Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/777 Tue, 01 Dec 2020 00:09:48 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) What's The [Data] Point? 8,200 - The Gowanus Rezoning, with City Council Member Brad Lander https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9828-whats-the-data-point-8200-gowanus-rezoning-city-council-member-brad-lander https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9828-whats-the-data-point-8200-gowanus-rezoning-city-council-member-brad-lander brla sl pod

Council Member Brad Lander (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 97: 8,200 - the Gowanus Rezoning with City Council Member Brad Lander [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

City Council Member Brad Lander joined the show to discuss the Gowanus rezoning proposal that is entering final stages of negotiation and the prospects of passage in 2021 -- 8,200 is the number of new housing units that could be created by the proposed rezoning of Gowanus, Brooklyn.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

What's The [DATA] Point? · Episode 97: 8,200, with Councilmember Brad Lander

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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What's The [Data] Point? 8,200 - The Gowanus Rezoning, with City Council Member Brad Lander Thu, 15 Oct 2020 04:00:00 +0000
A Portal Does Not Replace A Knock On The Door https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9663-city-planning-portal-does-not-replace-knock-on-door-rezonings https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9663-city-planning-portal-does-not-replace-knock-on-door-rezonings 49390440083 63553a0d3e c

The mayor at a ground-breaking ceremony (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


The Department of City Planning (DCP) has announced that it is resuming the city’s rezoning process after a five-month suspension due to the pandemic. But DCP has neither adapted the process that leads to significant land use changes to overcome the obstacles created by the pandemic nor the underlying structural racism embedded in land use decision-making. As DCP said in a recent statement reaffirming its commitment to dismantling institutionalized racism:

“We recognize that planning policies and zoning codes have acted for decades as bulwarks against fairness, inclusion and integration, and that they have played a large role in perpetuating racism and even violence against Black and Brown Americans…We are committed to unpacking and taking on institutionalized racism within the planning profession and examining our own role…”

If the city is to restart rezoning, it cannot be under the same structurally flawed process that it has acknowledged contributes to the disparities that have plagued this country since its inception. The current crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the ongoing protests for racial justice have further exposed the fatal impacts of institutionalized racism on Black and Latino communities. Resuming this flawed process while there are still pandemic-created obstacles to outreach, education, community organizing, and public participation will cause further harm to these communities.

Community groups that DCP relied upon for “getting out the word” are swamped with the need to feed and care for residents in their neighborhoods during this pandemic and the mass unemployment that has resulted from measures taken to contain COVID-19. The city’s creation of an online portal to provide information on attending virtual DCP meetings is not sufficient and will exclude hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers, many of whom are low income. A portal does not replace door-knocking. 

Additionally, budgetary changes have greatly impacted how the city will be able to respond to demands for more affordable housing. Beginning a zoning change now that relies on the current Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) mechanism is extremely problematic and fundamentally unfair due to the draconian cuts to the city’s capital budget. The funding that would have been used to deepen affordability under MIH and provide additional services to remediate the negative impacts of a rezoning has evaporated. 

There are gaping holes and misguided instructions in the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) manual for gathering the information that goes into environmental impact statements - information essential for community boards, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council to accurately and fairly assess a zoning change before they vote on major land use changes (see more here and here).

These flaws hide the displacement and inadequacy of any anticipated affordable housing, and do not project how a zoning change will alter the racial composition of a neighborhood such as when older buildings are torn down and replaced with new “luxury condos.” The CEQR guidelines assume that tenants in buildings with six or more units are protected by rent regulation even though those protections are frequently evaded. Evictions, already highest in Black and Latino communities, are expected to rise as a result of the pandemic.

The CEQR guidelines are completely silent on the financial impacts a rezoning has on property values - critical information that communities and elected officials need when they try to negotiate with developers for more and deeper affordable housing, schools, libraries, and other community benefits.

In addition to providing resources and information essential to a fair zoning process, DCP must be creative and innovative to overcome the obstacles to communications and outreach created by the pandemic, which still threatens people’s health and undermines the existing public engagement process. 

The city cannot resume land use processes that will impact Black and Latino communities without a massive effort to engage these communities. City government must be driven by the imperative to bring BIPOC into the decision-making. DCP needs to innovate ways to communicate and there are a number of measures DCP can implement today: 

  • The city owns, controls, or can access buildings, spaces, and infrastructure in every neighborhood, from public schools and firehouses to bus-stop shelters and subway platforms. These spaces can serve as neighborhood touchpoints with maps, descriptions of possible buildouts, and other information to alert residents about land use proposals. 
  • Many of these spaces are already in use for emergency services for the community and can serve an additional function as a means of outreach for projects. DCP can create displays, take-away flyers, and other materials for distribution in these areas. It is important that language services and translations are also made available to accommodate residents who do not speak English. 
  • The city needs to extend the timeframe and expand the means of communication wherever possible, such as keeping hearings open so people can testify over time, and facilitating locations within impacted communities where people can submit written testimony, or safely record and submit in-person video testimony, a feature Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has used often during public hearings; and
  • If the city truly wants to improve engagement in these communities, it must provide funding and other resources to community-based organizations, now swamped with providing essential services, to augment their capacity to reach out to community members about proposed zoning changes and encourage them to participate in the process.

This pandemic has demonstrated that the city is capable of changing rules and laws quickly to accommodate extenuating circumstances. It is not merely that these are extraordinary times that require innovation in how governments must engage their residents in decision-making. Government must also be enlightened by the awareness of the long-term structural barriers to engagement that have excluded communities of color from full participation.

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Tara Duvivier is Senior Planner and Adam Friedman is Director at the Pratt Center for Community Development, a Pratt Institute Research Center, which provides technical assistance in land use and community development in low-income communities and communities of color throughout New York City.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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A Portal Does Not Replace A Knock On The Door Sun, 09 Aug 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Healing the New York Region with Coordinated Planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9352-healing-new-york-region-with-coordinated-planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9352-healing-new-york-region-with-coordinated-planning gov cuomo exec

An argument for a regional approach to recovery (photo: Darren McGee/Governor's Office)


Even for a metropolitan area that experienced the trauma of September 11, 2001 and the devastation of Superstorm Sandy, nothing could prepare residents of New York and their neighbors in New Jersey and Connecticut for the COVID-19 crisis. The death toll has already far surpassed that of the World Trade Center attack and will continue to climb. The economic damage is certain to exceed the job and income losses of those events and the 2008 financial crisis combined. The impacts on our collective psyche won’t be fully known until well after the pandemic has passed.

More than even in those earlier disasters, the response to this crisis requires a coordinated effort from the states and communities that are intricately tied together in family, social, and business networks that use the same roads, trains, stores, offices, schools, parks, and public spaces, drink the same water, and breathe the same air.

The decision by Governors Cuomo, Murphy, and Lamont, and their fellow governors in four other northeastern states, to form a Regional Coronavirus Reopening Council is an unprecedented collaboration that is crucial to reopening their interdependent economies. The council can have an even greater impact if it lays the foundation of a coordinated, long-term strategy to build a region that is healthier, fairer, and more resilient.

Planning for the recovery needs to start with the realization that the region is very sick and still in intensive care. Easing stay-at-home orders and other restrictions too soon will result in more deaths, a likely return to lockdowns and a longer recovery.

Returning to full physical and economic health will also require treating the underlying conditions that made us so susceptible to this disease.

The vastly disproportionate impact that this has had on black, Latino, and Native American populations, and the racial profiling the has been targeting the Asian community, is rooted in our history of racism and segregation. The sharp divides between the affluent, the middle-class, and low-wage workers without benefits or savings is a glaring outcome of decades of growing economic inequality. High levels of air pollution and other environmental hazards have always been a health risk, and appear to make us particularly susceptible to serious coronavirus effects. The fragility of vital systems like the transit network and unemployment insurance is the result of decades of underfunding and a failure to modernize. Slow adaptation to climate change will lead to even greater vulnerability and inequity. Even immediate measures to restart the economy need to address these fundamental flaws.

All of these conditions are national in scope and call for a concerted national response. But both the unique character of the region and the scale of the epidemic here require a vision and plan for the tri-state metropolitan area at least, if not the entire Northeast. The governors, through the regional council, can set a course that both speeds recovery and begins fixing structural problems.

A starting point for the long view can be Regional Plan Association’s 2017 Fourth Regional Plan, a once-in-a-generation vision for the tri-state metropolitan area. Many of its recommendations will need to be reassessed in a post-COVID-19 world, but the long-term challenges addressed in the plan are, if anything, now more important to overcome. The values of health, equity, prosperity, and sustainability that shaped the plan can guide the actions we take at each stage of recovery and renewal.

As we transition to recovery, the immediate focus on coordinating guidelines for reopening and physical distancing can shift to incorporating health goals and metrics in all regional and state agencies. New York State’s health-in-all-policies guidelines are a good place to start. These will be particularly important in reducing the vast disparities in health outcomes by race and income.

A united effort to secure the region’s fair share of federal transit assistance is the first order of business to keep the region’s circulatory system from spiraling into decline, but why stop there? With support from the governors, the region’s transportation agencies could join in creating a universal fare-payment mechanism and start to integrate rail services to allow more direct, one-seat rides to different parts of the region.

The council could spearhead an effort to give affordable, reliable Internet service to every household in the region, eliminating a leading source of both urban and rural inequality while reducing the region’s vulnerability in future disasters. This could set the stage for more difficult but essential conversations on how to expand affordable housing and reduce segregation throughout the metropolitan area.

An economic restart may be our best opportunity to rebuild in a way that supports a healthier environment and greater resilience to both future pandemics and climate change. Interstate cooperation to reopen the economy can be a foundation for large-scale climate initiatives, such as expanding regional greenhouse gas reduction programs, scaling up renewable energy, and capitalizing adaptation trust funds.

Recovering from the coronavirus pandemic will require a mobilization of the region’s talents, resources, and political will to a degree not seen since at least the deep fiscal crisis of the 1970s. We have a chance to not only recover much of what we lost, but to heal the wounds and divisions that new calamities would otherwise exploit.

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Chris Jones is Senior Vice President and Chief Planner at Regional Plan Association. On Twitter @RegionalPlan.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Healing the New York Region with Coordinated Planning Sun, 03 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9183-city-council-criticism-de-blasio-planning-administration-neighborhood-rezonings-affordable-housing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9183-city-council-criticism-de-blasio-planning-administration-neighborhood-rezonings-affordable-housing navy yards we

Mayor de Blasio makes an announcement (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photo Office)


What was ostensibly meant to be a City Council hearing on the proposed preliminary budget for the Department of City Planning on Tuesday turned into a debate about the de Blasio administration’s approach to neighborhood rezonings. Several Council members expressed their displeasure with rapid gentrification and resident displacement, and what they believe are the city’s insufficient efforts to stop those trends while at times exacerbating them through rezonings, while Mayor Bill de Blasio’s planning chief, Marisa Lago, defended the administration’s approach to housing and community development.

At a hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Land Use, chaired by Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. of the Bronx, Lago -- who is the director of the Department of City Planning and chair of the City Planning Commission -- found herself on the defensive as she explained the administration’s strategy behind its neighborhood rezoning plans, which undergird de Blasio’s 12-year plan to build and preserve 300,000 units of rent-restricted housing. DCP plays a central role in that rezoning process, while the City Planning Commission winds up voting to approve or disapprove the proposals that make their way through the city’s land use review process.

Since 2016, the administration has successfully moved six large-scale neighborhood rezonings, which involve changing land use regulations to create more housing density while mandating inclusion of affordable housing in new, larger developments, as well as provide a slew of infrastructure and community investments such as libraries, schools, community centers, parks, and more. The rezonings also often change land use regulations related to commercial and manufacturing space.

But those rezonings have been focused in low-income communities of color, an approach that has been criticized for exacerbating existing displacement pressures and accelerating gentrification that is already underway, though the mayor and his top housing deputies have repeatedly argued that the rezonings are often the best way to mitigate the effects of market forces already taking hold in certain communities.

So far, rezonings have been approved in East New York, Brooklyn, East Harlem and Inwood in Manhattan, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, and the Bay Street corridor on Staten Island. (East Midtown in Manhattan was also rezoned but was aimed at revitalizing a commercial district rather than aimed at building housing.) The Inwood plan has been halted by a judge, however, the subject of an appeal by the city. Other proposed neighborhoods for rezonings, including part of Flushing, were shelved before the planning process really got going, largely due to local opposition.

When asked which rezonings could be certified by the time de Blasio’s tenure is up, Lago seemed confident that one in Gowanus, Brooklyn would go through. She was cut off before she could name any other neighborhoods that have been identified for a rezoning but have yet to move.

If the administration were to stop rezoning wide swathes of neighborhoods, market-rate “as-of-right” housing would continue to be built, Lago said.

As she explained at the hearing on Tuesday, 80% of housing construction in the city takes place “as-of-right,” which involves private development where the city does not have a role to play. “New housing,” she said, is “disproportionately built in the city’s most affluent neighborhoods – 30% of new units since 2015 have been in the 20% of neighborhoods with the highest median incomes. These neighborhoods are also getting a proportionately large share of new affordable housing – 20% of new affordable units have been built in the most affluent 20% of neighborhoods.”

Acknowledging that its affordable housing plan needs to create deeper affordability, the administration has reset its housing program multiple times, most recently by expanding the number of units that will be set aside for the lowest income and homeless New Yorkers, Council members have repeatedly said the rezoning plans don’t create enough housing that is affordable for the current residents of the neighborhoods involved.

That’s also why some Council members have sought to downzone parts of their districts in neighborhood rezonings, to preserve the character of their communities and prevent the kind of rapid development that they fear will lead to rising rents that push out long-time residents.

“Does City Planning not care about keeping the character of neighborhoods intact?” asked Salamanca, who recently put the kibosh on a potential rezoning in part of his district.

Lago pushed back on the suggestion, noting that downzonings limit the city’s ability to spur the building of more affordable housing. “As a department that looks citywide, and a city that is growing, and in a city that has an affordability crisis, we need to recognize that the solution is not to stop housing construction,” she said.

That was a central divergence point that led to the abrupt stalling of the city’s effort to pursue a neighborhood rezoning in Bushwick, Brooklyn. In January, the city halted the environmental review process for the proposed rezoning after rejecting a request by elected officials and community activists to consider an alternate, community-based plan. The Bushwick Community Plan, which was years in the making, was “in essence, a downzoning,” Lago said at Tuesday’s hearing, citing the words of Vicki Been, the deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development.

Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents Bushwick, disagreed, as he has before, and delivered the harshest criticism of the hearing. Reynoso condemned the city’s decision to walk away from the Bushwick Community Plan and questioned why the administration was instead interested in a plan that would lead to more displacement through development of what he sees as too much new market-rate housing. “At this point, it just doesn't seem like you're playing a fair game with the community, and asking us to engage in a system where the outcomes are only what you want and nothing else,” he said.

Lago emphasized that the displacement Reynoso fears would happen regardless. “We are seeing displacement occur with or without rezoning,” Lago emphasized, noting that the city’s approach has been to prevent displacement through various other means including free legal services to low-income tenants facing eviction and anti-tenant harassment measures, among others.

Lago particularly leaned on that argument when Salamanca questioned whether DCP supported legislation he has proposed along with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams to require a racial impact study with city-sponsored rezoning proposals. Lago did not directly say she supported the legislation. “We very much agree on the need critically to analyze land use actions, and we also need to analyze the status quo and what is happening, even in the absence of a discussion about rezoning,” she said.

“I would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Council on identifying whether there is a causality between racial displacement and rezoning,” she added.

Some of the criticism of DCP stemmed from housing and zoning decisions made well before Lago took over as planning chief, and almost a decade before de Blasio became mayor. Council Member Stephen Levin, for instance, noted that the Williamsburg-Greenpoint rezoning approved in 2005 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg did not lead to the many projected improvements that city planning officials had predicted at the time. DCP released an analysis of the long-term impacts of the rezonings last year and he asked the department to conduct similar analyses of other rezonings.

Council Member Mark Treyger echoed Levin’s sentiment in forceful tones, noting that a Coney Island rezoning from 2009 had similarly failed to promote robust economic activity as envisioned and that current residents cannot wait for a decade for affordable housing to be built. “The reason why I'm bringing this to the attention of DCP is because it was your agency and others that sold my community a bag of goods about the 2009 rezoning,” he said, calling for remedial measures to help fix the problems the rezoning created.

“Michael Bloomberg failed Coney Island and we need to address the crisis my constituents face right now,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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City Council Members and De Blasio Planning Chief Spar Over Neighborhood Rezonings at Budget Hearing Wed, 04 Mar 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Corey Johnson: Master Planner? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9152-corey-johnson-master-planner-council-speaker-new-york-city-housing https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9152-corey-johnson-master-planner-council-speaker-new-york-city-housing commvoicesheard

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson (photo: John McCarten/City Council)


New York City doesn’t have a comprehensive plan for the future. There is no single guiding document that determines how housing will be built over the next decade, for example, overlaid with a strategy for meeting infrastructure needs like transit options and school seats, with unifying visions for social services and economic development. But such planning should exist, according to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who is making several moves toward the type of planning that has mostly been eschewed by Mayor Bill de Blasio and other city leaders for decades.

Johnson, now in his third year as the leader of the 51-member legislative body, appears to have an eye on the future, including as one of the leading contenders in the 2021 mayoral race. Over the last year or so, he has taken the long-view on several issues of city governance, passing legislation and proposing policies that could have a structural impact well after he has left office, even if he wins the mayoralty and serves two terms. And there is more coming.

Johnson is no Robert Moses, but his burgeoning master-planner approach aims to transform the city’s streetscape, drastically reduce hunger and homelessness, build affordable housing, and create an overall blueprint for how the city changes over the coming decades. Some of his planning is already city law, like requiring a five-year “streets master plan” from the Department of Transportation and a 10-year food plan from the Office of Food Policy, while other aspects include a recently-released homelessness-reduction plan, an affordable housing plan that’s in development, and legislation to require comprehensive planning that’s being drafted. (He also recently jumped into the fray over the reconstruction of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.)

It all could burnish his legacy as Council speaker and possibly serve him well in his mayoral campaign, where what he’s putting forth could influence if not set the terms of several essential policy debates sure to be central to the 2021 election.

His two main Democratic opponents at this time have their own defining approaches. Two-term City Comptroller Scott Stringer has developed individual plans for many issues, whether providing comprehensive child care to New Yorkers, creating more deeply affordable housing, or solving Puerto Rico’s debt crisis. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, also in his second term, wants to address issues in real time, bringing a data-based, CompStat-like paradigm – used by the NYPD to track and tackle crime – to City Hall and mayoral agencies. Adams has also made public health his signature issue.

In his first State of the City speech, in March of last year, Johnson focused solely on transit, calling for municipal control of the subways and buses, and promising the streets master plan to create a five-year template to build protected bike lanes, improve bus infrastructure, and add a million feet of new pedestrian space, while expanding accessibility at subway stations. By November, the bill had been signed into law by the mayor.

In August 2019, Johnson proposed a solution to the city’s severe hunger problem, pledging to eliminate food insecurity among the roughly 1 million New Yorkers who experience it. Over the last few weeks, a package of bills requiring the ten-year food policy plan and codifying the Office of Food Policy, among other initiatives, was passed by the Council.

And after attempts to include a comprehensive city plan in the City Charter failed to get the approval of the 2019 New York City Charter Revision Commission, Johnson decided to continue to pursue it through legislation, joining an effort pushed by Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso and advocacy groups.

He also recently released the detailed proposal to address the city’s homelessness crisis, an albatross that has hung around de Blasio’s neck since he took office, with Johnson promising the complementary housing plan in the coming months, and arguing that he is putting forth those two sides of the same coin that should not be decoupled as de Blasio has done.

“One of the biggest gripes I hear from New Yorkers all the time is that city policy gets dictated to them on a block by block, development by development basis with no thoughts of an overall strategy,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “What happens on one street isn’t connected to what’s happening on the next few streets, and New Yorkers know this makes no sense. I think this is a big part of why we get bogged down on every single discussion of a bike lane or a bus lane or a new affordable housing proposal.”

He continued: “The city needs to be able to explain what’s happening in one community by providing the context of what the entire city needs. My Master Plan for city streets is going to revolutionize the way we get around our city, and hopefully it’s going to revolutionize the discourse around planning our streets too. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t use this approach for other aspects of city planning too.”

Many urban planning experts and advocates tend to agree. A formula for long-term and inclusive growth, they say, makes more sense than a reactionary approach to issues as they arise. On the other hand, some have argued that creating such a plan is unrealistic and that it will become outdated too quickly as needs and trends change.

“The challenges for the future of our city are long-term and government is not always good at dealing with long-term issues,” Lander said in a phone interview.

Part of the challenge presented by long-term issues is that city residents may not have the patience for long-term solutions while they expect short term fixes. “At most you’ve got the four-year mayoral cycle, and so often you have a much shorter news or Twitter cycle,” Lander added. “And so trying to plan for things like sea-level rise, for things like aging infrastructure, for the kinds of things where you really have to make some longer-term plans and longer-term investments, they don't always align well with mayoral politics. But we need to do it.”

“It's kind of like why you would always rather have a fatty, delicious meal,” Lander said, “rather than make a plan for how you're going to have a good healthy diet and exercise.”

But the lead-up to a mayoral race is an especially opportune time to put forth plans that make sense as both government proposals and campaign platforms, something Johnson, Stringer, and Adams are all showing they understand. (Other declared or exploring candidates for mayor include Dianne Morales, Loree Sutton, and Shaun Donovan.) The race for voting blocs and over visions for the city will be heating up each month until the all-important June 2021 primary.

While now is a time for thinking big for would-be mayors, the person who holds the top job in city government does have constraints. In the four years they have on the job, eight if they’re lucky or good at it, they’re constantly putting out fires, while also needing to show long-term vision and planning. They’re pressed to tackle issues like affordability, homelessness, crime, and schools, and criticized when they fail to show immediate results.

De Blasio’s predecessor (and current Democratic presidential candidate) Michael Bloomberg took some steps that suggested a long view. He created an Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability but its scope was not as wide as its name suggested and it mostly dealt with environmental protections and resilience initiatives. De Blasio later folded it into the Office of Environmental Coordination, which together became the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability. Bloomberg’s housing policy did not take a holistic approach, but was largely based on unleashing market forces, while downzoning a number of whiter, outer-borough neighborhoods and upzoning many communities of color. He also showed more of an interest in big, splashy development projects than de Blasio has, including Atlantic Yards and Hudson Yards, for example.

De Blasio has faced similar questions and criticism about his approach to housing development. His affordable housing program, meant to create and preserve 300,000 units of rent-restricted housing over 12 years, has targeted low-income black and Latino communities for increased development and density, and he is constantly forced to defend its progress as New Yorkers complain of an increasingly unaffordable city. De Blasio has put forth other long-term plans that can't be completed until he's out of office, like the ten-year mission to close the Rikers Island jail complex and build four new local jails; efforts to combat climate change including through lowering building emissions; and a NYCHA rescue plan that is already behind schedule. De Blasio has yet to put forth a plan for integrating the city's deeply segregated public schools despite a task force he assembled putting forth a sweeping set of proposals in August of last year.

The mayor has faced significant pushback in recent attempts to rezone several communities of color as part of the effort to build more housing, including rent-regulated units, in part because residents don't see him asking wealthier, whiter neighborhoods to welcome the same new density and because fears of displacement seem to have only increased under de Blasio's tenure, despite his focus on equity and programs like free legal counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction.

Johnson's affordable housing plan is due soon. While he said at the press conference releasing his plan to tackle homelessness that the two issues should not be siloed -- he called for one deputy mayor to handle housing and homelessness, whereas they are now split under two -- it was somewhat ironic that he did not have his housing plan ready at the same time. It's in development, he said, and speaking with Gotham Gazette afterward he gave a slight preview, while also explaining how it will fit into the larger vision he's establishing.

Asked about his housing approach, he said "it needs to be responsible development" and "smart growth."

"[I]f you remember as part of my State of the City speech last year I said that we were looking at -- and I think we're close to being done with it -- a proposal that would give a density bonus for housing if it was near public transit," he continued. New housing needs to be targeted toward low- and extremely low-income New Yorkers, he said, but also middle-income people, and the planning needs to be tailored to different parts of the city. "We need to increase housing production, we aren't producing enough housing," Johnson said. "A lot of the housing that we are producing is luxury housing and it's not serving the needs of not just homeless New Yorkers, but middle-income people and low-income people."

"So one of the things we're looking at is a long-term comprehensive plan, and planning, in New York City," he said. "So I'm going to have the homelessness report, the affordable housing report, and the long-term planning report -- all of those things are kind of symbiotic with each other, and that's what we're looking at."

A comprehensive plan for housing and land use was a particular focus of the Thriving Communities coalition, made up of nonprofit advocates and experts who lobbied the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to consider a comprehensive planning amendment to the city’s governing document. The coalition included groups such as Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD), Regional Plan Association (RPA), and others.

“It's pretty clear that there has been enough similar opposition in enough neighborhoods to the way that this administration has approached land use that there needs to be a fundamental shift,” said Emily Goldstein, director of organizing and advocacy at ANHD.

“I think in a lot of ways the problem isn't that this administration is doing something new, it's that they're doing more of the same,” she said. The mayor’s rhetoric of equity and fighting the 'Tale of Two Cities,' which elevated him to power, has mostly been a disappointment, she said, since “he's actually continued in a similar vein to some degree in his approach to the housing crisis, but even more so in an approach to land use and planning.”

Part of the complaint about that disparate and gradual approach, Goldstein said, is that it misses the forest for the trees. Even if the administration were to rezone several neighborhoods or even specific large-scale sites, for instance, to create more density and allow more mixed-income housing, there isn’t necessarily an assessment of how that will impact a borough or even the city. “There's really never a reckoning with the cumulative impact of all of those piecemeal actions,” she said.

“I think because this mayor has just sort of continued with planning the way things have always been done,” Goldstein continued. “It's left a little bit of a void that maybe other politicians would try to fill or step into.”

As its name implies, the Regional Plan Association, a research and advocacy organization that has worked on urban planning issues for more than 90 years, is especially focused on long-term planning and the health of the city and region. In 2017, the RPA released The Fourth Plan, a 25-year strategy document for the New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut region. “We think long-term planning is necessary beyond the political cycle so that people understand how their communities are going to look and feel and they don't feel threatened by displacement,” said Kate Slevin, senior vice president of state programs and advocacy, in a phone interview.

“One strategy government can take is to lay out a long-term vision, and then have near-term goals in realizing that vision,” she added. “And the streets master plan is a very good example of that.”

Codified into law, the streets master plan and food policy plan will be harder for a future administration or Council to overturn or neglect. Though their effect may be hard to judge in the present, they may be models for tackling larger issues such as economic growth and more.

“All of these issues are so complex and so challenging that we can't really address them piecemeal and with one-off ideas,” said Eli Dvorkin, editorial and policy director at the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank. “They do require the full force of a big strategic plan.”

Dvorkin praised Johnson’s various initiatives, particularly the fact that they’re far from pie-in-the-sky ideas and are backed with concrete policy recommendations and implementation strategies. But he also noted that they may not have been possible without buy in from the de Blasio administration, made possible in part because “the rubber won’t really meet the road for another couple of years.” In that sense, he said, “in some ways, these are proposals for the next mayor more so than they are proposals in the short-term.”

The Council also doesn’t have to necessarily make the tough choices of how to fund these various programs in a government dynamic where the executive holds more power over the annual budget than the legislative branch, though the Council does negotiate and approve the budget.

But the fact that these will be issues for the next mayor to handle means that long-term strategies and who expresses them may play a role in deciding which candidate voters prefer in 2021.

“Transportation, environment, economic opportunity, all of these are going to be big issues in the next mayoral race,” said Slevin of RPA.

Lander said the commitments that candidates make on the campaign trail will also help inform how these plans are eventually formulated. “That's a great way for New Yorkers to get to see in concrete ways what the vision that a mayoral candidate would bring and a really good intervention to make in a mayoral election even before it becomes the actual plan itself,” he said.

Dvorkin said similarly, “I think it's clear at this point that the mayor isn't the only elected official considering his legacy right now. And unlike the mayor, obviously the speaker and others have their sights set on what's next. I don't fault them for that. On the contrary, I think having a real vision now that can actually get people excited about the kind of New York City that Speaker Johnson and other candidates for higher office envision, is a strategic necessity and it puts them in a good position.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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Corey Johnson: Master Planner? Tue, 03 Mar 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Why We Need a Comprehensive City Plan Now https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9128-we-need-a-comprehensive-plan-new-york-city-housing https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9128-we-need-a-comprehensive-plan-new-york-city-housing first lady chirlane opening dev

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


New York City’s housing crisis is getting worse. While a significant number of luxury units sit vacant, the population of homeless children is growing, we have only a 1% vacancy rate in public housing, and more than half of New Yorkers spend over a third of their income on housing. We have a serious problem on our hands.

According to basic economics, the solution to demand exceeding supply is an increase in supply. A scarcity of units causes prices to rise; the most effective way to ease this upward pressure on rents is to build more, and to do so quickly. New residential units start a “migration chain” that filters down to lower income brackets, as well; the benefits of new construction filter down the property ladder even if the new construction is a luxury high-rise. Development alone is not enough -- we need to incentivize the creation of affordable units and provide low-income families with additional assistance -- but unless we build more, we have no hope of making housing more affordable in New York City.

And yet, we are struggling to build. According to Mayor de Blasio’s “Where We Live Now” plan, there were 163,000 new housing units built in the 2010s, down from 198,000 the decade before. Even the 1930s saw greater production of new housing.

Though conceptually, most people would agree that to fix our shortage we need to build new units, in reality most people don’t want new construction on their streets. Resistance to new development comes from a variety of different fears. Though blocked views, loud construction, and overcrowded trains are easy to dismiss as NIMBYism, other concerns are more nuanced. New development can change neighborhood character, and many communities fear that it can accelerate gentrification and displacement (though research contradicts this claim).

Despite these objections, we need to build more housing. Currently, it seems like any proposal, no matter how small, encounters fierce opposition. We should be mindful of how development will impact our diverse neighborhoods, but protestors and anti-development activists should consider the counter-factual: What will happen to our city if there is no development at all?

The build-but-not-here phenomenon we are experiencing in New York City is a classic collective action problem. In many cases, it is rational for people to want to keep new construction out of their neighborhoods. But when we take an individual’s rational decision and expand it to an entire city, we run into trouble. When all of New York City says “no” to new development, where does that leave us?

Currently, development proposals feel haphazard and uncoordinated, but we can start to break the stalemate with a comprehensive city plan, which is in the City Council’s legislative pipeline. Led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso, the comprehensive plan would sketch out a long-term plan for rezoning, development, and land use decisions within the five boroughs.

The New York City Council attempted to introduce a comprehensive city plan as part of the 2019 Charter Revision Commission. The 2019 proposal, which failed to be put to voters, observed that for other major cities across the globe, comprehensive plans serve “as the basis for land use, zoning, and capital planning decisions.” New York City struggles to reach consensus on any of these issues, leading to stalled projects and, ultimately, skyrocketing rents.

Critics of a comprehensive city plan decry it as a toothless document and futile effort. They compare it to existing “fair share criteria,” a set of guidelines to help New York City place public facilities in a thoughtful, equitable way. Though well-intentioned, the criteria have made little difference in how city government actually allocates facilities.

Whether or not a comprehensive city plan changes patterns of development in New York City, though, at the very least such a plan will make new development projects feel more coherent. Currently, New Yorkers struggle to see how the buildings proposed for their neighborhoods fit into a broader effort to make housing more affordable. When proposals feel like one-off projects, they are easy to dismiss. After all, it is true that one building will not make a meaningful difference to the number of units we have on the market.

If, however, each proposed building is part of a clear plan to make New York City more affordable for everyone, opposition to development may become less venomous. True, a comprehensive city plan will not solve our housing affordability issues or eliminate disagreement entirely. Tensions surrounding gentrification and displacement will remain, and NIMBYism will continue. But at the very least, New Yorkers will be able to see how each new development connects to a larger plan. A citywide planning framework will not fix everything, but it is a good place to start.

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Benjamin Heller is a graduate student at NYU’s Robert F Wagner School of Public Service. On Twitter @BenjaminHeller0.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Why We Need a Comprehensive City Plan Now Wed, 19 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
City Council Pursues Comprehensive Planning Legislation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9100-city-council-pursues-comprehensive-planning-legislation https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/9100-city-council-pursues-comprehensive-planning-legislation city planning

(rendering via the Mayor's Office)


The New York City Council is crafting legislation to mandate the creation of a comprehensive plan for the city that would guide long-term decisions on land use, zoning, and investments in infrastructure. The effort is being led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Members Brad Lander and Antonio Reynoso.

Last year, the City Council urged the 2019 Charter Revision Commission to propose to voters an amendment to the city’s governing document to require a comprehensive plan every ten years. A comprehensive plan would serve as “a citywide strategic framework and vision for growth and development,” the Council wrote in its recommendations to the charter commission, which included representatives from various top city elected officials, including Johnson, who appointed its chair.

“The lack of a citywide plan contributes to the overall housing shortage and exacerbates conflicts for space between different uses,” the Council report reads. “The ad hoc selection of particular neighborhoods for growth-oriented rezoning plans has proved to be an inefficient and acrimonious process and is not delivering enough opportunities for development as the city needs.”

Even the charter commission’s staff agreed with the need for a comprehensive plan, recommending to the commissioners that it consider taking up the issue. The commission’s preliminary staff report issued in April noted that there are currently 12 different charter-required documents that determine city planning. “But the Charter does not always make clear how (and whether) these plans are intended to fit together, what they must address, how they relate to one another, how progress (or lack thereof) toward their goals is measured and assessed, and how the public can affect the content of these plans (if at all),” the staff report reads.

But the commission demurred, and among nearly 20 changes proposed to voters, all of which passed in November, only put forward tweaks to the city’s current land use processes. Commission Chair Gail Benjamin, appointed by Johnson, and Commissioner Carl Weisbrod, the former head of City Planning who was appointed to the commission by Mayor Bill de Blasio, both seemed opposed to the proposal, as did members of the de Blasio administration.

But where the charter commission passed, the City Council appears ready to move ahead. “Comprehensive Planning was a Council and personal priority in our testimony to the Charter Revision Commission and we continue to explore options to achieve those goals legislatively,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. A spokesperson for the speaker did not provide any additional detail about what the legislation would contain or the timeline for its introduction.

At the end of last year, Johnson passed and de Blasio signed a "streets master plan" law that includes mandates around bike and bus lanes and pedestrian space across the city. This past week, Johnson unveiled a "holistic, long-term" approach to combating homelessness in the city and said that a corresponding affordable housing plan is in the works. In a brief interview at City Hall after he released the homelessness plan, Johnson told Gotham Gazette that the larger planning legislation will incorporate those pieces and more.

Lander and Reynoso, who helped lead the push for comprehensive planning during the charter commission’s work and quickly rued the fact that the commission passed on the idea, indicated that there will be a package of several bills to accomplish comprehensive planning and related goals.

“Let's be perfectly honest, the only way we would have done it in a real comprehensive way, would have been through the charter,” Reynoso said in a brief interview outside City Hall. “So what we're doing now is taking the most aggressive legislative action we could take to try to mimic what should have been done through the charter.”

Lander stressed that the need to take “a more collaborative, more comprehensive, more proactive, more values-attuned approach, it just gets more and more urgent.”

“If we want to have a city that matches our values and carries them into planning for our future, the processes we currently have are broken and we have to have new ones,” he said during a phone interview.

Lander echoed Reynoso in pointing out that any bill passed by the Council will be more limited than what the charter commission could have accomplished. “By Council legislation, you can require a comprehensive planning process every so often, but you can’t change the [Uniform Land Use Review Procedure] process to favor projects that would be aligned with that plan or make it more difficult to have projects that don't,” he said.

The push for comprehensive planning also has the support of the Thriving Communities coalition, made up of advocates, nonprofits, and grassroots organizers who sought to convince the charter commission to pursue their goals. The coalition criticized the commission’s refusal to take up the issue. “While the status quo might work for developers and the powerful few, it does not work for most New Yorkers, and without meaningful changes, the processes we have now will only exacerbate inequality, segregation, and displacement,” it wrote in a statement after the commission issued its final ballot proposals. Spokespeople for the coalition -- which included organizations like Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development, Community Action for Safe Apartments, New York Appleseed, Regional Plan Association, and Pratt Center for Community Development, among others -- did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

Any comprehensive planning legislation is likely to face push back from the de Blasio administration.

Vicki Been was formerly commissioner of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development and testified before the charter commission as an outside expert at a March 21 hearing. She later rejoined the de Blasio administration when the mayor appointed her Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development in April.

In her testimony, Been raised the issue of the city’s Fair Share criteria, which determine how the city sites municipal facilities according to neighborhoods bearing their fair share of the burden. Over the years, the fair share policy has been criticized for largely failing to accomplish its intended objective as facilities such as homeless shelters and waste management plants began to be concentrated in certain communities, often low-income communities of color.

“Much of the criticism of the fair share criteria is that they are like an environmental impact review, all you have to do is show that you considered the fairness of the distribution. You don't have to meet any numerical or other target because one wasn't set because it's too difficult of a question,” Been said at the hearing. “And so there's no reason to believe that moving the question into what we call a comprehensive planning system would accomplish anything other than what is accomplished in the conversation about fair share.”

Anita Larement, executive director of the Department of City Planning, similarly raised red flags about comprehensive planning at that hearing. “On the one hand, people are looking for more community control over decision-making, which actually we know will lead to more problems in regards to siting things that people don't want in their neighborhoods. And this notion that somehow on the other hand if we can do comprehensive planning that we will solve these problems? What I would really submit is that, that is not correct,” she said.

After the 2019 Charter Revision Commission declined to move comprehensive planning forward toward a ballot proposal, Lander and Reynoso wrote a joint op-ed lamenting the missed opportunity but stressing the importance of moving ahead with better city planning, especially regarding infrastructure, climate resiliency, housing affordability, transit, school seats and more, with a holistic vision for development, services, and community benefits and burdens.

"Comprehensive planning is not a panacea, but evidence from other cities suggests that it is an essential component of fair and rational progress," they wrote. Concluding that if New York City is "going to meet the collective challenges of rising temperatures and sea levels, growing population, aging infrastructure, keeping people in their homes, and addressing deeply-rooted inequality, we’re going to have to start doing it."

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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City Council Pursues Comprehensive Planning Legislation Sun, 02 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
Ruling Endangers Better Planning for City's Future https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9030-inwood-rezoning-ruling-endangers-better-planning-for-citys-future https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/9030-inwood-rezoning-ruling-endangers-better-planning-for-citys-future Ydanis Rodriguez Inwood

Council Member Rodriguez with a constituent (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


Shortly before Christmas a judge of the New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan issued a ruling annulling the rezoning plan for Inwood that had been in the works since 2017 and was approved by the City Council in August 2018. The City has appealed the decision to the Appellate Division; the case may well go all the way to the Court of Appeals before it is finally resolved. But even if the decision is eventually reversed, this legal challenge has upended the long-established legal and political process for achieving rezonings and could have a detrimental impact on all future rezoning efforts in New York City.

Supreme Court Judge Verna Saunders found that a number of potential socio-economic impacts raised by community groups were not considered during the state- and city-required environmental review of the plan and sent it back to the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development to study and address these concerns.

While I am neither a land use nor an environmental attorney, it seems to me common sense that some of the highlighted issues are impossible to fully assess because they are speculative and depend on so many economic, legislative, sociological, and other factors beyond local zoning. For example, ambulance response times or the impact on minority- and women-owned businesses.

Other issues may well have been considered but not explicitly addressed in the environmental reports. For example, the impact of the loss of the neighborhood public library was addressed: the zoning plan adopted by the Council included a brand new, larger, and better-equipped public library in a new building with 175 affordable apartments and a plan for a temporary relocation while the new library building is constructed.

But the specifics of the judge’s decision are not as significant as the fact that it creates uncertainty about the validity of a lengthy public review process in which the Mayor and the locally elected City Council Member were actively engaged and the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure was carefully followed.

The methodology for conducting environmental reviews of zoning proposals is set forth in a manual (the “CEQR Manual”) written and updated by a panel of experts that contains clear rules and standards for analysis. If litigation can successfully overturn a zoning plan by demanding that specific factors not included in the manual must be considered and addressed then there can be no certainty that any plan is final, no matter how robust the public and political review process and how carefully the standards of the manual have been followed.

The new buildings that were to be authorized by the Inwood rezoning, which would provide 1,300 units of affordable housing, are now on hold. The immediate consequences of derailing the zoning changes are that the demand for more housing in Inwood will force prices higher, not only depriving potential new residents of housing opportunities, but affecting current residents as well.
There may well be a broader impact. If, after three years of development, including 22 public meetings, input from the Community Board, the Borough President, the City Planning Commission, and Council approval, a rezoning plan can no longer be regarded as firm and final, builders will be reluctant to get involved in these efforts at the outset and neighborhoods that need them will miss out on thousands more affordable housing units.

Moreover, the role of the local City Council Member in providing input and negotiating additional community benefits as part of rezonings is called into question. Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the Inwood neighborhood, succeeded in including hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits to the community as part of the plan, including the new library, improvements to the local public school complex and park and community spaces, and funding for local anti-displacement and homeless service programs. All of these investments are now in doubt.

If the duly elected representative who knows the needs of the area best cannot be relied upon to definitively sign off on behalf of his constituents, why would other Council Members put themselves out there to influence and endorse a plan?

Change is hard and can be frightening. But it will happen, either haphazardly through as-of-right development under existing zoning, or through a more managed growth process in a thoughtful and coordinated way, through the land use review process with the input of community leaders who help maximize the benefits for the people who live there. The activists who challenged the Inwood rezoning plan, though undoubtedly well-intentioned, may have won a battle but hurt the long-term health of the City by leaving officials with no clear path to follow in their efforts to keep the city’s neighborhoods thriving.

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Carol Kellermann was president of Citizens Budget Commission from 2008 through 2018.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

 

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Ruling Endangers Better Planning for City's Future Sun, 05 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
New York City Needs a Development Reset – Starting with Public Land https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8958-new-york-city-needs-development-reset-starting-public-land https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8958-new-york-city-needs-development-reset-starting-public-land city vernon

City-owned building at Vernon Blvd & 44th Dr (photo: Memo Salazar)


2019 may go down in history as the year public disenchantment with New York City’s land use policies reached a boiling point.

In June, protestors disrupted a meeting about a neighborhood study for a potential rezoning on Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, claiming that city agencies did not really want their opinions. In August, a judge heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the 2018 Inwood rezoning, with groups in that Upper Manhattan neighborhood charging that the environmental impact study undertaken there was illegitimate. In September, resident groups publicly assailed City Council Member Carlos Menchaca when he proposed to enter into community benefits negotiations with Industry City Associates, which had applied for a private zoning change in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park. That same night, Queens activists turned an Economic Development Corporation-sponsored meeting about the Sunnyside Yard master plan into a raucous “teach-in,” loudly expressing their conviction that the city was failing to elevate the public interest over the aims of real estate developers.  

What explains this increasing lack of faith in government’s good intentions? 

Part of the problem, as others have pointed out, is that the city has no framework with which to strategically coordinate land use changes and infrastructure investments. Without a comprehensive planning process to guide investment decisions and resolve equity tradeoffs, the city’s moves to densify and develop in particular neighborhoods are met with fear and protest.

But also part of the problem is the de Blasio administration’s outdated mindset with respect to development more generally -- particularly development on land owned by the city. The practice of selling publicly-owned sites to developers to raise revenue, and to promote the creation of new, mostly market-rate housing and office inventory, became commonplace under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The de Blasio administration has continued the practice, frustrating those of us who believe there are better uses for public land.

To take one example: in Long Island City, Queens, a battle is brewing about the fate of two sites in Anable Basin. Located on 44th Drive close to the waterfront, they are currently owned by the public. But they have a history: in 2018, the city’s Economic Development Corporation had issued requests for proposals or requests for expressions of interest for them, and come to a preliminary agreement with the development firm TF Cornerstone to build and operate a mixed-use development (with residential, commercial, and some industrial uses) on one of them. Then came Amazon. Last November, the sites appeared on the map of the planned HQ2 campus. 

When the Amazon deal fell through in February of this year, the city went silent, and local activists (many of whom had fought HQ2) started thinking not just about what they didn’t want in their neighborhood but about equity-positive alternatives.

Last summer, a coalition formed around the aim of creating a Community Land Trust (CLT), which provides a vehicle for permanently affordable development managed by mission-driven organizations. The land trust activists developed a plan to renovate one of the city-owned sites – a 638,000 square foot industrial building at 44th Drive and Vernon Boulevard – as a multi-tenant space for small manufacturers, working artists, a commercial kitchen, and a school. A non-profit partner selected to operate the space would be subject to a special deed, drawn up by the land trust, that compels them to charge below-market rent in perpetuity to the kinds of tenants who are currently being displaced from Long Island City in droves by luxury development.

Judging by the YourLIC planning exercise announced last month, the city appears to have other plans for the sites the public owns in Anable Basin. But before things go any further, the de Blasio administration should consider conveying the site at 44th Drive and Vernon Boulevard to the Western Queens Land Trust.

On land it owns, the city should be leading by example, fostering development that creates family-supporting jobs and offers open space and public facilities (like schools) without contributing to gentrification and displacement. An indication of what is possible in Long Island City can be seen on the activists’ website, OURlic.nyc.

We have set the bar too low for too long. Using public land, the city can subsidize development that improves communities without making them unaffordable to the people who currently live there. This path is not the most lucrative option in financial terms. But the highest and best use of land need not always be the use that commands the highest investor return. In Long Island City and elsewhere, conveying city-owned property to land trusts and other mission-driven organizations is an investment in neighborhood value that could help earn back the trust of the currently disenchanted. 

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Laura Wolf-Powers is an associate professor in the Department of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College. On Twitter @wolf_powers.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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New York City Needs a Development Reset – Starting with Public Land Mon, 02 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Missing from the 2019 Ballot, We Can't Wait to Take on Better City Planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8899-the-2019-charter-revision-commission-s-big-missed-opportunity https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8899-the-2019-charter-revision-commission-s-big-missed-opportunity hallets point dev

(photo: Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Office)


New Yorkers heading to the polls this fall have the opportunity to vote on amendments to New York City’s Charter – our city’s foundational governing document – that include changes to how we vote, police accountability, and budgeting. But one big topic will be missing: truly addressing our city’s broken land use system.

This didn’t have to be the case. When the City Council, then-Public Advocate Letitia James, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer came together to create this Charter Revision Commission in spring of 2018 there were high hopes for what it might accomplish. Unlike previous commissions charged with a narrow focus, Commission Chair Gail Benjamin announced, “This is a commission that received a broad mandate to overhaul the charter, which has not been done since 1989.” Instead of looking small, this commission would be going big. 

Given the land use expertise of many of the appointed commissioners, including Chair Benjamin - and the expressed hopes of the elected officials who helped create the commission - advocates, New York City residents, and our elected representatives believed this broad mandate included the way our land use planning is done. During public hearings in all five boroughs, the commission heard more complaints about our broken land use process than any other issue.

The Thriving Communities Coalition formed in response to what we believed was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul our land use process, provide more access and accountability to average New Yorkers and address the needs of low-income communities and communities of color by working to end, rather than perpetuate, the legacy of historically racist planning.

As a coalition of grassroots organizing, advocacy, policy, and technical-assistance groups working across issue areas and neighborhoods, we knew first-hand the ways in which the planning process isn’t working: from the affordable housing and homelessness crisis - fueled in part by the rampant gentrification and displacement of formerly affordable communities - to the income and race inequalities that make us one of the most segregated and unequal cities in the country.

Throughout the charter reform process, the Thriving Communities Coalition fought for the commission to take up a comprehensive planning process that accounts for historical divestments from communities of color and a budget that equitably distributes resources - sharing our perspectives on the urgent need for real reform to empower disenfranchised communities and fight deeply entrenched racial and socio-economic inequality.   

And yet in the end, the commission chose not to advance any meaningful land use reforms. Faced with the opportunity to make historic changes after hearing from a groundswell of folks about the urgent need, and after acknowledging in its preliminary report the “level of public disillusionment” with regards to land use and planning processes, the commission chose to settle, offering “tweaks” to the charter and rejecting calls for more transformational change.

Instead of comprehensive planning and the equitable distribution of resources, we have been offered an extended review period for Community Boards over the summer, and development plans being made public 30 days before the official public review starts. Instead of looking big, this commission went small.        

We cannot wait another 30 years for a Charter Revision Commission that embraces its broad mandate to come along. Continuing the current land use process is unacceptable and unsustainable. While the status quo might work for developers and the powerful few, it does not work for most New Yorkers. Without meaningful changes, the processes we have now will only exacerbate inequality, segregation, and displacement. We will need more vision from our elected officials and leaders if we are to become a city where everyone has a chance to grow and thrive.

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Chris Walters is the Rezoning Technical Assistance Coordinator at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development and a member of the Thriving Communities Coalition – a coalition of community-based and policy-oriented nonprofits focused on equitable land use and planning processes. On Twitter @ANHDNYC.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Missing from the 2019 Ballot, We Can't Wait to Take on Better City Planning Sun, 03 Nov 2019 04:00:00 +0000