager, RXR Realty
"Alex works in real estate development and has extensive experience with real estate policy related to development, sustainability, labor, building maintenance and management. He is interested in new forms of urban governance and planning that aim not for endless growth but a thriving economy and that facilitate equitable development. Alex holds a MSc in City Design and Social Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Comparative History from Duke University."
"Miryam learned early on the value of reusing and repairing stuff. In New York City, she saw the need for sustainable waste management systems and wanted to contribute to the transition. After her master’s in Sustainable Development, she started working with GrowNYC’s Compost Program in 2018. As the compost program team manager, Miryam has been focused on implementing equitable hiring and training practices for Compost Program staff."
Nicole Spina - Assistant VP, Smart & Sustainable Cities, NYC EDC
"Nicole (Nic) is an assistant vice president at NYCEDC and a native Brooklynite. She leads programs that address pressing climate challenges and shape a more inclusive and sustainable New York City, with expertise in circular economy, clean energy, and food tech. In her free time Nic loves riding bikes and taking care of community cats."
Dior St. Hillaire - Worker-Owner, GreenFeen OrganiX
"Dior is a microhauler who is passionate about environmental justice and waste equity. She uses hip hop to teach sustainability and adds a unique approach to reimagining New York City’s waste management system. Her ultimate goal is to see zero waste sent to landfills with the supporting infrastructure that increases local processing capacity of organics within the city."
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