Degree(s) Earned
B.S. ’06

Current Employer: Hester Street

Hometown/Country: Wichita, KS

Current City/Country: Jackson Heights, NY

/ Alumni / Bachelor of Science in Architecture,

Jim Diego

Senior Project Manager

“The final two years of my undergraduate degree were at Taubman College and started me on my trajectory to where I am today.”

Why did you choose Taubman College?

As an undergrad, I decided to pursue the B.S. program after taking classes in different subject areas within the School of LSA, where I was initially enrolled. The final two years of my undergraduate degree were at what was then called Taubman College, and started me on my trajectory to where I am today.

Describe the work that you do.

Hester Street is an NYC-based non-profit that devotes urban planning, design, and development expertise to support community-led change. Our work focuses on developing inclusive, participatory practices that leverage local knowledge, build community power, and strengthen social infrastructure. We often work in close partnership with businesses and business networks in low-income communities and communities of color, including Black, Latinx, and Asian populations; recent and new immigrants; non-native English speakers; LGBTQIA+ groups; low-income workers; homeless populations; and many more.

What are some of the projects that you have worked on recently?

Currently, my project work spans from community and economic development work to organizing, engagement, and capacity building, from the neighborhood level to citywide — the kinds of projects that I plan to continue to shepherd and cultivate in my career. One of my major projects is leading Hester Street’s technical assistance efforts for the Together We Thrive – Black Business Network, an initiative of United Way of New York City. Of the major efforts that I will be leading over the next year is a long-term research proposal on neighborhood inclusive economies, addressing the question of “How can Black-owned business networks thrive and promote inclusive economies in NYC?” Our goal is to understand that the makeup of Black-owned businesses (BOBs) can be a critical tool to not only support but expand existing networks of BOBs and promote more inclusive economies — economies that are intrinsically tied to social and economic justice, environmental sustainability, and well-being for all residents.

Another project I lead is our work with the New York City Community Land Initiative, better known as NYCCLI (pronounced like the word “nicely.”)  Working with 15 Community Land Trusts (CLTs) across NYC, we draw from our extensive experience working with nonprofits as a technical assistance provider to the initiative, supporting their long-term goals including to combat speculation and displacement, create opportunities for community control of neighborhood assets, and facilitate community-led development. Our scope of work reflects the vision to support the creation of a “CLT Toolkit” focused on providing popular education support, accessible data, and teach-in education sessions that collectively will provide CLT groups with resources to forward collective ownership models for community control.

How did Taubman College prepare you for your career?

It was my final semester in the undergraduate program when I was preparing for the final studio project, better known as the Wallenberg Studio. The focus of this studio was defining nature and artifice, and it was through this studio I began to explore where architecture was able to intersect with urban planning. It was even suggested during my final jury that my ideas and concepts showed a real insight into the field of planning. The seed was planted, and after graduating and moving to New York, I began pursuing a Masters in Urban Planning at the City University of New York (CUNY) at Hunter College, which I eventually completed in 2012.

What is an important lesson that has stayed with you from your time at Taubman College?

Our regular crits and juries provided me with a strong base in public speaking and presenting, which I’ve been able to enrich in my career, post-graduation. My aptitude for this is part of the reason I was hired in my current position at Hester Street, where our staff’s community engagement and capacity-building expertise is one of our organization’s strongest assets.