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Gotham Gazette -- Land Use
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Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics

Citizens Union

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Land Use
Topic Pages / Land Use


Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Land Use/Zoning
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Land Use" refers to the processes by which alterations are made to the built environment and the principles and laws which govern these alterations. Such changes include construction, demolition or renovation of buildings, changes to streets and sidewalks, and designation of historic landmarks. A city's land use policies have far-reaching effects which delve into social, economic and political arenas. Eventually they are the ultimate arbiter of how a city develops. "Zoning" refers to New York City's Zoning Resolution - first passed in 1916 and overhauled in 1961 - that enumerates the rules for land use.
The Context
New York City has over 200,000 acres of land, and we fight over every square foot. The city's land use policies set the stage for that fight. Will there be parks? And where? How high can Donald Trump build? All these questions and more are relegated to the land use arena.
The Reporter
Joshua S. Trauner is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with an S.B. in Political Science, and a former employee of NYC Parks & Recreation. Currently he is completing a Masters of Urban Planning at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Land Use.

by Joshua S. Trauner

In The News: A Return to Thinking Big?

(apr '00) It has been decades since New York City embarked on a project of grand scale -- also know as Thinking Big‚ to planners. But a recent news conference highlighting one such proposal may be a prelude to more Big Picture Projects. The NYC2012 group, run under the aegis of Jay Kreigel's Oak Creek Partners, revealed its plan to bring the Summer Olympics to New York City in the year 2012 with much thunder, star power and an endorsement by the Mayor.

The plan is ambitious, grand in both scale and scope.

Put aside, for the moment, the costs and disruptions that preparations for an Olympic Games would create and concentrate on the plan presented by the committee. The plan is intriguing and innovative in its concept for infrastructure and transportation, building on two hot topics in the land use/policy arena: revitalization of transit and waterfront redevelopment.

The NYC 2012 plan calls for utilizing a concept created by RPA's Third Regional Plan -- Metrolink -- which would connect the LIRR and New Jersey transit systems so trains could pass from Long Island through Manhattan and continue into New Jersey. This East/West transit link would allow athletes to get from venues at the Meadowlands to venues in Nassau County seamlessly. But after the Olympics, this system would continue to exist and create a far more convenient system of travel for ordinary travelers wishing to traverse the island.

But perhaps even more promising is the proposed North/South route -- utilizing an overlooked natural feature of the City -- its rivers. The Olympic Village and many of the competitive venues would be built on the rivers' piers with ferry service connecting them. It's a planners' dream. Ferry service would bypass much of the transit congestion athletes would face using jitney service or the subways, and would be faster overall. It would pump considerable money into projects already under development on the waterfront -- the Brooklyn Bridge Park, the East River Park redevelopment, and the stalled Queens West development. This would jump-start or speed up many of these projects and leave permanent infrastructure that would benefit the City for decades afterward. It would also leave the backbone of a revitalized ferry system which could be transformed into a new commuter option (already underway across the Hudson, but non-existent on the East River).

For more info, see articles in the New York Observer and the Daily News.

While all this Olympic planning goes on, Joe Rose continues to push for Zoning Reform. The New York Observer takes account of the proposals and of Joe Rose.

Josh Sounds Off:

And so what if readying the City for a 2012 Olympics would cause disruptions? New Yorkers pride themselves on overcoming adversity just to live here in the first place. Where else would someone pay over $1500/month to live in a closet without a kitchen? We're already bracing for some major disruptions that will occur Olympics or not -- new subways, replacement of most of the BQE, and much of the FDR Drive. Water mains from our 100-year-old system break constantly, and jackhammers at construction sites go on seemingly round-the-clock.

In fact, New York may be better able to handle the onslaught of an Olympics better than any other city in America. The most widespread disruptions -- the construction of the venues -- would take place in underused, sometimes deserted, old manufacturing areas. Transit improvements would take place underground and on the rivers.

New York City hasn't had a world showcase since the 1964 World's Fair, which was considered a disappointment in comparison with the 1939 fair. In fact, New York went on its three-decade downward spiral almost directly after the '64 Fair (coincidence, or not?). It didn't turn around until 1994. By 2012, New York will be just about ready for another "coming-out". New York has already re-invented itself numerous times as a world city (trading center, commerce center, manufacturing center, financial center) and now it's time to show off New York as an Olympic town. Thinking Big is back.


Josh's Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • NYC Department of Planning - The official City site, and much better than you might expect from a government agency. Complete text of the Zoning Resolution (a hard copy would run you $400+) and downloadable zoning maps. Find out what zone you live in!
  • Regional Plan Association - The venerable and still influential pro-planning organization. Particularly good for information on big-item controversies, e.g. Governor's Island. Second Avenue subway, anti-sprawl legislation. Check out their recently unveiled MetroLink proposal and the Gowanus Tunnel Study.
  • NY Metro APA - Tri-state focus, with rich info on patterns of municipal interdependence. Good online newsletter searchable by topic. See summary of Governor Whitman's new open-space legislation.
  • NYU's Urban Planning Links Page - This page is chock full of great land use links which focus both on NYC and the USA.


Other Recommendations:

Visit the Topic Archives!


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Gotham Gazette is published by Citizens Union Foundation and is made possible by support from the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Altman Foundation,the Fund for the City of New York and donors to Citizens Union Foundation. Please consider supporting Citizens Union Foundation's public education programs. Critical early support to Gotham Gazette was provided by the Charles H. Revson Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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