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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:

(mar '00) After months of wrangling and politicking, the Mayor and the Governor have put their squabbles aside on at least one issue: Governor's Island. It seems that both parties realized that if the City will one day control the island, the state had to be on board in the planning stages. A joint plan was thus agreed upon.

One of the most important issues to be settled is the transfer of the island itself. Much is mentioned of the famous $1 deal that Senator Moynihan brokered with President Clinton. It is not clear whether this offer is still valid. In this year's federal budget, the assessed value of the property was dropped from the imaginary $500 million, to a still overpriced $300 million. The final price may not be $1, but a firm agreement must be reached.

The Feds in charge of the dispossession have hinted that the plan itself in not detailed enough to warrant transition. Plans aside, the mere fact that the State and City are onboard together should be enough. Details should not be a federal concern anyway. These hints are worrisome, but nothing that a stern call from Senator M. couldn't cure.

Josh Sounds Off:

The current Governors Island plan has overlooked some issues which should be addressed:

1. Transportation. Though proponents of the island tout that it's only minutes away from South Ferry, they should look at a map: It is only a stone's throw from Red Hook. If we're expecting to draw lots of people to the island, there needs to be better access – i.e. not just from Manhattan. The obvious choice is to build a ferry point somewhere in Red Hook (perhaps even connected to the new/old Red Hook trolley service). The ferry ride would be shorter and would divert people from the already too-crowded South Ferry area and the extra movement through Red Hook would help spur economic development. The ferry point could also evolve into future commuter ferry service for a neighborhood that is certainly transportation deprived. This could turn into just one more incident in a long line of Manhattan-centric planning if Brooklyn doesn't speak up.

2. Financing. To continue the current public debate about private financing of parks: Why is it that new parks have to be self-sustaining? This goes against all traditions of park-building, which New York City pioneered. Though it seems reasonable to have commercial ventures that offset operating expenses, but nowadays it seems that such enterprise should equal expenses on a balance sheet – or even produce revenue. Have we gone too far?

3. Federal Government responsibilities upon transition. In a commentary piece for the Gotham Gazette, Richard Mooney rightly suggests that since the Army built so many structures that will have to be torn down before any reconstruction commences, that should be a federal responsibility. If the Feds put in $299,999,999 before turning it over that would just about come to the $1 figure previously agreed upon.

As per the island's importance, let's not forget Marge Simpson's famous exclamation upon visiting New York City for the first time…"There's so much to see here: the Williamsburg Bridge, Fourth Avenue, Governor's Island!"


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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