Press Releases

For Immediate Release
September 28, 2017

Rachaele Raynoff, Joe Marvilli - (212) 720-3471

Planning For An Equitable Future

Thank you, Jill, and good morning everyone.  Since we are near the end point of Mayor de Blasio’s first four years – and at the six month mark of my second stint at the Department of City Planning – you would likely indulge me if I used my remarks as a retrospective of the accomplishments of the Administration.  I could rattle off some of the remarkable statistics about New York City today:

  • an all-time high population of over 8.5 million - and growing
  • a population that is enriched by dreamers, who come to our City from around the globe, resulting in a workforce that is almost 50% foreign-born
  • Median wages that have gone up over 8% since 2013, three times the national average

Were I in a reflective mode, I could give a speech about the challenges that this growth brings, especially in housing all New Yorkers and addressing the inequalities that harm our society.
I could tout the numerous successes of the Mayor’s Housing NY Plan, a plan that not only incents the construction of affordable and market–rate housing, but also brings needed infrastructure and services to communities, improving the lives of residents.

I could dwell on the neighborhood plans – and accompanying rezonings – that have already been adopted by the City Planning Commission and the City Council:

  • Whether the East New York Community Plan, which just a year after its adoption is already showing considerable progress.
  • Or the more recently approved Downtown Far Rockaway Plan, which is also reversing decades of disinvestment in this neighborhood.

And, were I in a backward-looking mode, I could laud Mayor de Blasio, Deputy Mayor Glen, my predecessor, Carl Weisbrod, and so many other dedicated and expert City leaders for the passage in 2016 of the ground breaking Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) zoning requirements.

  • I could observe that, while it is the neighborhood rezonings that garner the most attention and generate the most controversy, the reality is that the City Planning Commission and, ultimately, the City Council continue to approve applications by private land owners in all five boroughs to build projects that contain a minimum of 25 percent of permanently affordable housing units.
  • In fact, in the past year and a half since MIH was adopted, and not counting the neighborhood rezonings that I have mentioned, we have approved over 10,500 residential units via individual applications – enough to leverage nearly 2,600 permanently affordable units.

But, I am not going to dwell on any of these topics. Rather than looking backwards, I would prefer to look forward, to what I see on the horizon in the coming weeks, months and years.

First up on the calendar is the City Planning Commission’s vote this coming Monday on our proposed rezoning of East Harlem.

  • This rezoning took its contours from City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito’s East Harlem Neighborhood Plan. It is intended simultaneously to fulfill the community’s calls for permanently affordable housing, leverage the growing interest in constructing housing in East Harlem, and tap into the job-generating potential of the transit-rich 125th Street corridor.

Next on the agenda, during this coming fall and winter, is the City’s comprehensive neighborhood plan for a two mile stretch of Jerome Avenue under the elevated 4 train – a densely populated area that contains as many people as the City of Rochester.  The Bronx has seen a five percent population growth rate since the 2010 Census, the most dramatic among the five boroughs.  For years, the communities along Jerome Avenue have asked for a holistic re-envisioning of the Avenue, looking to turn the many underutilized spaces into a vibrant mixed-use corridor that better serves the surrounding neighborhoods – while also producing significant amounts of affordable housing.

In preparing all of these re-zonings, City Planning and our sister City agencies engage closely and repeatedly with community residents and their elected officials, in a comprehensive planning process that takes years.  While it is the rezoning proposal - - and the seven month formal land use review process - -  that attract the most attention, it is the years of patient discussions with neighborhood residents that help us identify and meet the needs of longtime residents - - as well as those who are seeking homes in the neighborhood. 

Listening to the community lies at the core of how the Department of City Planning operates.  But, the reality is that a community rarely speaks with just one voice – making our job very interesting. But, having said that, there are two recurrent themes that transcend neighborhood boundaries:  affordable housing and good paying jobs.

And that leads me to the second topic that I would like to touch on: economic opportunity.

Addressing inequality requires us to go beyond the production of affordable housing to also foster economic opportunity. The City has been highly successful in capturing job growth at historic levels.  And the continued diversification of our economy -- financial services, technology, the arts, tourism, media and entertainment, fashion, and life science -- makes us more resilient, and better able to withstand jolts to an individual sector.  Mayor de Blasio’s recently-announced New York Works plan highlights a spectrum of initiatives to support the creation of good jobs in industries, both well-established and emerging.

We are now facing the challenge of having to create more space, so that we can meet the needs of business growth, without decreasing the supply of quality space in key industrial areas.

In the last 20 years, how we work has changed dramatically, and it continues to evolve. Traditional 9 to 5 jobs, working at the same location five days a week, are no longer standard. The relationships among work, home, shopping and entertainment continue to evolve.  And this shift gives us the opportunity to create vibrant, live-work neighborhoods, with a wide array of uses, activities and building types that meet the needs of today’s residents, workers and businesses. At City Planning, we are just as focused on this frontier as we are on affordable housing.

As Crain’s is a business publication, headquartered in East Midtown, I would be remiss if I did not mention the important work that we are advancing here.  The Manhattan Central Business District is the engine of our City’s – and our region’s - economy.  East Midtown alone generates a quarter-million jobs and 10% of the City’s property tax revenue.  With the adoption of the Greater East Midtown rezoning this past summer, we are assuring that East Midtown remains one of the globe's premier business districts - one that works for the residents, employees and tourists who fill its bustling streets every day.

In addition to strengthening Manhattan’s core, we need to find ways to bring jobs closer to where New Yorkers live, in every borough.  This will not only shorten commutes and improve economic opportunities for neighborhood residents, it will also increase our City’s total capacity for economic growth.  And, by providing employment opportunities within walking or bicycling distance of where New Yorkers live, we can connect more employees to their work places within the constraints of our existing transit system. So, join me in hopping across the East River to Queens and then Brooklyn.

In Long Island City (LIC) and Downtown Brooklyn, office development proceeded only fitfully in previous decades.  Today, these neighborhoods are teeming with a large resident population, great transit access, and a range of commercial and cultural activities - and both neighborhoods are primed for the creation of office space. 

In Long Island City, we have seen an extraordinary boom of housing construction over the last 15 years.  But, commercial development has, until recently, lagged behind.  To try to remedy this, the Department of City Planning kicked off its LIC Core study earlier this year, with the goal of fostering a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.  We want to introduce new office space, retail opportunities and services.  Not far from the LIC Core, we anticipate a number of projects on the LIC Waterfront designed to bring a mixture of light industrial and creative production businesses, as well as housing at a variety of income levels, to this unique neighborhood that is just a stone’s throw – or a short ferry ride - away from the new Cornell Tech campus.

Another live-work hub that still has room to blossom is Downtown Brooklyn.  The last decade brought tremendous housing, retail and cultural facilities growth.  And we are pleased to now be seeing significant investments in commercial and office construction too.  Looking forward, I am confident that this transit-oriented hub will become even livelier and more livable. 

Another Brooklyn neighborhood where we are focusing on jobs is Gowanus.  We are now at the phase of listening to and working with residents, community groups, small business owners and elected officials.  Many have expressed a desire to preserve and expand the unique “Gowanus mix” of industrial and other businesses, while creating opportunities for new affordable housing and cultural institutions, while remediating decades of pollution. One has to marvel at a City that looks at a Federal Superfund site and sees a bright future!

Yet another industrial area in Brooklyn where we are deeply engaged in planning is the North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone (IBZ), nestled between Bushwick, Williamsburg and Greenpoint.  We are studying 900 acres that are home to 19,000 jobs, 75% of which are industrial. The IBZ’s location puts it in the center of a triangle of businesses from Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan, so it has great potential.  But the IBZ also faces significant challenges.  It contains many disparate uses, ranging from heavy industry to retail store fronts to even some residences - a mix that predates zoning as we know it. There are also infrastructure and transportation challenges, not to mention environmental and resiliency challenges arising from the IBZ’s location along Newtown Creek. Finally, most of the IBZ’s buildings were constructed in the 20th century and were suited to the businesses of that time.  Today’s 21st century business landscape is far different, and requires different building types.

This IBZ is critical, not just for well-paying jobs at cutting-edge companies, but also for less glamorous functions that keep our City humming:  construction yards, trucking, wholesale food distribution, cement plants. We are aiming to issue a North Brooklyn Industrial and Innovation Plan in the coming months, which will identify strategies to promote job growth and economic activity, and to ensure that our employment centers include both places for denser office growth and places where more horizontal, truck-intensive industry can thrive.

Moving North to the Bronx, we know that access to and ease of transportation is key to keeping the City’s job market thriving. So, we are especially pleased that four new Metro-North stations will connect the Bronx to Penn Station. We must capitalize on this investment to cultivate jobs in a way that works for Bronx communities. By offering quick and easy access both to Midtown and to counties to the north, these new stations will support the Bronx’s already burgeoning healthcare and life science sectors, giving Bronxites further job opportunities in their borough, in the rest of the City, and even in Westchester and Connecticut.

And speaking of places outside the City, I would like to make a few observations about a topic that extends beyond the five boroughs:  regionalism. Although the City is the region’s primary economic driver, we know that when our neighbors thrive, we also do better. Today, one in four workers in the City lives outside of the City; and almost a half million City residents are employed elsewhere in the region - and both of those populations are increasing. So, for the first time in a generation, City Planning has created a forum with the planning leadership of other large cities and counties in our region, to share knowledge, and to facilitate collective action and advocacy.

One area where regional cooperation is just plain common sense:  advocating for a fully-funded 2020 Census.

The Census is critically important to our region’s future since, if we do not have a complete and accurate count, we risk losing Congressional representation, as well as the per capita funding that we receive from Washington for a host of societal priorities.   

So, we are passionate about getting counted right. We are working more closely with New York State and other cities and counties in the tri-state region to share our expertise and experience on the Census - because we also care that our neighbors in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut get counted too. But while collaborating on the Census is straight forward, other regional initiatives are more complicated, for example, Trans-Hudson transportation planning.

Building a new Hudson River rail tunnel that will prevent a collapse of the Northeast Corridor has rightly been called the most important infrastructure project in the country. But, that multi-billion dollar project will not add a single new seat to an already over-capacity Penn Station. We need the full Gateway Program to be funded to create the capacity improvements that will allow for more rail travel into Manhattan. Moreover, half of New Jersey commuters rely on buses, because they live in areas that are not currently well served by trains.

As many of you know, the Port Authority has been advancing plans to build a new bus terminal, to meet the skyrocketing demand for more buses from growing commuter areas of Jersey.

Our region’s viability, the economics of Hudson Yards and the quality of life in the Clinton neighborhood, all depend on a thoughtful and sensitive approach to the myriad transportation, economic, environmental, land use and urban design implications of this essential project.

Too much discourse around the Bus Terminal has pitted New Yorkers against New Jerseyites. We reject the premise that we are on opposite sides of a binary debate. We all win if we can find a way to increase our connectivity, while adding value to our neighborhoods. This means working with our neighbors across the Hudson River – to evaluate not just a replacement terminal, but a full range of short, medium and long-term transportation options that can facilitate more, quicker and cleaner trans-Hudson commuting.

I will end by talking about one more challenge that calls on us to band together.

It is nearly five years since Hurricane Sandy devastated our shores. That may seem a long time ago, but the damage wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria reminds us that resiliency must be at the forefront of planning in coastal cities like New York.

We have taken to heart many of the lessons of Sandy:  hardening infrastructure, protecting shorelines, and tweaking regulations so that buildings and neighborhoods will be built to better withstand flooding and storms.

City Planning has also introduced area-specific zoning changes in some of our most vulnerable areas in Staten Island, with strong support from neighborhood residents.

But resiliency is not just about facing storms.  Resiliency is also about character. It is as much about the attitudes of our residents, as it is about the physical city.

The people of our City are resilient. Long time neighborhood residents are the back bone of our diverse communities. New immigrants re-energize our neighborhoods, culturally and economically.   Entrepreneurs find creative ways to capitalize on new trends, while providing needed goods and services. And, when it comes down to it, residents of “the city that never sleeps” somehow manage to find a few more hours in their day to help others in need, such as the outpouring of support for our fellow U.S. citizens in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. We weather the bad times and plan in good times - to elevate not just buildings, but people, and to create an equitable and resilient future for our City. I feel so privileged to be part of this collaboration.

Thank you, and I very much look forward to your questions.