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Bringing NYC streets back to the people

Sreoshy Banerjea, SM ’13

August 22, 2023
Sreoshy Banerjea, SM ’13
Courtesy Photo

As New Yorkers have emerged from the covid-19 public health emergency, their gathering patterns have transformed, and public spaces and street life are regaining prominence. Sreoshy Banerjea, SM ’13, is a force behind the resurgence. As executive director of the New York City Public Design Commission, she advocates for the innovative, sustainable, and equitable design of public spaces and civic structures.

Last year her office released “Designing New York: Streetscapes for Wellness,” a comprehensive strategy to democratize dozens of city spaces for better public health.

“I’m able to see about 80 to 100 projects every month that are physically going to change New York City,” she says. “We’re bringing our streets back to the people. I’m excited about physically seeing New York City get more vibrant as a mark of recovery. A favorite project is the reconstruction of the pool and rink at the Harlem Meer in Central Park, a project of the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Central Park Conservancy.”

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in architecture from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Banerjea was drawn to MIT’s strength in urban design. Her grandfather was a town planner in India, and she recalls being struck by the juxtaposition of squatter communities and sleek towers when she was growing up there. It inspired her to work toward equity through urban design and planning.  

During the pandemic, she co-founded Design Corps to help struggling New York City restaurants implement covid-safe design, assembling a network of volunteer architects to support efforts to create outdoor dining options. Ultimately, 70 designers and firms helped more than 100 restaurants participate in the emergency outdoor dining program, allowing them to remain open. Largely thanks to this work, she received the Service to the City award from the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects for her efforts to make NYC “a better place to live.” Design Corps also earned an honorable mention in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design Awards.

Banerjea calls her newest role on the NYC Public Design Commission the “opportunity of a lifetime.” She helps review capital projects proposed for city-owned property, from buildings to art to landscapes, in collaboration with 11 pro bono commissioners who meet monthly to vote on submissions from city agencies. 

“I have a bird’s-eye view of all the projects that are going to make New York City even more vibrant, more inclusive, and equitable,” she says.

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