About Street Lab
Street Lab is a nonprofit that creates programs for public space across New York City—pop-up reading rooms, open-air drawing studios, and more. Our passion is bringing people together and transforming public space, and we do this in order to strengthen neighborhoods and improve the urban environment, with a focus on underserved locations. We also send kits around the world so that other cities can do the same.
New York City needs a street-level environment that better supports and inspires residents in all corners of the city. In particular, the city needs public spaces where people can gather, connect, and find things to do together.
Street Lab seeks to realize the full potential of public space in neighborhoods of New York City by creating experiences that allow people of all ages to gather, connect, and find inspiration. We envision a city where all people have access to high-quality amenities and programming, right in their neighborhood.
We provide programming in parks, plazas, and other public spaces across New York City using a pop-up approach, working in support of place-making efforts already underway by local groups. We focus on solutions that communities can’t easily implement themselves, and we share these resources across the city. We choose locations based on requests from community groups, and we work in partnership with city agencies, prioritizing underserved areas. Along the way, we enlist the help of architects, fabricators, artists, and educators. We also send kits around the world so that other cities can copy our model.
We have established a network of over 200 community partners working to improve neighborhoods across New York City, and we have identified over 450 public spaces that are in need of programming. Our operation is nimble, and we have already worked in 185 of these locations since 2011. We have award-winning programs at the ready, and new programs in development. We are capable of custom solutions requiring design and fabrication, and we can incorporate other programming partners. We have friendly and experienced staff who are fluent in different languages and skilled at welcoming all kinds of people. Finally, we have funders who support our work across the city.
How we measure impact
We assess our impact using head counts, surveys, and interviews of residents to determine whether our programs encourage community gathering, increase people’s sense of community safety, and make public spaces more welcoming and accessible to all, especially children, women, and families. We also look for markers that indicate people love the experience and walk away feeling good about themselves, their community, and the city. These outcomes have positive implications for a number of long-standing urban issues, including educational achievement gaps, social isolation, and community fragmentation.
History and Accomplishments
Street Lab was founded in 2006 in Boston, where we created pop-up programs for neighborhoods, including a festival called Films at the Gate and the Storefront Library. In 2011 we launched the Uni Project, an effort focused on pop-up reading rooms, and moved the organization to NYC under that name.
Since that time we’ve provided more than 600 days of programming in 150+ public spaces across the city, engaging more than 35,000 New Yorkers. We’ve established ongoing partnerships with both NYC Department of Transportation and NYC Department of Parks and Recreation and have worked with 120+ different local groups. Annually, we now reach about 45 neighborhoods, providing approximately 150 days of programming, and 86% of that work serves low to moderate income communities. We’ve also made 36 kits for libraries, museums, and cities that want to copy our model.
The range of programs we offer has expanded as well, and we now offer pop-up drawing stations, portable museum exhibits, design activities, and soon, small scale music-making and performance. Some of our programming partners include the SoHo Memory Project, the Harlem-based science-education organization HYPOTHEkids, The Drawing Center, the Central Park Zoo, and all three of the city’s public libraries. As a result of our growth, we are re-introducing the organization’s original name of Street Lab in 2018 to reflect our expanding scope of programs and services.
Street Lab’s portable library was hailed as a “groundbreaking idea” by Library Journal in 2011, and libraries from around the world began to contact us to make them reading room kits. In 2012, Street Lab was featured in the U.S. exhibition “Spontaneous Interventions” at the Architecture Biennale in Venice. In 2013, Street Lab’s Uni Project was awarded the National Book Foundation’s Innovations in Reading Prize. In 2014, Street Lab was a winner of Boston’s Public Space Invitational. In 2018, we began a residency at NYDesigns.
Cities everywhere are facing pressures that threaten their social fabric. There is tremendous potential in the far-flung communities of New York City, but also the possibility of disillusionment and disintegration as the city grows ever larger. Street Lab is pioneering new kinds of portable amenities that can serve multiple neighborhoods, improving the quality of life and making communities feel valued and connected to the city at large. In the years ahead, we want to reach father into the boroughs, continue to offer new programs, and put small-scale kits in the hands of partners to implement locally on their own. The result will be an urban landscape transformed and a city recognized for pioneering a new approach to activating public space and building community.
Street Lab was founded by Leslie and Sam Davol, who run the organization with the help of a full-time Program and Operations Manager, seven part-time seasonal staff, and a team of 40+ volunteers. The organization has a eight-member board and is funded by individuals, foundations, corporations, and government, including the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs. In addition, the organization earns revenue from program fees and from the sale of kits.
Since 2011, we have been know primarily as the Uni Project in NYC. In 2019, we are re-introducing our original name of Street Lab, and assigning the name Uni Project to refer to the part of our work focused on reaching at-risk kids in NYC. For now, details about our ongoing programs and schedule are available on our Uni Project web site. In the weeks ahead, that content will be moving our new web site, here at www.streetlab.nyc.