Alexa Kasdan has been selected as the new executive director for the Pratt Center for Community Development following a national search that involved input from the broader Pratt community through public forums. Kasdan brings two decades of experience in participatory research and policy advocacy to the role, along with the ability to leverage strong partnerships within the philanthropic community. She will oversee the Center’s professional staff, reporting to the Provost’s Office, and coordinate with Pratt Institute faculty, students, and staff to facilitate community-led planning, applied research, and public policy advocacy to help local organizations challenge and overcome systemic inequities. Her position begins on September 1, 2023.

“We’re thrilled to have someone with Alexa’s community-first approach, unwavering commitment to justice, and deep understanding of New York’s civic and philanthropic landscape lead the Pratt Center into this exciting new chapter,” said Pratt Institute President Frances Bronet. “The Pratt Center is the oldest university-based community planning and advocacy organization in the United States. Pratt faculty and students have contributed to its success over the years and opportunities for impactful collaboration will only grow under Alexa’s leadership.”

Kasdan holds a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a bachelor’s degree in political science and African American studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She began her policy and research career working alongside women of color and low-income communities at Community Voices Heard (CVH), a member-led organization that advocates for affordable housing, good jobs, and economic justice. Between 2009 and 2019, Kasdan led research and policy at the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center (now called TakeRoot Justice), where she collaborated with community groups on campaigns for housing and climate justice, workers’ rights, and equitable development, and worked alongside the Pratt Center on a number of initiatives, including neighborhood rezonings. During this time, she became a founding steering committee member and co-chair of the Participatory Budgeting Process in NYC, significantly expanding the public’s ability to influence budget outcomes.

Since 2020, Kasdan has been the director of policy and research at Demos, focusing on racial and economic justice, as well as voting rights, while also overseeing the budget, program work, and fundraising efforts.

Kasdan will draw on this experience as she guides the Pratt Center’s programming, public advocacy, and research endeavors, while also deeply engaging with community partners in organizing efforts.

“I’m thrilled to join the Pratt Center as its next executive director,” Kasdan said. “Communities across New York are working tirelessly to rebuild NYC and fight for affordable housing, climate justice, workers’ rights, and equitable development, despite significant challenges. With all of the resources and expertise across the Pratt Institute, I know that the Pratt Center can and will play a pivotal role in supporting community groups as they fight for a more just and equitable NYC.”

Faculty and students from Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture launched the Pratt Center 60 years ago in response to calls from local civil rights leaders in Bedford-Stuyvesant to provide technical assistance to support their community-led efforts to rebuild housing and create good jobs. Since then, it has helped community groups throughout the city to create and preserve affordable housing, ensure equitable public transportation access, revitalize commercial corridors, stabilize industrial areas to preserve manufacturing jobs, create community green spaces, and develop community-based strategies to address the impacts of climate change.

“I have worked with Alexa on various community-driven initiatives over the last 15 years,” said Executive Director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES) Damaris Reyes.
“She is a trusted collaborator who meaningfully and consistently engages community members in her work. I am excited to work with her and the Pratt Center again as she steps into this new role.”

In recent years, the Pratt Center has collaborated on efforts to improve the safety of basement apartmentsstrengthen tenant rights, and facilitate community planning in the South Bronx, while also launching a program to retrofit homes in East Brooklyn and expanding the Made in NYC initiative, which supports local makers and manufacturers.

The Pratt Center moved to the Brooklyn Navy Yard earlier this year to be part of Pratt Institute’s Research Yard, creating more opportunities for exploration and participation with faculty and students.