Oral histories are intimate conversations between and among people who have generously agreed to share these recordings with BHS’s archives and researchers. Please listen in the spirit with which these were shared. BHS abides by the General Principles & Best Practices for Oral History as agreed upon by the Oral History Association and expects that use of this material will be done with respect for these professional ethics.
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The audio recording should be considered the primary source for each interview. Where provided, transcripts created prior to 2008 or commissioned by a third party other than BHS, serve as a guide to the interview and are not considered verbatim. More recent transcripts commissioned by BHS are nearly verbatim copies of the recorded interview, and as such may contain the natural false starts, verbal stumbles, misspeaks, and repetitions that are common in conversation. The decision for their inclusion was made because BHS gives primacy to the audible voice and also because some researchers do find useful information in these verbal patterns. Unless these verbal patterns are germane to your scholarly work, when quoting from this material researchers are encouraged to correct the grammar and make other modifications maintaining the flavor of the narrator’s speech while editing the material for the standards of print.
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[Last name, First name], Oral history interview conducted by [Interviewer’s First name Last name], [Month DD, YYYY], [Title of Collection], [Call #]; Brooklyn Historical Society.
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Oral history interview conducted by Alexis Taines Coe
December 29, 2009
Call number: 2008.031.3.010
0:01 - Introductions; his background at Pratt and contact with Brooklyn since '56; investing architects in social justice & development in Bed-Stuy; Congress of Racial Equality members who moved into Clinton Hill Apts.; Clinton Hill demographics since '50s; forming Bed-Stuy Restoration Corp.
11:59 - Housing decay on boundaries of Ft. Greene & Bed-Stuy; proposals of parks & daycares to create jobs; opposing block demolition in Ft. Greene; Revitilizating efforts of 2000s; neighborhood abandonment via shuttered manufacturing
23:12 - '60s-'70s disinvestment, reinvestment stabilized from late '70s onward but can also displace; "Grow," don't "replace people;" Economic Opportunities Act & community empowerment; considering ACORN; federal funding issues; national principles affect grassroots change; physical renewal vs. social reaction
35:06 - "Great Society" programs unify approaches; Model Cities demonstration; setup of Central Brooklyn program; LBJ's resources for programs went to fighting war; draft counseling to students and area youth
46:03 - Little support for returning veterans & drug traffic impacts city; safety improved from '91 on; curbing spacial segregation; community group interaction, controversy with Pratt admin., police surveillance
57:06 - University Year in Action, VISTA, Central Brooklyn Neighborhood College formation and efforts; activities of Rudy Bryant, Carlos Russell, Bed-Stuy Restoration, others; model program for home ownership in Ft. Greene & Bed-Stuy
69:01 - Organized urban revitalization based on pilots of home improvement or daycare placement; combatting red-lining, insurers, bank practices; Gale Cincotta sets example of protest and negotiation; Home Mortgage Disclosure Act; girding for displacement
79:24 - Pratt Center always needed partners; local & national coalitions formed; Pratt Institute frictions; architecture students' outreach; supporting housing for disabled
90:58 - Alliances to change federal regulation; looking after low-income, disenfranchised; Pratt Center's 3-tiered mission; advocacy planning via environmental justice & manufacture initiatives
Oral History Interview with Ron Shiffman
Ronald Shiffman was born in 1938 in Israel. His parents had immigrated to Israel from Russia after his father was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag for his expression of Zionist political views. Shiffman's parents later emigrated to the Bronx borough of New York City, where Shiffman grew up. Shiffman graduated from Pratt Institute's school of architecture, and later its school of urban planning. In 1964, Shiffman co-founded the Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development (now known as the Pratt Center for Community Development). In 1965, Shiffman, in partnership with the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, conceived and launched the first community development corporation, known today as the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation. In 2012, Shiffman won the Jane Jacobs medal for Lifetime Achievement from the Rockefeller Foundation.
In this interview, Ronald Shiffman remembers the struggling Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, and Fort Greene neighborhoods of Brooklyn, their decaying housing situations and the various forms revitalization took over decades. He recalls the forming of Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, and several other alliances and partnerships that came out of efforts of the Pratt Center for Community Development (PCCD). He looks back on fifty years of urban development in the area around Pratt Institute. He tells of the community investment activities of the Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council. Shiffman discusses how social movements for the nation affected federal funding and local action for community development. He describes resistance from Pratt's administration to some partnerships of PCCD that appeared suspicious. Draft counseling and reaction to veterans back from Vietnam are also part of his reflections. Shiffman closes with the advice that select manufacturing and housing can co-mingle safely in the 2000s; remarking that the Brooklyn Navy Yard needs to have improved connections to the adjoining neighborhoods for better social and economic impact. Interview conducted by Alexis Taines Coe.
The Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Civic leaders series features a dynamic range of narrators. Many are well-known public figures and others are well-known in their communities. This ongoing series focuses on Brooklyn history and the experiences of these narrators often reference their outsized contribution to how New York City citizens live, work, and conduct business in the five boroughs. The oldest narrator in this series was born in 1921.
CitationShiffman, Ronald, Oral history interview conducted by Alexis Taines Coe, December 29, 2009, Voices of Brooklyn oral histories: Civic leaders, 2008.031.3.010; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
- Central Brooklyn Coordinating Council
- New York Naval Shipyard
- Pratt Institute
- Russell, Carlos
- Shiffman, Ronald
- City planning
- Community development corporations
- Community organizing
- Local transit
- Politics and government
- Social justice
- Urban policy
- Urban renewal
- Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
- Bronx (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Clinton Hill (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidVoices of Brooklyn oral histories: Civic leaders