Since the passage of the 1961 zoning ordinance, new approaches have been continually developed to deal with issues and opportunities that emerge as New York City grows and changes. A combination of incentive zoning, contextual zoning and special district techniques have been used to make zoning a more responsive and sensitive planning tool.
Today’s zoning has been designed to reshape the city by embodying smart growth and sustainable principles while addressing a range of goals as diverse as New York City’s neighborhoods. Over the past nine years, over 9,400 blocks - equal to roughly one-fifth of the city - have been rezoned. Increases in density are found in transit-oriented locations within walkable communities that offer a variety of retail, service, community facility and employment destinations that can be comfortably reached without having to use an automobile. In a city where housing is always in short supply, new opportunities for housing development, market-rate and affordable, have been created in former industrial areas and in established neighborhoods with good transit connections that can sustain increased density. Contextual zoning districts have been refined and expanded to better preserve the character of the city’s neighborhoods. In the outlying and more auto-dependent lower-density areas distant from mass transit, new growth management techniques have been developed to better address issues arising from rapid growth.
The Zoning Resolution has been revised to achieve planning objectives across neighborhoods throughout the city. Affordable housing incentives have been made more widely applicable, and mixed use zoning has been used to help create vibrant, active neighborhoods, particularly in areas where residential uses were previously prohibited. Special incentives have been created to promote fresh food stores in underserved areas, and a range of zoning amendments have been adopted to ensure a more sustainable city through requirements for bicycle parking, mandatory street trees, improved streetscapes with more green space in front yards, and landscaping in parking lots. New rules have also been adopted to assure a more open, accessible and inviting waterfront.
Zoning has also been used to implement comprehensive plans to catalyze investment and economic opportunity in critical areas of the city. New employment opportunities have been created through the Hudson Yards rezoning on Manhattan’s Far West Side, which established the foundation for expansion of the Manhattan central business district. Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City and Downtown Jamaica in Queens are business districts that have been strengthened by including residential uses and urban design guidelines. Special zoning has been used to preserve the High Line in West Chelsea and create a remarkable new park, to help ensure the revitalization of the iconic Coney Island for future generations, and to strengthen Harlem’s 125th Street by building on its rich cultural legacy.
The Zoning Resolution is a blueprint for the development of the city. It is flexible enough to address the advances in technology, neighborhood transformations, changing land use patterns and emerging design philosophies that combine to make New York one of the great cities of the world. New York City is recognized for its iconic landmarks, but it is also at the forefront of continual reinvention and architectural exploration. There is no doubt that the Resolution will continue to change and evolve as we confront new challenges and shape the city to ensure a better future for all New Yorkers.
Cities never stand still, nor should zoning.