Building Cities and Futures

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Isaac Ostrow

Whenever someone asks me what I want to do with my life, my go-to answer is always, “something in urban development.” Intentionally vague, it fits my profile as an urban studies major and allows me to brush off the dreaded question whose answer was (and still is to an extent), “I don’t know!” From the time I started giving that answer, I had no clue what it meant, so when I embarked upon my internship search as a part of JTS’s Fellowship for Jewish Social Entrepreneurship, I found out just how broad the world of urban development really was.

One area of city-oriented work that I took interest in was that of Business Improvement Districts (BID). A BID is a “geographical area where local stakeholders oversee and fund the maintenance, improvement, and promotion of their commercial district.” I contacted people at a number of BIDs across NYC and ended up interning, not for one of them, but for the Project Manager of downtown Staten Island who works on similar projects as BIDs and is working with local businesses to try and form a new BID for St. George, Tompkinsville, and Stapleton—the neighborhoods on the other end of Staten Island Ferry.

I’ve worked on projects that promote downtown Staten Island, such as rolling out a new interactive map of the area that highlights local businesses, restaurants, and attractions. I led a team of volunteers from National Grid in weeding and cleaning flower beds along the main business corridor. I worked to report instances of graffiti to NYC’s graffiti removal program to help keep the neighborhoods looking clean. I have also spent time with my boss going door to door to build relationships with small business owners and make sure they know of the different grant programs that can help them through what has been a difficult few pandemic years.

From my perspective, what do all these things have in common? These efforts help small businesses survive and thrive. Growing up in a small business–owning family, I’ve seen how challenging and consuming it can be. I find it meaningful to have found work that helps small business owners with some of the countless issues they face. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the idea that a city is much more than just its physical infrastructure; people make a city great. Helping people helps the city.

Isaac Ostrow (JP ’22)