The Point is Bringing Resilient WiFi to Hunts Point

The Point, a non-profit mainly known for its arts and youth efforts in the Bronx, is now working on a high-tech project: bringing free and reliable WiFi to all of Hunts Point.

Working with New America’s Resilient Communities program, The Point is setting up a mesh network in 15 buildings in the neighborhood. It’s aiming to install the technology on the rooftops of local businesses.

The Point is currently acquiring equipment for this project, according to Houman Saberi, deputy director of Resilient Communities. They will begin installing the network next month. The project will be carried out in stages and will be completed by June 2019.

The goal is to provide reliable connection when other networks aren’t functioning, as in the case of an emergency.

“We’re kind of throwing a mesh around the whole community,” said Maria Torres, President and Chief Operating Officer for The Point.

“So this way as each thing connects to each other we get a wider, stronger signal.”

A mesh network is a wireless network made up of individual nodes placed throughout an area which communicate to each other without internet or wireless connection. The network still remains functional even if nodes go offline or lose connection, making it more resilient in the face of environmental disasters.

Hunts Point was selected for this project because it is especially vulnerable to climate change and flooding, as the neighborhood is surrounded by water on three sides. About a third of the neighborhood is at risk of flooding, according to New York City Planning. Facilities located near the water are at increased risk, making half of Hunts Point’s manufacturing facilities vulnerable, including the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center.

“Sandy was a very eye-opening experience for us,” said Angela Tovar, The Point’s Director for Community Development.

“And we realized that we had to dedicate a lot of our mission and our programming to ensuring that people were more resilient in the wake of climate change,” Tovar said.

Tovar said they’re also looking at ways for the community to take the initiative in improving their own resilience and infrastructure.

Digital Stewards, local residents trained and paid to set up the network, will carry out the project.

The Free Hunts Point Community WiFi project is modeled after a similar project in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which installed a community mesh WiFi network prior to Hurricane Sandy. The network functioned as an effective back-up when many lines of communication were down during the hurricane.

The Point’s WiFi project received a $500,000 grant from the Citi Foundation earlier this year.

Hunts Point is one of five neighborhoods setting up community WiFi projects as part of New America’s Resilient Communities program, which includes East Harlem, Gowanus, Sheepshead Bay and Far Rockaway. New America has partnered with local organizations in each neighborhood to set up this project.

“What we want is transformational resiliency which is the the idea that communities can, through this project, through this knowledge, can really surmount some of these entrenched conditions, these inhibiting factors for community development,” Saberi said.

The Resilient Communities program receives funding from the RISE: NYC (Resiliency Innovations for a Stronger Economy) competition grant. The RISE grant is intended to help small businesses use innovation become more resilient against environmental disasters and was created after Sandy. RISE is organized by the New York City Economic Development Corporation and receives funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Point Community Development Corporation is a Hunts Point-based non-profit organization founded in 1994. The organization focuses on youth, arts and culture and community development. They are also working on bringing solar power to the community.

A study found that the Bronx has the lowest percentage of broadband connection in the city, with 32% of households not having internet connection.

Photo Credit: Savannah Jacobson

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