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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
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 recently received his Masters of Urban Planning degree from NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Land Use.
by Joshua Trauner

Up And Down

(July '00) From a pragmatic view, land use ultimately answers a very practical question - Should a structure (building or otherwise) go up or should we tear one down? Some go without a fight, but most involve argument. Let's look at a few recent situations.

Should it Come Down?

Who's for saving Two Columbus Circle? The 1950's, windowless lollipop style building has little character and no one will miss it when it's gone. But somehow, somewhere, an ivory-roots (that's what happens when and ivory tower crosses a grass root) contingency showed up to save it. Here we have a useless building being defended for potential landmark status as an example of a style with dubious architectural merit.

It Goes Down!

On a similar note, directly across from Two Columbus Circle, is a building that did come down -- Robert Moses' pride, the New York Coliseum. It was really good to see that rubble. I've never met anyone that had ever even been in that building, let alone defended that one as architecture.

Should It Go Up?

No good deed goes unpunished. NYU Law School in its attempt to transform itself from a commuter school to a fully residential campus is planning on breaking ground on a multi-purpose building on West 3rd St. The problem? It involves demolishing some older buildings, one of which Edgar Allen Poe once lived in. John Sexton, dean of the Law School provides perhaps the sanest commentary in this tussle, "We want to build a building that belongs in the neighborhood, that looks good in the Village, and we will do so in consultation with the community. But we do not accept the views of preservationists who say nothing can ever change." NYU seems to have worn out some neighborhood patience with other projects, like the currently rising Kimmel Center. It all gives the Law School less latitude, but the final outcome remains to be seen.

It Goes Up!

The Airtrain has progressed quickly near Kennedy Airport. The much-maligned plan to run a light-rail system from Jamaica Long Island Railroad station to Kennedy terminals was approved by the City Council and then its opposition fell off the map. I don't know if it'll be open ahead of the scheduled 2003 completion date, but they've working for months, the piles and even some track bed is up. It's not a perfect project since it won't be a one-seat ride from Midtown, but at some point you have to agree that something is better than nothing. This sure will be something. Avoid the Van Wyck due to construction congestion for a while, though.


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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