Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2566 Wed, 26 Feb 2020 23:45:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Letter to the Editor: Key Points from Our Report on City Storefront Vacancy https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8844-letter-to-the-editor-report-city-planning-storefront-vacancies https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8844-letter-to-the-editor-report-city-planning-storefront-vacancies nyc planning vacancy study aug 2019 cover

(photo: NYC Planning)


To the Editor:

In response to the opinion piece “Our Small Business Crisis is Very Real, and Demands City Action,” (Sept. 25), we want to caution that the tens of thousands of retail businesses in New York City come in all shapes and sizes, and no one solution fits all.

Contrary to the author’s claim, the Department of City Planning’s (DCP’s) Assessing Storefront Vacancy report details and directly links neighborhood vitality and affordability to the challenges that local shop owners face – from ever-evolving consumer tastes, competition from e-commerce, significant regulatory hurdles, changing streetscapes and high rents, particularly on higher-end retail corridors.

From every angle, the DCP report’s findings are clear: first, vacancy rates differ dramatically from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even block to block, and for different reasons; and second, some retail corridors are thriving. 

The DCP report reinforces what we have suspected for years: traditionally strong dry-goods retail markets, such as department stores and hardware shops, are the most challenged, while restaurants, entertainment, and experiential retail – services sought after by residents and workers that cannot be replaced by e-commerce – are multiplying.  What may be surprising is that brick-and-mortar retail jobs grew by 33% between 2008-2017, with jobs in restaurants, bars, and food stores exploding, gaining 132,000 jobs.

While zoning restrictions may initially sound like good solutions, the DCP report shows that cumbersome regulations hurt small businesses the most. We also know that singling out chain retailers is not a sound solution for a variety of reasons, including because many New York chain stores started out as mom and pops.

What the DCP report highlighted is that there are no easy answers, and that there is not one set of solutions that works for all types of stores and all types of businesses, in every neighborhood.

Sincerely,
Marisa Lago, Director of the Department of City Planning
@NYCPlanning

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

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Letter to the Editor: Key Points from Our Report on City Storefront Vacancy Thu, 10 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Planning Chief on De Blasio Administration's Zoning for Growth, and the Need for More Housing in the Suburbs https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8834-city-planning-chief-on-how-de-blasio-administration-is-zoning-for-growth https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8834-city-planning-chief-on-how-de-blasio-administration-is-zoning-for-growth marisa lago city breakfast2

City Planning Director Marisa Lago (photo: May Vutrapongvatana)


In a Friday morning speech about how New York City’s limited space is used, Marisa Lago, director of the Department of City Planning, discussed some of the department’s approaches to the housing, employment, and equity challenges facing the city.

The city has a population of 8.4 million and is “the only older U.S. city that has surpassed its 1970s-era population peak,” said Lago, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio to direct the Department of City Planning and chair the City Planning Commission in early 2017 after over three decades in city and federal government. The city has 4.5 million jobs, including 800,000 created between 2010 and 2018, she told the audience attending the CityLaw breakfast at New York Law School.

In the picture Lago painted Friday, the Department of City Planning is responsible for balancing New Yorkers’ personal and professional needs with the implications of broad, even global, economic changes in a way that makes room for long-term growth. The work often revolves around the limited resource of land, which is heavily regulated by zoning rules enshrined in law or controlled by property owners, the City Planning Commission, and the City Council.

“It’s important to remember that, despite the growth in population in the city, we still have the same 303 square miles of land,” Lago said. “So to grow sustainably and equitably, we have to build more housing and especially affordable housing, and we also have to create what I call ‘space for jobs.’”

Using zoning rules to expand housing and job production is a fixture in the lifecycle of big cities throughout the country and the world. Lago also pointed to the need for more housing development in the New York City suburbs. The prongs of Lago’s approach to city planning, which extend back before her tenure at the Department of City Planning to her predecessor, Carl Weisbrod, include utilizing and expanding flexibility in zoning, and embracing data-driven planning, she said.

Flexibility in Land Use
Flexibility in zoning is key for a city as large as New York to adjust to demographic shifts and technological developments that drive and are driven by changes in the economy. The space needs of so-called “classic sector” jobs, like finance, the arts, even some manufacturing, are different in the new economy of online shopping and changing consumer preferences.

Lago believes having the ability to shift land use regulations from generation to generation is essential for the city’s long-term economic viability. “Powerful as zoning is, it can’t stop the tide of a changing global economy,” she said.

One of Lago’s focuses is updating the city’s mid-century zoning of manufacturing districts outside of Manhattan that place limits on height and density and require a high degree of space dedicated to parking. DCP is looking for opportunities to reduce parking requirements in those districts that have public transit options, she said, “to provide a wider array of permitted densities that will allow manufacturing business to grow vertically and also to give more flexibility to the envelopes of buildings.”

“Sometimes the best thing that the city can do is to get outdated, overly-proscriptive zoning out of the way of businesses that want to construct space for jobs,” said Lago.

But the city’s existing zoning already allows for a high degree of flexibility to meet existing construction demands. As-of-right development is the “workhorse of producing both housing and space for jobs,” Lago said Friday. As-of-right development refers to proposed construction or repairs that comply with existing zoning requirements. They don’t need approval from the City Planning Commission and City Council to proceed, meaning they do not have to go through the city’s extensive land use review process (ULURP).

The city over the last decade has relied on as-of-right development to produce a significant proportion of its new housing stock. According to Lago, 80 percent of the new housing built since 2010 -- housing approximately 300,000 New Yorkers -- has been as-of-right.

“If we were like San Francisco, where practically every single development project has to go through discretionary project review, we would be producing far less housing, thus becoming increasingly unaffordable,” she said.

But in some cases, Lago is hoping to insert flexibility on a broad scale through new zoning instruments.

Climate resiliency has become a significant focus of city planners in the seven years since Superstorm Sandy left entire neighborhoods in need of repair and reconstruction. The city planning department is pursuing changes to land use requirements throughout the city’s floodplain to make it easier for home- and small business-owners to mitigate flood risk.

Currently, elevating buildings along the waterfront, a common response to flood risk, often violates building height requirements and moving mechanical equipment from basements to higher floors takes up valuable residential square footage, according to Lago. For the past seven years, DCP has had in place temporary emergency zoning regulations that remove some of these requirements and encourage better flood resiliency construction.

Under a new plan called Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency, DCP hopes to codify the temporary regulations. Lago said the new amendments will go into ULURP early next year.

“We’ve now had seven years of living with these temporary regs and we’ve learned a ton by reaching out extensively to neighborhood residents in the city’s various types of flood-prone areas,” she said.

When DCP feels zoning regulations need to be changed, it is common for the agency to try to harness the demand of private sector stakeholders. Rezoning, and especially upzoning -- zoning for added building height and/or density -- is often a negotiation between the city and the private landowner seeking to benefit from added capacity on the land.

Under the mayor’s signature housing policy, which is intended to create or preserve 300,000 units of affordable housing over 10 years, the city instituted Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) to ensure the creation of affordable housing in exchange for upzoning. MIH, which became law in 2016, is a permanent change to the city’s zoning code that requires a portion of housing units in newly upzoned plots or neighborhoods to be made permanently affordable. One of the criticisms of the plan is that the affordability standards in many cases are not truly affordable to local residents and do not reflect the demographics of the city.

Lago said housing production is essential to making the city affordable, even as it causes gentrification and displacement. “I think that we have to acknowledge that the fear of displacement and the fear of gentrification is real,” she said. But, “we also have to put the lie to the claim that if we build no more housing that somehow the city will become more affordable. That just is not true.” But in her prepared remarks she did not address the middle ground between those two thoughts, which is where one major critique of the de Blasio administration’s neighborhood rezoning and affordable housing policies resides: that they are not as helpful as they could or should be in addressing the city’s affordability crisis for the many New Yorkers who feel its crunch most acutely.

Asked about “actual” affordability in reference to this criticism during the question-and-answer session that followed her remarks, Lago cited programs administered by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development that create set-asides for extremely low-income people, the seniors, and formerly homeless people. In terms of the zoning regulations DCP and CPC have influence over, Lago defended the affordability tiers in many of the rezoned neighborhoods, which create “workforce housing” serving the needs of middle-income professionals like teachers and firefighters.

Data-Driven and Regional Planning
On Friday, Lago emphasized the importance of “community-informed, fact-based” city planning. She discussed recent examples of research-based analysis, which DCP has undertaken to inform its work.

This summer DCP released a study on retail-store vacancy that examined over 10,000 storefronts in 24 pedestrian-oriented shopping corridors across the five boroughs. The report found that the vacancy rate of storefronts was not uniform city-wide and the reasons for vacancy varied from neighborhood to neighborhood, according to Lago.

“This research that we have done is going to inform our neighborhood planning work and I hope the work of other policy-makers who may have non-zoning tools to address the needs of small-businesses throughout the city,” she said.

DCP has also used, Lago said, quantitative research to confirm what it had long-believed: that in a city with limited space and as many transit options as New York, tall buildings are essential for creating dense housing stock. It also reveals information about what range of building heights the city can allow to create the level of density needed to house the growing population, she said.

Lago described a study of new residential buildings completed by DCP in 2017. The study found one-to-six story buildings represented 87 percent of new buildings constructed that year but only a quarter of new units. By contrast, 22 percent of new housing units fell into just 18 high-rises above 40 storiess (one percent of the new residential buildings completed that year). The remaining half of units were in mid-rise buildings of 13 stories or more, all of which are in neighborhoods Lago considers “transit-rich.”

But the measurements are not always complete.

At a City Council oversight hearing in May, representatives of DCP and the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination revealed that the city has no procedure for assessing the accuracy of Environmental Impact Statements -- required when a proposed rezoning could potentially change the neighborhood -- after a project is complete. Council Members and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams have introduced a number of bills to improve this, including requiring a racial impact study to accompany rezoning proposals. The bill will mandate reporting on the potential effect the proposed rezoning would have on the racial make-up of the area.

Lago wants to see data-driven approaches to zoning expanded to the regional level by continuing the work of DCP’s regional planning office started by Weisbrod. The regional planning office is partnering with DCP counterparts in municipal governments throughout the New York City metropolitan area with the understanding that housing affordability depends on the supply of housing outside the five boroughs and that the city is the job center for the region. Lago says she hopes to continue to leverage regional data to inform the work and partnerships of local governments.

“In the city we understand that housing affordability is a major challenge, but we also have to be aware that the region as a whole is falling woefully behind on housing production,” Lago said. “Historically, the suburbs to our north and east have been affordable alternatives to city living, but for years these jurisdictions have allowed extremely restrictive zoning to curtail their housing production."

“Our goal is to bring regional knowledge to bare in our and in other governments’ local planning efforts,” she added.

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by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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City Planning Chief on De Blasio Administration's Zoning for Growth, and the Need for More Housing in the Suburbs Sun, 06 Oct 2019 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 75%, with Marisa Lago, Director of the Department of City Planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7779-what-s-the-data-point-75-marisa-lago-director-of-the-department-of-city-planning https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7779-what-s-the-data-point-75-marisa-lago-director-of-the-department-of-city-planning whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 45 -- 75%, with Marisa Lago, Director of the Department of City Planning [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

marisa lago cbc

New York City alone accounted for 75% of the jobs created in the New York metropolitan region since the recession, according to a forthcoming report from the Department of City Planning. Marisa Lago, Director of the Department and Chair of the City Planning Commission, joined CBC to discuss some of the report's findings as well as neighborhood revitalization, housing affordability, and resiliency and sustainability.

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!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 75%, with Marisa Lago, Director of the Department of City Planning Fri, 29 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Planning Director Previews ‘Geography of Jobs’ Report https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7752-planning-chief-previews-geography-of-jobs-report https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7752-planning-chief-previews-geography-of-jobs-report lago cbc

Marisa Lago (photo: Citizens Budget Commission)


Urban planning wonks and other interested parties gathered Tuesday morning for a Citizens Budget Commission trustee breakfast featuring Marisa Lago, the director of the city’s Department of City Planning (DCP) and the chair of the City Planning Commission.

At the event, Lago granted attendees a preview of DCP’s forthcoming “Geography of Jobs” report, due for release later this summer.

“Geography of Jobs” is a product of the Department of City Planning’s first foray into regionalism, led by DCP’s relatively new regional planning unit, launched under former Chair Carl Weisbrod. The report is the product of a collaboration among leaders of cities throughout the metropolitan region, defined by DCP as inclusive of New York City and 26 neighboring counties in Northern New Jersey, Southern Connecticut, the Hudson Valley, and Long Island.

Lago spoke of the report’s affirmation of the region’s economic strength. As a whole, New York City and its surrounding counties have a gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.7 trillion, one-tenth of the national GDP. If the region were its own country, its economy would rank squarely between South Korea’s and Russia’s.

Twenty-three million people live in the region, of whom 8.6 million live in New York City, though nearly 30% of the city’s workforce lives beyond its limits.

“Geography of Jobs” reveals deep disparities between New York City and its environs. Sixty percent of the region’s jobs are outside of New York City, and, over the two-decade stretch before 2008, New York City accounted for roughly 33% of job growth in the region. Since the recession, however, 75% of regional job gains have been in the city.

Lago said that the city’s planning officials worked hard to not be insular when collaborating with officials from outlying areas, and that they did not want New York City to be perceived as “that evil empire across the Hudson.”

The report also shows that New York City is gaining younger workers, defined as those aged 25-54, at a rate three times higher than the national average. The rest of the region, however, has an aging workforce.

The final conclusion of “Geography of Jobs” that Lago shared on Tuesday morning relates to employment categories: the bulk of New York City’s employment growth has been in professional office jobs, while markets beyond the city are increasingly filled with healthcare and local service workers.

The Department of City Planning’s recent emphasis on regional planning reflects its belief, Lago said, in “the commonality of our challenges” on topics ranging from climate change to housing stock.  

This theme was prominent in her discussion of the city’s resilience against climate change. With 520 miles of shoreline, 400,000 residents in a FEMA-designated flood plain, and all but a single community district at least partially in danger of flooding, New York City is threatened by sea level rises and future Superstorm Sandy-type events.

According to the OneNYC city resilience plan distributed at the event, sea levels in New York City have already risen a foot over the past 100 years, and are expected to increase by between 8 and 30 inches by the 2050s, and by between 15 and 75 inches by the century’s end.

“Sandy showed us that Mother Nature knows no boundaries, and she certainly doesn’t adhere to political boundaries,” Lago remarked.

By reforming flood insurance standards, enhancing and making permanent the emergency flood resilience zoning measures of October 2013, and modifying zoning regulations, among other measures, Lago said that the DCP hopes to “future-proof” New York.

She also emphasized the role zoning can play in facilitating job growth. Though every borough has benefited from recent job growth, outdated zoning regulations that “evidence a love of the car” constrain new development, Lago said.

Zoning in New York City, much of which was developed in the 1960s, favors a suburban vision of an economy dominated by office parks surrounded by seas of cars. This makes it difficult to find locations in the city for life sciences facilities and, oddly, microbreweries, which are prohibited in all but industrial zones. Commercial buildings are burdened by outdated density limits, Lago said, and parking and loading requirements near transit centers should be “rationalized.”

But crucial to any future city plan, Lago warned, is the 2020 Census, which she described as an “existential issue for our city.”

The census is important on numerous fronts. New York State is already slated to lose one seat in the House of Representatives due to its shrinking population, and undercounting in the city could lose it two. New York City receives $7 billion annually in government funding that’s dependent on the city’s size.

The city’s population has grown by 5.5% since the previous census, in 2010, and most of this increase is due to immigration. Thirty-eight percent of New Yorkers are foreign-born, and an additional 22% were born in the United States to at least one immigrant parent. Half of Queens residents were born outside the country.

But the proposed addition of a citizenship question to the census threatens to depress turnout in a city where one in seven households contains a person without legal immigration status. Lago called on the attendees to “look to your community” and spread the word that the Census Bureau would not share citizenship information with other governmental organizations, like Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Patrol.

She described participation in the census as “everyone’s right.”

Lago also encouraged the audience to reach out to her department with information on onerous or nonsensical regulations, zoning standards, and “bottlenecks” in development.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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Note: this article has been corrected to reflect that New York City is home to 8.6 not 8.5 million; that the region includes New York City and 26 other counties, not 31 (31 would include New York City's five); that the region is home to 31 million people; and that nearly 30% of the city's workforce live beyond its borders.

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City Planning Director Previews ‘Geography of Jobs’ Report Tue, 19 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000