The Pop-Up Activist of the Lower East Side

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Eric Ho watches the boom on the Lower East Side, the torrent of new restaurants and boutiques opening, and sees something different. He sees Detroit. Specifically, walking the neighborhood last spring, he saw vacant storefronts — more than 200 of them in the area east of the Bowery and south of 14th Street.

The series began Nov. 4 with a museum dedicated to the comic book artist Jack Kirby.
How was it possible, he thought, that in a neighborhood where space was at such a premium, so much of it was sitting idle? Mr. Ho, 32, is an architect who once intended to design housing for disaster zones. Counting the empty properties, he thought: What could be done with them?

“There’s all these people who want space,” he said. “And there’s all this space. There must be some way to bring them together.”

He quit his job and started thinking. “The question for me,” he said, “is, what can we do in the space that benefits the community?”

Last week, he began a preliminary answer: a series of seven pop-ups in seven weeks in a storefront on Delancey Street.

Instead of the usual pop-up store from retailers looking for buzz, Mr. Ho’s pop-ups will house organizations that might not be able to afford permanent retail space in the neighborhood — a mix of nonprofits and for-profits, none with big budgets. Tenants will range from a syringe-exchange program for homeless transients to an online community of knitters.

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“The Pop-Up Activist of the Lower East Side”