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Citizens Union

9/11 Memorial Nears Completion, Ending Complicated, Contentious Process


9/11 memorial
The 9/11 memorial, with two pools where the Twin Tower once stood, is set to open in less than two months.

On the 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the National September 11th Memorial will open to the public. This event marks the end of a process that began with an international design competition that yielded 5,201 submissions from 63 nations. The magnitude, emotional investment, and symbolism of this project created a complex, drawn-out and sometimes chaotic process involving conflicting visions, ambitious designs, financial concerns and, above all, long deliberations with multiple parties, particularly the families who lost loved ones on that tragic day.

On the site where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood, an 8-acre memorial and underground museum will commemorate those who lost their lives in the attacks and educate millions of visitors who will come to pay tribute to the victims of 9/11 and learn about the history of that day. The memorial will transform what was once the concrete of Ground Zero into a plaza flanked by trees and punctuated by two reflecting pools in the footprints of the original Twin Towers. Between the pools, the pavilion will provide an entrance into the museum, leading visitors from the memorial plaza, a space of contemplation, to exhibitions filled with first person accounts, remnants from the Word Trade Center site, and historical information about 9/11.

Even as the museum and memorial come to completion, construction around the site will continue, and as a result, the Memorial will require visitors to reserve passes in advance.

"The development of the 9/11 memorial and museum takes place at the arguably most complicated construction site on the planet. For starters, the memorial and museum rests on a transit hub with multiple rail lines, a state of the art security area, a massive underground parking lot, infrastructure to support at least four office towers, and it's on a landfill," explained Kate Levin, commissioner of the city's Department of Cultural Affairs, at a recent forum at the New York Times. "The project also has extraordinarily passionate and diverse stakeholders from family members whose loved ones perished on Sept. 11 to local residents, elected officials, property owners, the general public and the world at large. "

Design Plans Underway

The city hopes that memorial's design by Michael Arad will please most, if not all, of those care so deeply about the project.

Arad, began sketching soon after the attacks. He envisioned two voids in the Hudson River that remained empty.

When the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. design competition launched, he re-imagined those two voids at the site of the World Trade Center and submitted his proposal. A 13-person jury -- including Paula Grant Berry, a memorial board member who lost her husband in the 9/11 attacks, and Maya Lin, the architect of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial among others -- selected Arad's design out of thousands of submissions.

Ten years later, Arad’s idea has come to fruition: Reflecting pools with waterfalls have been placed within the footprints of the twin towers, and a grove of trees fills the Memorial Plaza. Arad collaborated with landscape architecture firm Peter Walker and Partners, and together, they came up with the idea to plant 400 swamp white oak trees, creating a canopy of leaves, which will turn gold and amber colored around Sept. 11.

Progress has been made as the deadline for Sept. 11 nears— so far, 400 trees have taken root, and the 30-foot waterfalls have been successfully tested. After consulting with families, the architects have finalized the most important component of the memorial -- the arrangement of victims' names that will be inscribed on bronze parapets surrounding the two reflecting pools.

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Honoring The Lives Lost

The arrangement of the names stirred much debate among families of 9/11 victims. In early May, the memorial staff and architects announced the final placement of the nearly 3,000 names around the two reflecting pools. They created a system of what they call "meaningful adjacencies" that show where the victims were killed on 9/11, such as Flight 11, the Pentagon or the North Tower. The designer and others also invited next of kin to request that certain names be listed together with those of colleagues, friends or relatives.

9/11 memorial
Probably no issue involved n the memorial's design was an contentious as the debate over how the names of victims should be displayed

Throughout the process Some families, along with some police and firefighter groups, expressed their disappointment that the wall will not list the age, company name and rank of uniformed personnel. Others, however, feel reassured by the final arrangement of names.

Anthoula Katsimatides lost her brother, John Katsimatides, a bonds broker at Cantor Fitzgerald, in the attacks. For the last few years she also has worked at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and served on the memorial board. She thinks the eventual solution is fitting.

"All these little nuances about how the names should be listed. At the end of the day, isn't it better to have the name in its simplicity listed?" she said. "The families were clamoring because the design originally called for a random listing of the names, which upset many of the family members. And then Michael Arad came up with this similar meaningful adjacency process. And now I know that my brother, for example, will be listed next to the three guys he worked with every single day. I take comfort in that."

The memorial will list names of the victims in nine groups, such as those who lost their lives when the flights crashed into the World Trade Center complex or first responders who died in the line of duty. However, the names of the recovery workers – even those who have died in the years and months since because of their exposure to toxins at the site -- will not be inscribed on the memorial.

At the forum, 9/11 Memorial president, Joseph Daniels, explained, "The memorial itself ... will have the names of the 2,983 victims, that by policy, the city's medical examiner has classified as a 9/11 homicide, they will be the names around the memorial. The story of the recovery workers who sacrificed, got sick and are dying is an absolutely essential part of this project and within the museum itself. We will be telling that story and we will be recognizing the individuals who sacrificed and who died, and it is an incredibly important part of the narrative."

Entrance to the Museum

The memorial will serve as a place of reflection by visitors from around the world, but the details, personal stories, and history behind 9/11 will be told in greater depth through permanent and temporary exhibitions in the museum. After weathering many changes over the last few years, the pavilion designed by Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta is halfway to completion -- with the exterior scheduled to finish this year and the construction on the interior set to wrap up in September 2012, just in time for the official opening of the museum.

Situated between the two reflecting pools, the pavilion not only serves as the entrance to the museum, but also houses an auditorium for public programming, a space for contemplation, a counter for refreshments, and a private suite for families who lost loved ones in the attacks. Inside the pavilion’s glass atrium, two of the original steel tridents from the Twin Towers will stand on display.

"Our desire is to allow visitors to the site to find a place that has a naturally occurring threshold between the everyday life of the city and the uniquely spiritual quality of the memorial. The building should engage the visitor directly and allow each person to find themselves mirrored within the unique setting," wrote Craig Dykers of Snøhetta. "It is important that people physically engage with the building and feel that the building helps lead them on to other areas of the site and other thoughts about their experiences there."

From the pavilion, the National September 11 Museum takes visitors 70 feet below ground down to the bedrock level where the original foundations of the Word Trade Center are displayed. The museum honors those whose lives were lost in the attacks with audio and visual components and remembrances and also tells the story of 9/11 through oral histories, artifacts, digital documentation, photographs and video.

The museum will be divided into three spaces: a historical exhibition centered around the attacks as well as what led to them and their significance; a memorial exhibition; and the West Chamber, containing remnants from the attacks including the slurry wall and the last column.

"Fundamentally the objectives of the museum are threefold. First, to be the global focal point for the telling the story of what happened on 9/11 told through first person accounts, artifacts, and digital documentation. Second, the museum will address how the events happened including the rise of Al Qaeda, the precursor events throughout the 1990s, and the 9/11 plot itself," said Daniels. "And third, the museum will explore the big societal questions. What does this mean for our future that continue to define the post 9/11 world in which we live?"

One of the challenges that director of the Memorial Museum Alice M. Greenwald, faces is how to handle the sensitive nature of the material. While aspects of the events memorialized and depicted can be unsettling, they are essential parts of the story. Daniels addressed this issue at the forum. "We are going to be presenting the sensitive material, but we're going to do it in a way that clearly lets people who don't want to see it go around it," he said.

Different Points of Views

The National September 11th Museum and Memorial already has elicited a range of responses -- some families support the plans, while others are critical.

Jane Pollicino, who lost her husband, Steve Pollicino on 9/11, expressed her disappointment that the Sphere sculpture, which survived the attacks, will not be on the plaza. "The Sphere, which became a symbol of survival, hope for the world; and as always an icon representing peace, should have had a prime location between the footprints of the towers," she said. "I do understand the complexity and the issues that the city faced in the entire rebuilding process. It has been one of the most complicated construction projects in our nation and so many people have so many different opinions."

Herbert Ouida’s son, Todd Ouida, worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and lost his life on 9/11. He said, "People argue about everything, what they really want is to have their loved ones back. We haven't gotten involved in those issues -- it doesn't make a difference if the museum is upstairs or downstairs. The government is trying to compensate the best they could. Let's make the world safer than on 9/11."

Nicole Anderson is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn. Her website is here.

Making a Greener Economy a Fairer Economy


greenroof
Members of Sustainable South Bronx and Sarah Lawrence College students install a green roof on a dormitory.

In his scathing critique of the 1929 Regional Plan for New York and Its Environs, Lewis Mumford warned that it should be finally judged not "by its separate details, but by its drift." This holds true of PlaNYC as well.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's sustainability agenda is chock full of urgent and unassailable proposals for "greening" the city, but is ultimately flawed by a narrow conception of sustainability, insufficient treatment of the economic potential of environmental policy, and a failure to lay out a program for insuring that future growth is equitably distributed. Its glaring omission of "green collar jobs," along with a land use agenda dominated by real estate and its timid proposals for reforming procurement policy all mar its lofty goals. PlaNYC reflects the Bloomberg administration's resistance to innovative approaches that would provide a modicum of social sustainability in terms of jobs, income and neighborhood stability.

planyc

To be sure, Bloomberg understands that public and private efforts to foster a healthy environment have significant implications for the local economy. In a 2008 speech, he lamented, "For far too long, environmentalism has gotten pitted against economic development." He went on to declare that clean energy would "be the oil gusher of the 21st century" and that "going green is the best -- indeed the only -- pro-growth strategy."

Yet conspicuously missing from the original PlaNYC report was a discussion of green collar jobs and industries, or for that matter, any explicit strategy for green growth. The recent update includes a token two-page section on "Economic Opportunity," but the overarching framework remains the same.

Instead of promoting development from within, PlaNYC is preoccupied with how to solicit outside investment by "attracting companies and talent:" and "new people" who "bring new ideas and innovation." Bloomberg continues to emphasize large-scale redevelopment projects, characterized as "smart growth" despite their spotty track record in terms of yielding fiscal and economic benefits, and their failure to generate trickle-down benefits to distressed neighborhoods.

The report also offers no roadmap for how the city could augment local production efforts to meet the changing needs of a green economy, including those encompassed by PlaNYC initiatives. Finally, because the administration's notion of "sustainability" does not consider social equity, the plan offers no discussion of the level, distribution and stability of income for current New York City residents, and makes no effort to address disparities in economic opportunity such as those in London's sustainability plan. As far as we can tell from the PlaNYC report, the people of New York City will be as unequal in 2030 as they are today, and low-wage jobs will continue to drive the city's job growth.

Green Collar Jobs and Industries

The PlaNYC programs have already helped stimulate investment in the retrofitting of buildings, installation of solar panels and improvements to the city’s infrastructure and mass transit, to give a few examples. This should provide local economic development officials with the opportunity to affect how such investments ripple through the local economy, the types of jobs they create, and in some cases, even their wage and benefit levels. However, while PlaNYC emphasizes the many jobs that would be created in construction, maintenance, forestry and engineering, it does not chart a plan for how these investments could create a green industrial sector.

A study commissioned by the mayors of Minneapolis and Saint Paul on green economic development concluded, "Jobs aimed at retrofitting and renewable energy installation, while critical to meet environmental goals … have a short-term focus. Unless these programs are tied to local manufacturing, they will have a limited impact on the long-term development of the region."

The transition to a green economy can afford New York an opportunity to reclaim some manufacturing jobs by identifying niches where local manufacturers have a competitive advantage and strengthening the supply chains to provide the materials and goods for projects stimulated by PlaNYC expenditures. This local production also would decrease greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the distance between manufactured goods and their final destination.

Other cities have attempted to do this. They have built local capacity through cluster initiatives aimed at connecting core businesses with suppliers and new technologies, and fostered the creation of green business incubators to provide logistical support and financing for startup companies.

PlaNYC, however, fails to appreciate the extent to which growth can be achieved by augmenting local production efforts that meet local needs. Instead, PlaNYC's "Transforming to a Green Economy" focuses more on promoting economic opportunities in New York to national and international companies.

Addressing this failure to support fledgling local businesses would require the city's Industrial Development Agency to reallocate its resources. Currently, about 70 percent of the agency's assistance goes to large commercial projects such as office buildings and large retail complexes. Instead the IDA should target subsidies as part of a strategic plan for promoting green industry while strengthening the market for green products by mandating sustainable business practices as a condition for receiving a subsidy.

Power of the Purchase

PlaNYC initiatives will require the city to buy new goods and services, creating a larger market for green products. The city can put this purchase power to good use.

Progressive municipal administrations across the country have long recognized that government's purchasing and contracting can generate jobs and shape local labor markets. Many experts agree that it is entirely justifiable to give local bidders an advantage over outsiders because of the spin-off benefits a local contractor provides.

The updated PlaNYC report discusses the current administration's policy of "environmentally preferable purchasing," which requires agencies to consider the human health and environmental impacts in procurement decisions. New York City procured almost $17 billion worth of supplies, services and construction last year, more than any other city in the country, making it a potentially powerful customer.

Despite this, Bloomberg administration does not seem to have a local purchasing policy. The recent decision to award Nissan a 10-year exclusive contract to provide a new taxi fleet is a case in point. The city rejected a rival proposal by Karsan that would have manufactured its taxis in Brooklyn, generating hundreds of stable, high-paying jobs.

Land Grab

Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center for Community Development, has argued, "It is pointless to invest in green jobs if they have no place to go." Indeed, a study by the Center for Community Innovation at UC-Berkeley contends, "Cities that preserve land already zoned as industrial will place themselves at a competitive advantage for attracting green businesses."

Numerous studies have demonstrated that space is the primary challenge facing New York City's manufacturing businesses. Rather than addressing this issue as part of a green jobs initiative, PlaNYC exacerbates these pressures through its real estate-led development approach that privileges the "highest and best" use of land. This means, for example, that housing almost always takes precedence over manufacturing.

With the exception of the Industrial Business Zones created in select areas, this continues the administration policies of the last 10 years. It has already rezoned approximately 20 percent of the city's industrial land and continues to allow big box stores, hotels and other nonindustrial uses in manufacturing zones.

The resulting real estate speculation is only fueled by the PlaNYC report. It, for example, proposes the rezoning of many manufacturing zoned areas -- especially in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island -- as the solution to future housing needs. PlaNYC also assumes that "underutilized waterfronts" and any site within a 10-minute walk to a subway should be reserved for housing, thereby cutting off industrial activities from mass transit and the waterfront. This is not inconsequential from an environmental perspective since every large barge that brings material into the city replaces as many as 60 trucks.

The Quality of Work

Karen Chapple, a planning professor at UC-Berkeley, reminds us, "Despite the rallying cry for green jobs as pathways out of poverty, a green economy does not necessarily mean well-paying, green-collar jobs unless local job standards and training programs are in place." Indeed, a sizable number of potential green-collar jobs entail redeploying workers in industries that tend to pay low wages. For this reason, another Center for Community Innovation reportlists living wage and benefits ordinances as its first recommendation to policymakers.

This is especially relevant to New York City, which has seen a sharp rise in the working poor and an unprecedented level of income inequality. New York City ranks worst with respect to inequality of household income among the 50 largest cities in the U.S., with the top 1 percent of the population receiving 44 percent of income in 2007, according to a report published by the Fiscal Policy Institute. A recent study by the Drum Major Institute further details the extent to which the city's lowest-paid industries dominate new job growth.

Despite these trends, PlaNYC does not incorporate wage or local hiring requirements in its projects. In fact, the Bloomberg administration is fighting a City Council bill that would require the recipients of economic development subsidies for large projects to pay their employees a living wage of $10 an hour with medical benefits or $11.50 without. Meanwhile, the city has subsidized the creation of poverty wage jobs through its awarding of grants, tax incentives, and land use changes to stadiums and shopping complexes. In order for the city to achieve equitable and sustainable long-term economic growth, public investment in green industries must be tied to a living wage.

In the absence of leadership from the Bloomberg administration, the task of coordinating the city's economic development activities with its sustainability plan has largely been left to non-governmental organizations such as Urban Agenda (now the Alliance for a Greater New York), the Pratt Center for Community Development, NYC Apollo Alliance, and grassroots efforts such as Green Worker Cooperatives. In 2009 Urban Agenda and the Center for American Progress published the New York City Green-Collar Jobs Roadmap, a detailed overview of workforce development resources and needs, a breakdown of potential growth industries for a high-road green economy, and a host of essential policy recommendations to be incorporated into PlaNYC.

Despite such initiatives, the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability still has not engaged in a meaningful discussion of green collar jobs and industries. To be sure, PlaNYC's reports contain an implicit strategy for economic development, assuming that becoming greener will make New York ripe for outside investment. The reports also explicitly recognize that many of its initiatives will result in job creation if workers are adequately trained. However, the lack of a specific plan for green collar jobs cannot be dismissed as an oversight given the cacophony of voices that called on the city to address this shortcoming after the release of the first report.

Perhaps the problem stems from two conflicting agendas within this administration. Economic development officials have been charged with pursuing growth at any cost while the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability and other agencies seek to mitigate the harmful effects of growth. If economic development officials considered growth as more a strategy than goal, more a means than an end, then PlaNYC might have focused on harnessing the emerging green economy to achieve a more just and sustainable city.

Dan Steinberg is a doctoral student in Urban Planning at Columbia University.

South Street Seaport Goes Back to the Drawing Board


Photo by Vicky Plestis, Gotham Gazette
Pier 17 at South Street Seaport could be demolished under plans to redevelop the area.

After 40 years of widely criticized development at the South Street Seaport, yet another company is about to make another try to get the venerable neighborhood right.

In January the Howard Hughes Corp., a spin-off of General Growth Properties, confirmed it was reviving development plans for South Street Seaport. While it has begun preliminary discussions with SHoP Architects, it has yet to release the design plans.

Doing so is particularly important for an area scarred by failed development projects. The direction the Howard Hughes Corp. chooses to take holds large implications for the future of the South Street Seaport neighborhood and whether it will continue as a symbol "urban renewal" or a finally emerge as a vibrant, historic community and commercial space.

Down to the Sea in Shops?

The seaport area, home to some of Manhattan's oldest architecture, has been the focus for development and revitalization projects dating as far back as the 1970s. Yet after 40 years of development, the neighborhood is far from successful.

In the 1980s, the development of the mall by the Rouse Co. was seen as a way to draw visitors to the area and help the museum's finances. Despite the commercialization of the area, the Seaport Museum of New York still faces financial trouble, taking out numerous loans over the past five years to cover its increasing debts.

The museum must deal with few visitors, on top of what founding president Peter Stanford has called mismanagement by museum chair Frank Sciame and president Mary Pelzer. As a result, the museum has closed its landside galleries, placed 32 staff members on unpaid furloughs and is in talks to remove the neglected historic boats from Pier 17.

The mall, opened in 1985 as a "festival marketplace," akin to Harborplace in Baltimore and Faneuil Hall in Boston, has also had its problems. Residents have blamed the mall for distorting the area's historic atmosphere and driving up property values, forcing out local residents and businesses.

The Last Plan

The seaport "was never meant to be a mall," said Robert LaValva, founder of the New Amsterdam Market and a prominent critic of the development that has occurred in the area.

In 2008, General Growth Properties concluded the solution to these development difficulties was more development. It began plans with SHoP Architects to tear down the Pier 17 mall and in its place build a series of two-story retail buildings and a six-story hotel.

General Growth also planned to construct a 42- story condominium tower at the foot of Pier 17 over the Fulton Fish Market.

The plan received mixed support, but development ultimately stopped in 2009 when General Growth Properties declared chapter 11. (The company restructured and left bankruptcy protection last year.)

To Shop or Not to Shop?

Howard Hughes Corp., which holds a long-standing lease on Pier 17, has now taken up the area's development. While any design is only in its preliminary stages, eventually the final plan must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which requires approval from the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Considering how divisive the 2008 plan was among Lower Manhattan residents, the new plan could face serious obstacles. Its ultimate success will depend on its ability to unite the diverse community visions for the Seaport.

Julie Menin, board chair of Community Board 1, which began preliminary evaluations of the 2008 development plan, stressed the need for more retail.

"There have been more than 30,000 new residents [in Lower Manhattan] since 9/11. There's a tremendous amount of residential need for new retail," she said.

Retail also plays a critical role in drawing tourists to the South Street Seaport.

"I'm on holiday and someone said [the seaport] was a lovely place to come to,' said one tourist from Belfast. "And there's Abercrombie for the kids."

"We'll definitely be coming again. We’ll come back to the mall," said a visitor from New Jersey.

Yet many local community groups oppose the massive commercialization of the South Street Seaport, which they think detracts from the area's rich history as one of New York's oldest districts.

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, an advocacy group, said that if the new plan was "anything similar to what General Growth was proposing three years ago," his organization would be "unalterably opposed."

"They were proposing a completely out of scale, inappropriate tower that would dwarf the entire district and change the landscape. They were going to demolish the historic Tin Building and create some faux copy of it. The list goes on and on and on," Bankoff said.

The Fish Markets Future

The Fulton Fish Market, which consists of the market stalls on South Street, the Tin Building and the New Market Building, is a particular point of controversy for development plans. A community rally on May 25 emphasized the need to preserve these historic buildings. Although the market moved to Hunts Point in the Bronx in 2005, its original buildings at the seaport remain vacant, used only for parking.

To LaVala, public involvement in whatever comes next is key. Although the area's streets are closed to traffic, making it " feel like a suburban shopping mall," the city owns the fish market, the surrounding streets and many buildings in the area, he said.

"Because they are owned by the public, the public should become more involved with determining the future of this place, which is a nearly intact 19th- century wholesale market district, a priceless asset of this city and a monument of worldwide significance," LaVala continued.

LaValva founded the New Amsterdam Market to in 2005 to, he said, "preserve and rekindle the original vision for the Fulton Fish Market." It now is open only on Sundays during the summer, although he would like to see it become a permanent fixture in the district.

Space by the Sea

Another key issue for residents is open space. Menin said that many community board members who leaned toward backing the 2008 development plan did so because they believed it would create more public space in the area. General Growth "had talked about building a park space and a large community center,” said Menin.

Critics, though, claimed the plan would tie up the area with so much of the space devoted to retail and the proposed hotel.

"Essentially, it's a hotel complex that other people will be able to walk around," said former New York City councilmember Alan Gerson, a major critic, in 2008.

The 2008 plan "would have ruined the Seaport altogether," LaVala said. LaValva. “"t would have been made into a luxury residential area that felt accessible to only those that could afford it."

The Howard Hughes Corp. will face a challenge in considering all the competing demands. Any effective design must carefully balance retail space with public space for the community-- all while respecting the character of the South Street Seaport. It also must satisfy the many people who do not like what the area is today.

New Street Fair Rules Make Mozzarepas Harder to Find


streetfair
Photo by bitchcakesny
Critics complain street fairs like this one in Manhattan cost the city money, clog traffic and are too monotonous. But people come out for them all the same.

New Yorkers will have fewer sausage and lemonade stands to frequent this spring and summer.

The Bloomberg administration is limiting the hours that street fairs can operate and restricting how far they spread out. Citing budget constraints the city is cutting the number of police officers available to provide security at the events. And it also plans to discontinue some long-standing street fairs.

The new policy will please New Yorkers who are bothered by the traffic disruptions the fairs cause and the monotony of many of them. But those who enjoy the events will have fewer chances to browse costume jewelry racks while eating funnel cake. Vendors, production companies and the organization sponsoring the fairs all face a loss of profit. And while the city's new rules may save money, experts on the fairs says the chance will do little to nothing to address the dreary sameness affecting many of the al fresco bazaars.

New This Season

The number of street fairs citywide faces a roughly 25 percent reduction this year, and large events cannot be held on the same strip within subsequent weeks. A street festival, to use the city's term, is defined as "a street activity requiring a multi-day and/or a multi-block street closure," by to the Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management's website.

Last year city streets hosted 321 fairs that generated $1.6 million in revenue for the city. But the city also paid police $4 million in overtime to watch over the festivities. Under Bloomberg's proposed cuts there would be roughly 240 fairs this year.

To cut back further, the city is denying permits to traditional street fairs seeking new sponsorship in an effort to limit how many will operate this year. Long-running fairs in Brooklyn on Cortelyou Road and Ditmas Avenue and a Church Avenue Street Fair has been canceled because the original director, Rabbi Zvi Florence, passed away in March, and the city would not transfer the permit to a new official.

"For anyone to call this a 'new fair activity' rather than an extension of the previous 25 years has never been to our Church Avenue Fair," Larry Jayson, president of the Abermarle Neighborhood Association, told city officials in a letter in late April. "This is the same fair, same location, same event, just new sponsorship."

Feeling the Effects

As street fair season begins, operators are trying to adjust to the new rules.

Clearview Festival Productions, which organizes street fairs, has chosen to consolidate events in order to avoid reducing operating hours.

"In some cases some of those events were not practical," said Robert Ashe, on-site manager for Clearview. "For the vendors, operating from 12 to 5 instead of 11 to 6 drastically affects their business."

Clearview will host 17 fewer fairs this spring and summer than last year, when it organized about 100 fairs. The company held its first 2011 street fair on March 19.

Robin Redmond, executive director of the Flatbush Development Corp., which coordinates the Flatbush Frolic, an annual seven-block street fair in September, worries that ending the fair at 5 p.m., an hour earlier than last year, could reduce profits and deter businesses and artists from participating.

"Vendors will receive a better return toward the end of the day," Redmond said.

The economics of street fairs in New York involve production companies, like Clearview, that receive a commission based on the vendors they attract. Sponsors, such as Flatbush Development, cover vendors' operational costs. In return, vendors pay a fee for the space they rent. They make profit based on how much money they generate in sales.

Redmond is requesting a special permit from the city to extend the fair an extra hour, but then vendors would not be able to arrive at their stations as early as in past years to set up their stands. Redmond believes the new rule may turn away potential new vendors but longtime partners will continue to take part in the Flatbush Frolic.

"We think our vendors will still be happy," Redmond said.

Tube Socks Galore

While the mayor's policy will save the city money, it does little to promote more diverse fairs. Jonathan Bowles, director of the Center for an Urban Future, a public policy organization focused on improving the city, believes New Yorkers seek a shift away from the ubiquitous mozzarepa, sausage and lemonade stands that he calls "more or less the same."

Just scaling back on street fairs is missing the larger point," Bowles, the coauthor of a study on street fairs, said. "The answer is a little more complicated."

City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick, who chairs of the Committee on Consumer Affairs, is drafting bills to encourage local businesses to participate in street fairs more and to promote communication between community boards and vendors.

"There's mainly soulless, corporate enterprises made up of socks and sausages," Garodnick said. "The city is granting permits to the same groups year after year. It should allow new groups to participate."

He suggested that production companies require vendors to submit requests to encourage a wider variety of vendors to apply for booths. Bowles believes new vendors should be offered discounts on renting their spaces as an incentive for them to sell their merchandise in street fairs.

Street fair production companies have "had a long time to improve what they do and have had little incentive to change the system. Some competition might be a good thing," Bowles said.

The Bloomberg administration's policy that prevents street fairs from obtaining new sponsorship may make the current situation worse, according to Bowles. "The unintended consequence is that it stifles innovation by not opening them up to new sponsoring organizations that want to be more unique," he said.

Traffic Alert

Garodnick also is proposing legislation that would require street fairs to post their location on a city website at least one week prior to the event.

His constituents have complained about the traffic changes made by street fairs. Streets are closed off as long as the fair is set up on that day.

"It will allow people to find them if they wish or avoid them if they don't," Garodnick said.

Participatory Planning: The Sustainability Plan's Missing Piece


 tree planting
Photo by 350.org
The city's push for sustainability has helped spur New Yorkers to get involved in activities such as planting trees and improving the energy efficiency of their homes.

In just four years, PlaNYC has proved itself a remarkably valuable planning tool for New Yorkers, with unprecedentedly broad reach. In accessible language, it presents a unifying vision linking hundreds of components that go into New York City's environmental sustainability, from stormwater management to brownfields remediation to energy efficiency retrofits. Updated last month, PlaNYC provides a vision and guide to anyone seeking to do their part to improve the city's environment and reduce its carbon footprint.

planyc

In short, PlaNYC provides an overarching vision for New York City’s growth. While much of the plan -- both the original and the update -- addresses actions to be taken by government agencies, numerous objectives require mobilizing the rest of New York City – especially businesses, community-based organizations, labor unions and other groups that can advance PlaNYC’s goals. This knowledge is empowering. It enables the community-based organizations and businesses that the Pratt Center works with to orient their efforts to work toward specific sustainability goals, whether by planting trees, investing in energy efficiency upgrades, developing affordable housing, or through a host of other activities.

Yet while PlaNYC provides important guidance for neighborhood-level sustainability projects, it does not involve New Yorkers in creating the PlaNYC vision itself, or holding PlaNYC's creators accountable to achieving their commitments. What’s more, PlaNYC takes an end-run around the governing document of New York City, the City Charter, and the democratic process.

The Public and Planning

For much of the 20th century, the City Charter included a mandate for a master plan, but it proved unworkable. More recently, New Yorkers amended the charter to foster public participation in city planning. Section 197-a of the charter enables community boards and other groups to propose community-based plans for their neighborhoods' future development, and gives those plans official stature as part of the city’s land use resolution.

The City Planning Commission has approved 11 of those plans. The very drafting of them serves as vehicle for building neighborhood-wide consensus around planning priorities and for advancing them through the political and budget processes.

Yet in its own planning the city has largely ignored 197-a plans. In Williamsburg and Greenpoint, the city's rezoning fundamentally contradicted the neighborhoods' 197-a plans.

The complexity of implementation across city agencies has contributed to the plans' gaining so little traction. Another problem is that community boards must devise their visions in the dark, without knowledge of the city's own strategic priorities for the very same geography. If the city finds the plans unworkable, it is to some degree a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The charter also promotes public participation in planning through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. Community boards get an advisory vote on proposed land use changes, all of them site-specific.

ULURP too, however, has suffered from a lack of a transparent and enforceable framework for planning in New York City. Needs that are inherently neighborhood, borough or citywide in scope -- notably for affordable housing and school capacity -- end up being addressed through individual land use decisions, often project by project. The result has been uneven and often highly inequitable distribution of both the benefits and burdens of development.

As its name indicates, ULURP focuses exclusively on land use decisions, reflecting the early 20th century view of planning as strictly a matter of building height, bulk and type of use. PlaNYC vividly reminds us that the development of a sustainable city involves many other dimensions and an obligation to update public participation to reflect the realities of planning today.

Portland's Example

The mayor’s new director of long term planning and sustainability, David Bragdon, should be well prepared to lead the way to a meaningfully public PlaNYC. As president of Portland, Oregon's Metro Council, Bragdon oversaw the Portland Plan, a visioning process that engaged 17,000 residents and provided direct input into the city's comprehensive plan, which is now going through a public review.

New York City is the only large city in the nation that does not have a comprehensive plan. The size and complexity of our metropolis make such planning challenging, but not impossible -- and in fact, imperative. A public review process of the kind that Portland used offers an important opportunity to get New Yorkers engaged and invested in planning for neighborhood growth -- and sustainability.

PlaNYC suffered a serious blow early on precisely because it lacked such engagement. As introduced on Earth Day 2007, PlaNYC called for charging people to drive into Manhattan’s business districts. Loud opposition immediately drowned out he congestion pricing plan, and efforts by the Bloomberg administration to rally popular support came too late. While the mayor and his staff had consulted planners and environmental groups, they had not pursued a community-engagement strategy ahead of the plan’s release. The administration had to abandon congestion pricing.

To its credit, the Mayor’s Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability has learned from that mistake and begun to take meaningful steps toward community engagement. This time around, it held a series of sessions with leaders of community-based organizations.

Some of the ideas from these sessions are highlighted in the most recent edition of PlaNYC, such as this statement from Ana Dioguardi of Queens Community House: “I think that low-cost housing for families earning $40,000 or less is the number one thing many neighborhoods in the city need." Notably, though, the Queens initiatives highlighted in the plan itself, Hunters Point South and Willets Point, will provide relatively little housing for low-income households.

In addition, this month the city will launch its Change By Us social media site, which will help grassroots environmental projects working in support of PlaNYC’s goals to connect with neighbors, volunteers and other activists.

All of this activity represents a step forward. But it does not disguise the fact that PlaNYC is a document that is both top-down in its origins and accountable only on the terms its creators set. That needs to change. PlaNYC needs to be more than a public relations document; ultimately, it must be something that the city as a whole can meaningfully contribute to, and that is more than a shadow planning process.

Encouraging Involvement

For this to happen, the City Charter needs updating to make New Yorkers part of the process not just on individual land use decisions, but on more comprehensive strategic planning about the future of New York City. Last year's charter revisions made only minimal adjustments to existing land use provisions; a future Charter Revision Commission can and should do much more.

One step would be to transform PlaNYC from a project of the mayor's office to a charter-sanctioned civic body akin to the City Planning Commission, with representation that includes appointees from not only the mayor but other city- and borough-wide elected officials, as well as community board review.

PlaNYC could also assign each community board to identify its preferred measures to advance specific PlaNYC goals within its district boundaries. Routine participation in key decisions across all neighborhoods would help build a culture of local responsibility around planning and sustainability. That, in turn, would redirect energies away from NIMBY and into more constructive directions. It also would help reduce the unfair advantage wealthy communities now have over poorer ones in their ability to get their needs addressed through the planning process.

Finally, PlaNYC could build sustainability on the foundation of the City Charter's fair share provision. This requires that siting decisions for city-sponsored facilities, including power plants and waste transfer facilities, consider whether neighborhoods are already disproportionately burdened. PlaNYC could identify metrics -- from park access to air pollution levels -- that would allow the city to set targets for reducing the environmental burdens that growth places on our most vulnerable communities.

Such community engagement will require investment. Community boards need the expertise of planners, and the boards themselves need to become more reflective of the communities they represent -- both things beyond the ability of PlaNYC itself to change.

But PlaNYC won't be complete until it goes through an actual public process that shapes implementation. Public participation cannot be just a media project. The administration must now fulfill the opportunity it has created by giving New Yorkers a meaningful stake in PlaNYC’s direction and execution.

Alyssa Katz and Eve Baron are senior fellows at the Pratt Center for Community Development. Baron coordinated the Campaign for Community-Based Planning.

On the Waterfront Plan: Real Estate Dreams and Future Conflicts


nyc skyline
Photo by Shelley S.

Vision 2020, New York City's plan for its waterfront, seems to offer something for every New Yorker: promenades along the shore, bucolic wetlands with lots of fish and wildlife, ferries and kayaks, industrial jobs, and new condos with waterfront views.

Looming behind the plan's picturesque images of clear skies and kayakers, however, are the waterfront views from prime real estate locations. Behind the frothy rhetoric designed to garner public support, Vision 2020 is really a business plan.

Overall the plan envisions parks and natural habitats. It also anticipates creating infrastructure that would allow industrial areas -- smaller than they once were -- to thrive. And it calls for new housing "for people of diverse income levels."

Public access, natural restoration, industrial and commercial development – all reflect the interests of those who own land on and near the waterfront. Public promenades and parks on the waterfront will be valuable amenities for luxury towers, as will the "panoramic water views of great beauty."

The few natural areas in the plan are to be in locations that are not prime targets for large-scale development such as Jamaica Bay and along the Arthur Kill on Staten Island. They will be preserved as museum-like exceptions along the 578-mile coastline that is being masterfully engineered for the fun and profit of humans. The industry and public utilities on the waterfront will be allowed to stay where they are, although the plan does not address the negative environmental impacts of these industrial areas on surrounding communities.

In short, the city’s long-term plan for the waterfront, a revised version of the original 1992 plan, continues the trend toward conversion of the coastline from a working waterfront to prime real estate. It is perhaps fitting that the main feature in The New York Times about the city’s waterfront plan appeared in the Real Estate section.

Even with construction stalled by the recession, the article said, "The groundwork is being laid for the next great phase of waterfront development in the city." Casting a covetous eye at the Queens and Brooklyn waterfront, Jeffrey Levine of Levine Builders told the Times, "It is a great opportunity to buy land and warehouse it for development."

The Mayor’s Team Dives In

The plan has won praise from many civic groups, who have essentially entrusted the future of the waterfront to city hall. In November, to promote and celebrate the 2020 plan, the non-profit Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance held a conference that outlined the future as seen by the city's leading policymakers. Alliance board chairman John Watts praised Mayor Michael Bloomberg as "the waterfront mayor."

The 2020 plan has one important new element –- the plan to literally dive in the water. At the waterfront alliance gala, Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Steel introduced this new element by calling for development not just on land but in the water. Steel said, "The waterfront is the sixth borough" -- just as important as the other boroughs. City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden chimed in, saying, "The water is the heart of the city," a new territory to be explored. "Now is the time," she said, "to go from the water's edge into the water."

The plan envisions the waters surrounding the city to be so clean that people can swim, fish and boat in them. And it claims that more ferries and boat traffic are both possible and necessary.

Developers have sought for decades, to build out into the water using deep pilings and new buildings on piers. That also could be what going "into the water" means.

A recent show at the Museum of Modern Art proposed alternatives to address seal level rise that included salvaging waterfront real estate by essentially making it "waterproof." Is the waterfront plan helping to encourage such dubious and expensive?

The plan does not address such possibilities. Nor does it confront global climate change, which could cause the sea level to rise and dramatically alter the waterfront -- both on the water and along its edge. David Bragdon, director of the Mayor's Long-term Planning and Sustainability Office, suggested at the conference that there may need to be changes in zoning to either "harden" or "soften" sections of the shoreline -- presumably make them more resistant to sea level rise or return them to their natural state. But no one echoed his concerns.

While the prospect of future building in the water may be much too risky even for the most aggressive speculators, some citizen activists think more safeguards are needed to protect the shoreline. Marcy Benstock of the New York Clean Air Campaign believes the waterfront plan "is an invitation to catastrophic storm damage" and wants the city to "stop subsidizing development in, on or near the water." Benstock sees a connection between the plan's call for streamlining permitting on the waterfront and the stated interest by developers in lowering environmental standards.

Another cautionary voice comes from environmental justice advocates. The NYC Environmental Justice Alliance claims that the 2020 plan does nothing to address a major problem with the 1992 plan: the polluting facilities that are part of much of the working waterfront and tend to be in and adjacent to low-income communities of color. The 2020 plan has minimal requirements for public access and amenities and offers no guarantee that environmental and public health issues will be addressed.

While Burden acknowledged environmental justice concerns in her speech at the November conference, these have yet to translate into more rigorous regulations governing industrial uses on the waterfront or anything other than token amenities for residential communities.

Making WAVES

In the current financial climate as many upland real estate deals dry up, the lure of waterfront views may very well grow in importance. With a goodly stock of vacant condos sitting on the Brooklyn and Queens waterfronts, however, the city's economic gurus may find it hard to entice even more development to the shore.

The leading role of the city's Economic Development Corp. in waterfront planning suggests the focus will be on business generators. EDC is a non-profit corporation controlled by the mayor's office. The business-friendly entity was set up to run like a corporation and negotiates major development deals.

Manhattan waterfront
Photo by Joseph A
Views, like this one of Manhattan from Long Island City's waterfront, could be particularly valuable in today's tough real estate market.

Vision 2020, developed by the city planning department, is actually but one piece of the city’s waterfront plan. Vision 2020 falls under the larger umbrella of the city's WAVES (Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy). Few details about WAVES, launched in April 2009, are available on its web site. The other major component of WAVES is the Waterfront Management Advisory Board, a body made up of 12 mayoral appointees that claims to be responsible for implementation. Little is known about the functioning of that board.

Economic Development Commission Executive Director Seth Pinksy focused his comments at the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance conference on developing the industrial and maritime waterfront and reforming the regulatory regime. From its founding by the Dutch up until the 1970s the most active parts of the city’s waterfront were those used for commerce and industry. Many stretches of water, especially outside the busy ports in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx, were quiet places for rest and relaxation for residents living within reach. There also were, and still are, many public utilities including sewage treatment plants, power generators, and waste transfer stations dotting the waterfront. Some sections were inaccessible to the public, blocked off by highways and other barriers.

In the 1970s, as shipping containers replaced the old system of unloading bulk cargo using cranes, ports need large amounts of land to store the containers. The city's port facilities moved to New Jersey, where the land was a lot cheaper. This change opened up new territory for the city's residential real estate industry, especially along the stretches of the Brooklyn and Queens waterfront where "waterfront vus" of the iconic Manhattan skyline promised high rents, sales prices and investor windfalls.

While developers scrambled to buy up derelict waterfront properties, city government dallied, failing to develop any comprehensive plan for the waterfront until 1992 when the City Planning Commission approved the first Comprehensive Waterfront Plan. One year later, the commission approved waterfront zoning, which codified a new system for private waterfront development. Waterfront zoning requires that developers of new residential and commercial facilities provide public access along the water's edge and keep public corridors open so that people from the surrounding communities can see and get to the waterfront. This zoning mechanism was based on the idea of creating public open space through public-private partnerships instead of publicly funded park development.

After almost two decades of experience with the city’s waterfront zoning, it would appear that it has made it far easier to rezone the industrial waterfront for upscale high-rises in neighborhoods, even when there is intense opposition by waterfront communities. According to Burden, over 1,000 acres of waterfront land has been rezoned since 2002. In her comments, he did not mention, however, the fierce zoning fights in strategic locations like Greenpoint and Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

Over the years more parks, promenades, bicycle paths and other public benefits have been built on the waterfront. While all New Yorkers and visitors use them, they have come at a price. These amenities could have been much larger and served many more people if they did not depend on having new high-rise development that hems in the public waterfront and uses it for its own front yard.

Water Fights?

Vision 2020 does not address huge differences among planners, community residents, and other New Yorkers over what to do with the city’s waterfront. All but one of the speakers at the waterfront alliance conference ignored the sharp conflicts between visions, and the even more serious problems implementing the visions.

Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, recognized the problems as he ticked off several "conflicting priorities." For example, both the 1992 and 2010 waterfront plans called for full reactivation of the 65th Street rail yard and old Long Island Rail Road line in south Brooklyn. Opposition from surrounding communities and other obstacles continue to stand in the way, yet that is still part of the plan. There are conflicts between the future vision for Governors Island as a haven for open space and recreation, on one hand, and proposals for more intensified use of the nearby Red Hook Container Terminal on the other.

Ward seemed to suggest that time would better be spent recognizing and trying to resolve the conflicts instead of hoping they could be resolved by another plan. Since Vision 2020 leaves large gaps when it comes to big issues like environmental justice, high-rise development on the waterfront and in the water, sea level rise and the limitations of public-private partnerships, many in city government and the civic community continue to look beyond the plan.

Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, City University of NY, editor of Progressive Planning Magazine, and a member of the Task Force on Community-based Planning.

The Real Power in City Planning


sabathia
Photo by Chris Ptacek
The city’s Economic Development Corp. has little to do with Yankee pitcher C.C. Sabathia's won loss record, but it did play a major role at in creating his team's new home. Here, Sabathia pitches on opening day 2009 at the new stadium.

This article has been corrected. Please see details at the end of the article.

Name just about any big and controversial development project in New York City -- the new Yankee Stadium, Bronx Terminal Market, Willets Point, Coney Island, Metrotech -- and behind them stands a single powerful dealmaker that makes them possible, the New York City Economic Development Corp. or EDC.

When business owners at Willets Point in Queens denounced Mayor Michael Bloomberg for proposing to take their property to build a hotel, convention center and new residential community, EDC, which planned and negotiated the project, stood in the shadows.

When the mayor's office, working with a local, non-profit development corporation, proposed a plan for Coney Island, EDC stood in the shadows behind a local subsidiary that it backed, the Coney Island Development Corp.

And when the mayor's office announced PlaNYC2030, the city’s Long-term Sustainability Plan, EDC stood in the shadows even though it had commissioned the study that preceded the plan and contracted with the management-consulting firm responsible for putting it together.

In the last eight years the EDC has sponsored over 500 projects, including some of the largest new developments in the five boroughs and citywide. With this portfolio, EDC probably has more to do with planning the city -- where, how and when new development happens -- than all the city agencies that are entrusted with doing so. Despite that, the agency receives little scrutiny or even attention.

Perhaps it was only in the final stages of the recent and failed Kingsbridge Armory Project in the Bronx, which would have handed over the vacant property to the Related Corp. for development of a mall, that EDC's role as intermediary between developers and the mayor's office emerged clearly into the sunshine. EDC had spent years brokering the deal only to find that the community/labor coalition it had engaged would not back down on the issue of a living wage for workers at the proposed mall.

Public or Private?

What is this city entity that is sometimes called quasi-governmental, a city agency or an arm of the mayor's office? Despite its name it is not a private corporation or financial institution, nor is it an independent public authority like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or the Port Authority, entities Robert Moses helped invent to protect decision-makers from public oversight.

EDC is a non-profit that is wholly owned and financed by the city. The mayor appoints its board of directors, and most of its budget of over three quarters of a billion dollars comes from the city.

EDC's stated mission is "fostering economic growth." It does this by responding to private-sector proposals and helps to pave the way for their success. With New York advertising itself as the "Real Estate Capital of the World," major real estate deals including malls, condos and business centers, get special attention from EDC. Since an uncontested doctrine links the city’s economic health to its ability to keep the cement mixers going, growth is usually assumed to be good.

A Corporation Inside City Government

Though entirely under the mayor's control, EDC is set up to work more like a private corporation than a city agency. The mayor appoints its directors without having to worry about incidentals such as unions and civil service regulations. EDC boasts that it promotes "public service with a private sector culture," and has an "operational flexibility" that leaves it free from many of the agency rules and procedures that often hold back innovation and change. This preference for the private model is clear when you go from the city's public website with a dot.gov address to EDC's website with a dot.com address.

Since taking office, City Comptroller John Liu has repeatedly faulted the EDC for the way it operates. Last spring, his office released an audit charging the EDC had failed to turn over $125 million to the city, and more recently he criticized EDC officials for spending too lavishly on international trips. Overall, Liu has said, the agency's operations lack transparency. “It has become a powerhouse agency, but we have very little understanding of what comes in and out of it,” he said. “You cannot see anything that is going on.”

Last month, the Industrial development Agency, a part of the EDC, issued new rules designed, officials said, to increase transparency and accessibility but denied they had anything to do with Liu's criticisms.

A key to EDC's "flexibility" is its internal structure, more like that of a private corporation than a city agency. Its current executive director, Seth Pinsky, like previous chiefs, comes from the world of finance and real estate. Under him are 13 vice presidents, a chief operating officer and chief financial officer -- no bothersome departments and directors that can't be moved around or kicked out by the CEO.

Below the executives is a legion of mostly young professionals who enter and exit through EDC's revolving doors as they learn the ropes and discover that the real power and money is with the companies with whom the agency is supposed be a partner.

Like its staff, EDC itself is young. It was born in 1991 out of a merger of two previous non-profits, the Public Development Corp. and Financial Services Corp. The Public Development Corp., founded in 1966, turned out to be a useful vehicle for the negotiation of tax benefits and subsidies that purportedly prevent the flight of jobs and capital from the city, and these functions continued and grew.

After the merger EDC began to manage the city's Industrial Development Agency, which produces bonds to finance commercial and industrial projects. (For an in-depth look at the Industrial Development Agency, see Gotham Gazette's Subsidies in the City: Part I and Part II.)

EDC also has ended up running some projects that haven't been able to find a home anywhere else in the city government. For example, it is in charge of four city markets, including the innovative and successful Essex Market on the Lower East Side and La Marqueta in East Harlem, which has yet to prove sustainable.

These potentially vital neighborhood markets, however, are dwarfed by the multiple mall and supermarket projects fostered and financed by the group, including what could become the city’s first Walmart. More small-scale local markets could help bring healthy, fresh food to every neighborhood, especially at a time of food-related epidemics such as obesity and diabetes. In short, EDC's approach to economic development seems to mirror the preferences of the larger businesses in the private sector and direct public funds in their direction.

Hidden Power

Despite having one foot squarely in the private sector, EDC is considered the "lead agency" on just about every major development proposal. Even though it's not a city agency, it has become, in effect, the city’s most significant entity for land use planning.

While the New York City Planning Department boasts of having done more than 100 rezonings since 2002, these only change regulations, while EDC actually negotiates the deals with major developers that determine what gets built. EDC's planning is always limited to the individual project and does not necessarily extend to neighborhoods or the city as a whole. But neighborhood-level and citywide planning rarely occurs in this city. Unlike other major U.S. cities, New York has never had a comprehensive master plan except for a 1969 draft that never even received a hearing at the City Planning Commission. Although there have been some 100 community-based plans, only ten have been officially supported and adopted.

When it comes to buying and selling land for development, EDC plays a critical role, even though it often has to work through other city agencies. EDC tells the mayor’s office what land and other forms of subsidy the private corporations say they need, and the mayor can then direct appropriate city agencies to act. This means that EDC is in the pilot's seat when it comes to long-term planning.

Because of the corporation's unique commitment to "public-private partnerships," its plans tend to support those of private developers whereas the presumption is that city agencies should operate in the public interest. For example, EDC issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for the Willets Point project in Queens. The responses, submitted by private developers, shaped the physical plan and zoning that were finalized by city agencies and approved by City Council.

EDC's general procedure of following the lead of private developers has recently taken over one area that it was previously excluded from -- affordable housing in urban renewal areas. These were normally under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, the city’s housing agency.

EDC is now, however, the "lead agency" responsible for developing a plan for the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area in the Lower East Side. For years, many community groups have insisted that the vacant land there be redeveloped for low-income housing, since the tenants who were displaced by the government’s “slum clearance” program were low-income and the city promised low-income housing would be built. EDC's emergence as the lead player, particularly in the last decade when just about every new large-scale luxury residential project has a small component -- usually 20 percent -- of "affordable housing," suggests that "public-private partnerships" driven by market-rate development are supplanting initiatives in which the public sector takes the lead.

One of EDC's most impressive powers is its ability to contract out studies and planning without having to go through competitive bidding or rely on the city's experienced professional staff. EDC was the conduit for important public documents such as the city’s 2007 Long-term Sustainability Plan, PlaNYC2030. Its citywide Waterfront Vision and Enhancement Strategy (WAVES) promises to set the pace for waterfront development in the decades to come and go far beyond the Department of City Planning's Comprehensive Waterfront Plan proposal.

Whether EDC does better planning and development because of its special position and powers is an open question that we might all disagree on. But EDC has assumed critical government planning powers that the City Charter and local law give to city agencies. By negotiating and making decisions in the shadows, EDC can avoid the sunlight that helps citizens understand what is getting developed and decide whether they want it or not. We may know what EDC's executives say to the public through their public relations office but little is know what is said in their exclusive discussions with developers.

Tom Angotti is professor of urban affairs a planning at Hunter College (CUNY) and director of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning.

CORRECTIONS: This article originally reported the EDC has seven vice presidents. It has 13, including executive vice presidents. In addition, a spokesperson for the agency said it can acquire and dispose of property. Due to an editing error, this article originally said that the EDC issued new rules to increase transparency. The rules were issued by the Industrial Development Agency, which is part of EDC -- not by the EDC itself. The copy has been edited to reflect these changes.

Finally, due to the editor's oversight, the article did not mention - but should have -- that Tom Angotti was a member of City Comptroller John Liu's task force on community based agreements.

Council Approves Penn Plaza


pennplaza
Rendering from Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects

The Empire State Building better move over. It's about to share some skyline.

The City Council on Wednesday approved a controversial 67-floor skyscraper, reaching nearly 1,200 feet, just two blocks away from the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building is 34 feet taller than the proposed structure.

Opponents of the project, which include the Empire State Building's owners, said the new tower -- to be developed by Vornado Realty Trust -- would block the views of arguably New York City's most iconic structure.

In the end, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the area, said the new skyscraper embodies what New York is all about -- the constant need to grow and expand.

"New York City has never been a city that stays stagnant, that stays the same," said Quinn. "We want new Rockefeller Centers. … New York City is about growth -- about growing bigger and higher all the time."

Skyscraper Showdown

The council voted 47 to 1 to approve the tower, otherwise known as 15 Penn Plaza, with Councilmember Charles Barron dissenting.

Within the council the obstructed views did not cause as much concern as the initial lack of a commitment from the developer to contract with women and minority owned businesses. Yesterday, Quinn said she received a pledge from Vornado to set aside 15 percent of its contracts for them.

The commitment did not minimize all of the opposition among council members.

"This is a project for the rich, for the elites," Barron said. "When they say thousands of jobs, for who?"

The local community board also opposed the project, pointing out Vornado has no anchor tenant and no set construction date.

Quinn defended the developer, arguing no one goes through the land use process unless they intend to build.

In response to yesterday's vote, a spokesperson from Vornado released the following statement: "We wish to acknowledge the efforts of the City Council, the City Planning Commission, the borough president and all those connected with the approval of our project, which we believe will be an outstanding addition to New York's iconic skyline. We look forward to working with the Council to implement strong minority and women participation in the development and construction of 15 Penn Plaza."

The tower will include more than 2 million square feet of office space, 11,126 square feet of retail space and up to 100 underground parking spots. The developer has also committed to $150 million in transportation infrastructure improvements, including refurbishing the "Gimbels" underground walkway from Penn Station to Herald Square. These new pathways will connect Sixth and Eighth avenues.

Quinn said the project would create at least 6,000 construction jobs and add more than $3.3 billion to the city's "economic output."

While the development sparked public outcry to protect the Empire State Building's spot on the New York skyline, ultimately the prospect of thousands of jobs and the promised economic boost won out.

Anthony Malkin, president of Malkin Holdings, the owner of the Empire State Building, said in a prepared statement: "The City Council is the decision maker on this subject. They have gone out of their way to listen to our position. In the end, they are the elected representatives of the City of New York, and it was up to them to decide."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg too expressed support for the new tower. "Competition is a wonderful thing," he said early this week.

Protecting Tenants

In addition to the approval of 15 Penn Plaza, the council passed legislation (Intro 87) that would require more disclosure from landlords, making it easier for tenants to contact them.

Currently, owners of multi-dwelling residences are not required to list personal contact information in their annual report to the city. Much of the time, according to council officials, a landlord will list the name of a limited liability corporation or a management company instead of his or her personal information.

"Currently the situation is pretty much hide and seek," said Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito, the bill's main sponsor.

Under the bill, which was approved unanimously, any person who owns more than 25 percent of a multi-unit dwelling would have to list personal contact information.

Gay Marriage Out of State

Now that the State Senate has blocked the approval of same-sex marriage, Quinn, the City Council's first openly gay speaker, is making sure gay New Yorkers who want to tie the knot know where to go.

Under legislation (Intro 260) approved by a vote of 47 to1, the City Clerk's office will be required to post on its Web site and hand out at its office information on where gay New Yorkers can get married, including states and international destinations. It will also have to provide couples information on what rights they are entitled to here in the Empire State.

"I hope it's a message to the State Senate of how sick and tired we are of waiting for marriage equality," Quinn said.

The only member to vote against the bill was newly minted Councilmember David Greenfield of Brooklyn.

Currently, five states allow same-sex marriage: Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

Charting a Better Way for Planning and Community Boards


 

Flushing Commons
In 2005, then-Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff and then-City Council Member John Liu reached agreement on the Flushing Commons project. But now, with the project still needing final approval from City Council, both men have moved on to other jobs leaving the validity of the agreement uncertain.

The Charter Review Commission appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, though initially focused on term limits and non-partisan elections, recently invited comments about the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process, or ULURP. While it is unlikely that the commission will propose changes in this process in time for them to be placed on the November ballot, the many comments heard at a recent hearing and during the 10 public hearings already held suggest that there is a huge gap between the land use professionals, in both government and the private sector, who tend to be satisfied with the way things work and suggest only minor changes, and the community activists who see major problems with the role of community boards and community planning.

The Charter Commission will hold five more public hearings before the end of the summer and shortly after that is expected to make recommendations to be placed on the November ballot. Bloomberg could then decide to continue the work of the commission, appoint another commission or retire the body entirely.

The New York City Charter is basically the city's constitution and the legal framework for the way government is organized and functions. The land use process went into effect in 1977 after a charter revision and was most recently revised in 1989. Under the roughly seven-month review process, proposals for zoning changes, purchase and sale of city land and most major development projects go before affected community boards, borough presidents, the City Planning Commission and City Council where they are subject to public hearings and votes.

Preempting ULURP

Many key decisions about a plan, though, are made outside the ULURP process, leaving the formal seven-month period with theatrical posturing by proponents and opponents or just plain dull routine and numbing public relations performances.

The environmental review process mostly occurs before an application is certified as complete and ready for the land use review process. The environmental review is supposed to inform decision-makers about potential environmental impacts of a project or rezoning.

The reviews usually are done by companies that are hired by the applicant to protect the applicant from subsequent lawsuits. The experts are not required to make their findings understandable to the average citizen or elected official. As a result, the environmental reports are too long and complicated and not analyzed or interpreted in useful ways.

Much to the chagrin of developers, it can take months and even years of back-and-forth with city officials and experts to complete a draft environmental impact statement. With most changes to the environmental review made prior to the land use review process, elected officials and community representatives have a limited role in it. Community boards can review drafts of the environmental report, but they lack the professional expertise and staff to conduct any in-depth analysis.

Many applicants do not want to risk the cost and uncertainty that the land use process implies, so they meet informally with community representatives and public officials before the proceedings begin. They often negotiate concessions with interested community groups and adjust their proposals. While this may be an inevitable part of the political process, much of it happens behind closed doors, undermining the required public procedures. City officials may make promises of government expenditures and services, and private developers may agree to provide certain community benefits, all outside the public arena.

To those not involved in these discussions, the process has become a rubber-stamp for decisions that were already made. While minor changes are often made during the review process, very few rezonings or major development projects have been rejected or substantially altered during it.

In recent years, City Hall has taken to writing up extensive agreements with community representatives -- let's call them side agreements -- that set out in advance conditions for community approval of the proposed project or rezoning. These are negotiated before and during the land use review period. And the written agreements are not subject to oversight nor are they necessarily enforceable.

For example, a July 11, 2005 memorandum from then-Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff to then-City Council Member John Liu committed to conditions for the Flushing Commons project in Queens. The project is currently at the final stage of review awaiting a City Council vote. Yet City Hall changed its mind about major details of the project after Doctoroff left government and John Liu left the City Council to run for comptroller. The validity of the agreement is uncertain.

Other agreements, such as one that went along with the rezoning of Williamsburg in Brooklyn or the deal drafted by then-Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion to help gain approval for the new Yankee Stadium, raise serious questions about legality and enforceability, as well as the issue of who truly represents the "community.". The flowering of such activity both before and outside the land use review process surely indicates that something is not working with that process. With that in mind, the time has come to look at measures that bring openness, transparency and enforceability to the land use process without making it any longer or more complicated than it has to be.

The Need for Planning

Some of these problems would be resolved with better and ongoing planning by the city and communities. During the land use process, communities often raise longstanding issues relating to services, especially transportation and schools. Neighborhoods experiencing new development spurred by rezoning, particularly in Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn and Queens, now find themselves with new traffic problems and even more overcrowded schools. If the city encouraged more long-term comprehensive planning, residents might have greater confidence that their concerns about key services would be addressed Instead, many communities fear that new development will only aggravate existing service shortfalls.

But New York City does little real planning . The Department of City Planning, the agency entrusted with planning in the charter, is fixated on ad hoc localized zoning instead of planning. Zoning regulates the built environment but doesn’t deal with most of the complex issues that New Yorkers care about. It regulates new development but does little to address most quality-of-life issues or solve serious problems in our neighborhoods. And there is an inherent conflict of interest with the city planning department charged with both pushing for zoning changes and with providing information and support to communities that might want to question those changes.

The City Charter mandates comprehensive planning documents such as the Strategic Plan and the City Planning Department's own strategic plan, but these are not subject to public review and approval and may not be regularly updated. They are virtually unknown documents that get filed away

The first major publicly disseminated comprehensive plan in decades was PlaNYC2030, issued in 2007. But the administration did not submit the plan for debate and approval to the community boards, borough presidents, City Planning Commission and City Council in accordance with Section 197-a of the City Charter. While the plan includes many good projects, it has major gaps, does not recognize a role for neighborhoods, and remains a strictly executive document that may have a life limited by the tenure of the mayor if the next mayor decides not to fund the plan.

While citywide planning occurs in New York, it is piecemeal and not connected to community-based planning. Since the 1989 Charter revision gave community boards explicit authority to introduce their own local comprehensive plans, almost a dozen 197-a plans have been approved. But at this rate it will take a century before every community board has an approved plan.

The community planning process is lengthy and burdensome, and the City Planning Commission can hold it up indefinitely. Community boards lack resources for planning, and nobody in government has the responsibility for getting the plans implemented.

In some cases, such as Williamsburg, the city's rezonings have undermined previously approved community plans. This has discouraged many communities from planning in the first place, and those that do steer away from seeking official approval. Of some 100 community plans, only a fraction was submitted for official review. City planning has determined that the plans are "advisory," which in practice sends the message that they can be ignored with impunity.

Community Boards

The city's 59 community boards are where the ULURP process is closest to the ground, where decisions about land use have a direct impact on the places people live and work. But community boards also lack the staff and resources to fully engage in the process in a meaningful way. The average board has a budget under $200,000 a year (and shrinking) to cover an area with more people than most municipalities in New York State have. Together the boards get less than .02 percent of the city budget.

Without resources, community boards cannot afford to get independent professional advice to evaluate the complex land use issues before them. Board members are volunteers and get no systematic training. Oversight of community boards is limited, and shortcomings can become systemic and longstanding. Too often community board members, appointed by their borough presidents, do not reflect the diversity in their communities, reducing their legitimacy.

Community boards in wealthier areas of the city may compensate by mustering their own free or low-cost experts. They may enjoy privileged access to decision-makers and feel little need for a change.

These communities, though, may not have the greatest stake in changes in community boards and their role in the land use review process. Other areas face substantial life and death issues centering around land use, such as environmental hazards resulting from waste facilities and transportation infrastructure or displacement pressure resulting from rapid development. These areas are disproportionately low-income communities of color. It is no coincidence that these neighborhoods have done a large number of community-based plans in the city and often seek to boost the role of community boards.

The public discussions about the City Charter offer an opportunity to rethink the way the city does land use review and planning, and fill the gaps left open because community boards don’t have a level playing field. We shouldn’t let backroom dealing trump the Uniform Land Use Review process, let zoning trump planning, or let community boards down.

Tom Angotti is Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning at Hunter College, City University of NY, editor of Progressive Planning Magazine, and a member of the Task Force on Community-based Planning.

High Speed Internet Access Opens Another Digital Divide


DNA
Photo by KOMUNews
High-speed modems, such as these allow speedy access to the Internet, something many New York households lack.

In New York City, a whopping 98 percent of residents have cable service available to them. Yet only about 46 percent of the city's households subscribe to the broadband Internet that cable can provide.

The cost of being hooked up to broadband simply is too high for many low-income New York residents. A 2006 American Community Survey indicated that in New York City, a mere 26 percent of low-income households had the high speed service at home, compared to the 54 percent of moderate-to-high income households -- indication of a very clear "digital divide."

Advocates in New York City believe that the below average rate of wired and wireless broadband Internet deprives people in low-income communities of educational and work opportunities, since such access quickly is becoming one of the greatest economic equalizers.

The high-speed Internet provided by the increased bandwidth allows customers to upload and download data more than 10 times faster than they can on dial-up service. A small business that operates a website for its customers would therefore be much more productive and more competitive if it had access to broadband.

Civil rights groups, such as Journalists of Color and National Hispanic Media Coalition, as well as academics, have urged the government to launch efforts to promote the use of broadband, in immigrant, minority and other low-income communities. In response, New York City, with help from federal money and nonprofit organizations, has begun to implement policies in the hopes of creating equal opportunity to access the Internet.

Beyond Reach

In an early 2010 study done for the Federal Communications Commission, the Social Science Research Council found, "Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it."

High speed internet access has rapidly become almost a necessity as people use it to run small businesses, interact with government agencies and do school work at all levels. Certain job applications, including those for entry-level positions at Target and Home Depot, are available exclusively online. While low-speed access is available, experts say it is so slow that it is practically worthless.

But the costs of high speed make it prohibitive for many New Yorkers. Dharma Dailey, a researcher who helped conduct the Social Science Research Council study, said the overall cost of having a broadband connection includes much more than just the monthly fees, which range from $20 introductory rates to over $70. People also must purchase a computer and modem, and pay fees for installation, repairs and virus protection, Providers often charge low-income consumers extra deposits and other fees.

Researchers made site visits to four states considered in the council study, including New York. They found disproportionately low broadband adoption rates among African Americans and Latinos, who make up a large portion of the city's population.

This has prompted many groups to call on governmental agencies to help promote access to broadband services among those with low incomes.

The Government Response

The passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 resulted in the appropriation of $7.2 billion in federal money to tackle the problem of getting broadband in underserved communities throughout the nation.

The Broadband Technology Opportunities Program was initiated to disburse funds to different states. As a result, Gov. David Paterson issued Executive Order 22 creating the New York Broadband Development and Deployment Council to devise a plan to spend its slice of the federal funds and work toward universal broadband adoption. A few months later, three New York City advocacy group leaders and others across the country wrote a letter to Federal Communication Commission chairman Julian Genachowski outlining the need for government programs to increase broadband adoption in underserved communities.

In the first round of federal funding, New York state benefited from five different telecommunications grants, some of which were targeted to rural upstate communities. The city's Department of Information and Telecommunications Technology, though, received $22.1 million, the largest grant awarded in the nation, for the NYC Connected Learning Program to focus on "sustainable broadband adoption" in New York City.

The project, which will aim to reach almost 20,000 low-income sixth graders attending 100 schools across the city, will provide broadband to the students but also will take a holistic approach to increase the broadband adoption rate. The program will provide the students with personal computers and discounted broadband Internet access. In addition, the program, according to Department of Information technology project manager Kate Hohman, will emphasize education to "build an appreciation of the value of broadband." To supplement the technology, the Connected Learning Program will offer basic technical training and online learning opportunities, along with bilingual assistance to avoid language barriers.

The program intends to benefit the students’ families as well. It is projected that over 14,000 households will subscribe to broadband as a result of NYC Connected Learning. City officials expect the program to be implemented in the fall.

For the second and final round of federal stimulus funding, the city has applied for two additional grants. Connected Communities would seek to enhance community computer centers in the most impoverished neighborhoods by alerting residents of their whereabouts, providing broadband access, and offering technical assistance and training. The city would create partnerships with community and senior centers, and set aside funds to increase computer access and digital literacy programs in public libraries. The city has asked for $15 million in stimulus money to pay for the program and will put up $9.7 million of its own funds.

The other initiative, NYC Connected Foundations, would allow high school students at 43 public high schools who are dropout risks to participate in a "Connected Foundations" that would emphasize digital literacy with the overarching goal of increasing broadband adoption in their communities. Students would also received computers and subsidized broadband access. The city has applied for almost $6 million from the federal government to supplement the $2.6 million that the city will provide.

Neither program has yet received approval from the federal government.

A Broadband 'Lifeline'

Another possible solution to low broadband adoption is currently being pursued as part of the National Broadband Plan, an effort to connect all Americans to high speed internet. As part of that, today from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. the Federal Communications Commission will hold a roundtable discussion to explore broadband pilot programs for low-income consumers. (To view the discussion as it takes place or after the fact, go here.

The planned discussion is a result of the National Broadband Plan's recommendation to set up a broadband program similar to the current Lifeline/Link-Up programs that allow low-income customers to pay lower rates for setting up and maintaining secure telephone service. Under the program, all customers pay a small amount into the universal fund, which is used to bring fees down for those who either live in rural areas or who cannot otherwise afford to have service. Making Lifeline/Link-Up funds are available for broadband services as well, proponents say, could dramatically increase broadband usage for underserved parts of the population..

Depending on the results of today's discussion, the communications commission could launch pilot programs to see how best to operate the newly expanded Lifeline/Link-Up programs.

Beyond the Government

Not-for-profit groups in New York have also launched efforts to try to ensure digital equality for all city residents. In particular, People's Production House, a New York-based organization dedicated to bringing media democracy to underserved communities, has various programs to try to close the digital divide.

Its Digital Expansion Initiative focuses on educating youths, immigrants and low-income residents on matters related to technology. In addition to in-depth digital literacy and media studies training, the project seeks to inform individuals about government policies that affect online journalism and Internet access.

The group currently is seeking a grant of about $3 million from the second round of federal stimulus funding, in conjunction with the North Star Fund and 21 other organizations. The grant money, which would be more than matched by the North Star Fund, would pay for the New York Constellation of Community Computer Centers project. The money would allow the initiative, which already creates public computer centers, to expand and upgrade.

How 'Transit-Oriented Development' Will Put More New Yorkers in Cars


transit oriented development
Queens West, like many of the large new developments in the city, will provide thousand of parking spaces when it is completed.

In its effort to achieve a "greener and greater New York" while accommodating one million new residents, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlaNYC2030 embraced transit-oriented development" -- the concentration of new housing in neighborhoods with good access to the city's subways and buses. The plan contends that such development will encourage these new New Yorkers to use mass transit rather than cars, helping to improve air quality and transportation efficiency.

In last year’s PlaNYC progress update, the mayor's office claimed "21 transit oriented rezonings" of neighborhoods such as the 125th St. Corridor in Harlem, Dutch Kills in Long Island City, St. George in Staten Island, and Coney Island as a major step towards sustainability.

The third anniversary of PlaNYC o Earth Day provides an opportunity to look beyond the rhetoric and examine the details of these supposedly sustainable rezonings. The unfortunate truth is that many of New York City’s "transit oriented" rezonings instead encourage automobile use by requiring off-street parking. They destroy the mixed-use, walk-to-work character of communities like Long Island City in favor of high-end residential redevelopment. At the same time, the city has missed huge opportunities to cluster new development around transit stations in outer borough neighborhoods like Bay Ridge and Corona, instead reducing development potential to preserve the car-oriented, suburban-like environment.

A California Concept

The term "transit oriented development" was introduced by Peter Calthorpe, a California planner and architect, in the late 1980s. Calthorpe defined it as a method to create dense, mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly, socio-economically diverse neighborhoods centered on transit stations. He believed that combining a rich local pedestrian environment with access to regional centers by transit would reduce dependence on the automobile and promote more environmentally friendly and sociable lifestyles.

With origins in the environmental, anti-suburban sprawl movement, transit oriented development was intended to be a more sustainable growth model for booming Sunbelt cities. Social equity was also a critical component, as this kind of development would provide a greater variety of housing types at a range of costs and allow access to jobs without the expense of owning and maintaining a car.

In the past decade, however, Calthorpe's term has increasingly been co-opted by the real estate industry to market any kind of moderately dense, urban infill development. If the concept of transit oriented development is diluted to simply mean density and proximity to transit without discouraging car use -- or encouraging socio-economic diversity -- then we miss Calthorpe's message entirely. And in New York City, where transit is just about everywhere, simply branding development "transit-oriented" can render the term meaningless.

Zoning for Drivers

Perhaps the greatest contradiction comes in the city's attitude toward parking. In striking contrast to the stated objective of PlaNYC2030 to reduce the number of cars on the road, the Department of City Planning continues to require most new developments to provide off-street parking - usually garages -- for residents.. In the past two years, studies by the Furman Center and Transportation Alternatives have called attention to the impact this has had on development patterns in the city.

While new development in Manhattan below 96th Street generally is exempt from stringent parking requirements, new projects in Harlem and in the outer boroughs must provide off-street parking in ratios ranging from 0.4 to 2 spaces per unit. Developers can apply to the Department of City Planning for waivers for small or irregular lots but not for large sites like those on the East River waterfront where much of the growth is taking place.

New York City neighborhoods built before the advent of the car, like Park Slope and the West Village, have an average of less than 0.1 off-street parking spaces per home. The increased number of spaces in rezoned neighborhoods like Long Island City, Harlem, and Greenpoint-Williamsburg -- close to the Manhattan core and touted by the city as transit-oriented -- will likely add tens of thousands of new cars to the city.

The convenience provided by abundant and free off-street parking is a major incentive for people to use cars rather than transit. Transportation Alternatives' study estimates that residents of new development are 40 percent to 50 percent more likely to own cars than typical New Yorkers.

As a case in point, the recent rezoning of Dutch Kills -- specifically cited as a sustainable transit-oriented rezoning in 2009's PlaNYC update -- incorporates minimum parking requirements of half to two thirds of a parking space per apartment. To the west of Dutch Kills on the Long Island City waterfront, the Queens West and Hunters Point South mega-developments, also lauded in PlaNYC, will add more than 6,000 new parking spaces when completed.

The city's parking requirements essentially exclude the possibility of developing traditional, walkable urban environments, the kind of neighborhoods that Calthorpe envisioned in his concept of transit oriented development.

With thousands of new cars and drivers entering the city thanks to all this new parking, the impact of these supposedly transit-oriented, sustainable rezonings will be just the opposite of PlaNYC's goals -- a larger carbon footprint, increased dependence on fossil fuels, lower air quality, and increased congestion.

And Neglecting Straphangers

In addition to supporting new automobile use, the city has done nothing to increase the capacity of the transit lines serving these neighborhoods, leading to serious overcrowding at stations like the Bedford Avenue L subway stop in Williamsburg. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority's current budget will actually cut service to PlaNYC's "transit-oriented" growth zones. The G train, a crucial link in the transit system for Brooklyn and Queens, will now terminate in Long Island City instead of running to Forest Hills, and numerous bus routes in the area are also facing major service cuts.

PlaNYC originally proposed to use the proceeds from congestion pricing to fund mass transit improvements, but when the charge to drive in Manhattan did not pass the state legislature, the Bloomberg administration had no back-up plan. There is a desperate need to expand transit service in Long Island City and North Brooklyn to accommodate the growing population. In order to avoid a dangerous increase in congestion and pollution, the city must aggressively engage with the MTA and state officials to establish a reliable funding stream for transit.

The city administration also has done little to encourage New Yorkers in neighborhoods farther from Manhattan in the outer boroughs to reduce car use in favor of transit. A study on the impact of Bloombergs rezonings released by the Furman Center last month finds that 59 percent of the lots that have been downzoned by the city are within a half a mile of a transit stop. Rather than encourage mixed-use, car-free density around transit stops in neighborhoods served by transit, like Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Corona, the city has bowed to exclusionary local politics by downzoning (zoning for less density) and thus protecting the car-oriented suburban-like environment.

Diversity and Character

Social and economic diversity are critical aspects of true transit-oriented development. Ironically, though, the dense residential development that PlaNYC has encouraged in Long Island City and Greenpoint-Williamsburg through rezonings and "green" mega-developments like Hunters Point South threatens to undermine economic and social diversity in these mixed-use neighborhoods instead of encouraging it.

The Greenpoint-Williamsburg and more recent Dutch Kills rezonings removed longstanding protections for industrial businesses, allowing residential development as-of-right (without planning approval) throughout the neighborhood. Although the rezoning is technically "mixed-use" because light industry can legally remain, even a thriving industrial business cannot afford to pay the high rents that residential and retail can. Industry is being gradually pushed out to make way for condominiums paired with parking, high-end retail and restaurants -- a more profitable mix for developers but a less sustainable and equitable mix for New York.

As Adam Friedman, former director of the New York Industrial Retention Network has said, "If the city is serious about its commitments to reducing its carbon footprint … then the city needs local manufacturers to create green products. … If the city is to cut the income disparity … it needs to create well-paying manufacturing jobs and offer affordable space for industrial entrepreneurs."

True transit-oriented rezonings for Long Island City and Greenpoint-Williamsburg would have helped to keep housing and jobs in the neighborhoods by protecting the industrial and artisan businesses that in the mid-1990s were providing over 60,000 well-paying middle class jobs, according to the Department of City Planning’s 1993 Citywide Industry Survey.

PlaNYC's "transit oriented" rezonings also have failed to adequately protect affordable housing. The affordable units created by the city's inclusionary zoning program (commonly known as the "80-20" because developers receive a subsidy for allocating 20 percent of units to affordable housing) are outweighed by the loss of previously existing affordable units as market rents rise and rent-regulated tenants are pushed out by aggressive new landlords.

While transit oriented development is supposed to encourage socially and economically diverse neighborhoods, the evidence from PlaNYC's rezonings suggests that they are actually achieving the opposite -- displacing industry, local retail, and low and middle-income tenants from neighborhoods with good access to transit.

Suburbs in the City

PlaNYC 2030 has lead to numerous laudable sustainability initiatives in energy efficiency, bicycle infrastructure and bus rapid transit among other areas. But a survey of the city's zoning practices show that the "transit oriented rezonings," proposed in PlaNYC2030 and repeatedly portrayed as a major step toward sustainability, have not accomplished what they purported to do.

Instead of discouraging car use and promoting a diversity of housing and job opportunities as well as pedestrian and transit access, the city's rezonings are destroying existing mixed-use neighborhoods in favor of dense, high-end residential development paired with parking and retail. Further out in the boroughs, car-dependent suburban neighborhoods are being downzoned and preserved rather than retrofitted for sustainable transit-oriented urbanism.

The rezonings are increasing New Yorkers' reliance on the automobile and displacing good jobs and affordable housing from neighborhoods with access to transit, The mayor’s office and Department of City Planning should answer for that record.

Brian Paul is a master of urban planning student at Hunter College and fellow at the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development.



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