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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. He recently completed his 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:

(june '00) The zoning sage continues, just under the radar screen. Commissioner Rose's zoning proposals are speeding through the ULURP process. Most community boards have approved it; many of the civics approve of it, and it appears the Unified Bulk Program will be passed. The ubiquitous Real Estate Board still objects, but their opposition appears insufficient to deter passage. It looks as though the City Council will give the green light. A smooth passage is likely, as is a new Zoning Resolution by fall.

N.B. Look for many developers laying building footprints/foundations quickly over the summer to get their rights vested under the old ZR.

Josh Sounds Off:

After decades of sputtering and stalling, the Brooklyn Bridge Park continues its roll. Plans have been presented and most of the community is on board. But one part of the plan may deserve some forward thinking.

As part of the system to transport people from the Borough Hall/Cadman Plaza area down to the waterfront parks, planners have called for a shuttle bus/jitney service making trips every ten minutes. While this kind of transportation is necessary, why add polluting, loud and dirty busses to an already traffic choked area? Bring back trolleys.

There's already a movement, based in Red Hook (not too far from downtown Brooklyn) which is running ground-level light rail or trolleys. A fixed trolley service connecting Borough Hall to the waterfront would be a great step in the transportation picture of the city and could serve as a model for similar ventures. Future expansion could run trolleys right down Columbia St. along the waterfront to Red Hook to connect to a possible ferry service for a reconstructed Governor's Island (which I advocated here a few months ago).

Light rail is the best of both worlds -- it is far cheaper than the subways, and pollutes far less than ground-level busses and vans. New Jersey will soon open a light-rail line in Jersey City/Hoboken, which will provide much needed transportation. I think it will be a big success. Dick Netzer, a professor of economics at NYU, has already advocated running light rail down Second Avenue instead of a subway (Read his proposal in the Gotham Gazette.) It might not happen in Manhattan, but in the land of the trolley-dodgers (Where have you gone, Walter O'Malley?), it may just be possible.


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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