west river, new haven, ct
 design proposition
with  sam zeif + jack lipson
70,000 sq ft

...reviving an abandoned, hashtag-shaped medical 
center as a community commons that brings
   much-needed resources back to its neighborhood.

Many urban neighborhoods nationwide struggle with rampant disinvestment, which results in the absence of public resources and amenities that we all expect in our cities (e.g. access to fresh produce, spaces of recreation, local business districts, public space, etc.). These same neighborhoods also tend to have substantial and healthy building stock that has been abandoned and left vacant.

Simultaneously, there is a growing trend in social impact investing, a financial strategy that seeks to align social goals with investment opportunities. The most exciting development is the Social Impact Bond, which is a financial instrument with value tied to social outcomes, enabling investors to profit from doing good.

We believe that the combination of these national phenomena in the form of new public squares that gather together public resources and collective space -- Associations -- pose immense opportunities for urban reinvention driven by socially impactful financial returns.

The Hashtag building is the prototype for the Association. Reinventing an abandoned, midblock medical building in the West River Neighborhood with the reintroduction of dramatically absent resources (e.g. supermarket, basketball court, library, commercial space, etc.), the West River Association will become a financially sustainable hub for community gathering and commerce. Funded through an elaborate mixture of sources – including grants, tax credits, equity partners, loans, and social impact bonds – the WRA will both produce its own revenue through rental income, and produce returns on SIB’s issued towards its success by generating positive social outcomes in the West River.

240 Winthrop Ave was once a convent dedicated to caring for the poor, then a nursing home that housed many of the community’s elderly, until it was abandoned over twenty years ago and left to deteriorate in vacancy. Today, it is dormant, accumulating trash, graffiti, and stigma, occupying an enormous and significant center of the neighborhood. Meanwhile, the neighborhood continues to lack primary urban amenities and struggles with symptomatic issues of poor urban performance. 

The West River Association will work closely with both private and public partners in order to successfully finance and ultimately occupy the 240 Wintrhop site. Public partnerships will stem from available special funding sources, such as those available through the New Haven Parks and Recreation Department, and eventual building occupants, such as the New Haven Public Library. Non-profit partners will include other sources of outside funding, such as the New Haven Land Trust, the Urban Resources Initiative, Play60, and the CT Small Business Express Program. Private partners will include social impact venture funds, who join Winthrop Works as equity partners.