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04 | The Election’s Over. So Let’s Talk Issues. A tour of the policy questions that campaign 2010 didn’t answer By City Limits staff 10 | Their Day in Court A graphic look at New Yorkers’ crimes


Vol. 34, No. 6 January 2011
City Limits is published bi-monthly by the Community Service Society of New York (CSS). City Limits 105 East 22nd Street, Suite #901 New York, NY 10010 212-614-5397 U.S. subscriptions to City Limits are $25 for one year for the print edition, $15 for one year for the digital edition and $30 for both the print and digital editions. Digital and print single issues are $4.95. To subscribe or renew visit or contact toll free 1-877-231-7065 or write to City Limits, P.O. Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834-9253 Contribute at or contact 212-614-5398 for development opportunities. Sponsorship and Advertising Visit to download our media kit and rate card or call 212-614-5398. Submit job listings, calendar events, marketplace listings and announcements at Periodical Postage Paid New York, NY 10001 City Limits (USPS 498-890) (ISSN: 0199-0330) If the Postal Service alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within a year. Postmaster: Please send address changes to: P.O. Box 3000, Denville, NJ 07834-9253 Copyright © 2010. All rights reserved. No portion or portions of this journal may be reprinted without the express permission of the publishers. Statement of ownership, management and circulation, required by 39 U.S.C. 3685: Title of Publication: City Limits. Publication Number: 498890. Date of filing: December 2010. Issue Frequency: Bi-Monthly; January, March, May, July, September, November. Number of Issues Published Annually: 6. Annual subscription price: $25 individual. Complete Mailing Address of Publication: 105 East 22nd Street, Suite #901, New York, NY 10010. Complete Mailing Address of Publisher: City Limits, 105 East 22nd Street, Suite #901, New York, NY 10010. Director: Mark Anthony Thomas. Editor: Jarrett Murphy. Deputy Editor: Kelly Virella. Owner: City Limits 105 East 22nd Street, Suite #901, New York, NY 10010. Known bondholders, mortgages or securities: None. The purpose, function and nonprofit status of this organization and the exempt status for federal income tax purposes have not changed during preceding 12 months. Extent and nature of circulation: Total average number of copies: 5000 (4000). Paid/requested circulation: 1250 (1100). Paid Distribution Outside the Mails: 2550 (1700). Paid distribution by other classes of mail through the USPS: 0(0). Total paid and/or requested circulation: 3800(2800). Free distribution by mail: 1000(1100). Free distribution outside the mail: 0(0). Total free distribution: 1000(1100). Total distribution: 4800(3900). Copies not distributed: 200(100). Total: 5000(4000). Percent paid and/or requested circulation: 76%(70%).

The UnPlanned City
Who will make the new New York?



By Jarrett Murphy Photographs by Adi Talwar

14 | Waking the Dead Lomex. Robert Moses. Westway. Jane Jacobs. What New York’s planning past tells us about its future. 23 | On The Move The city’s transit system is better than you think. It’s also under more strain than politicians admit. 33 | Five Boroughs. One City. No Plan. Is the city’s failure to plan a plan for failure? 44 | Whose Dreams Will Decide? The push for neighborhoods to have more than a voice

18 | The Ones That Got Away Big-ticket ideas that haven’t come to be … at least not yet 27 | Flight Plan Dreams of a one-seat ride 30 | Going Somewhere Transit improvements en route 39 | Building Tension Land use controversy under Mayor Bloomberg 43 | Could Be A Contender A plan for the waterfront? 50 | Three Wishes New York’s regional plans 53 | Unfair Share? Partial victory at the polls


58 | Homework How to get involved with your community board 62 | ExtraExtra Events, Jobs, Announcements and Offers 64 | LookBack More Than Jibber-Jabber

ON THE COVER: Souvenirs from New York’s planning past and present: the 7-train, whose route is now being expanded; the MetroCard, which boosted transit ridership; Nets gear, on sale someday at Atlantic Yards ; a Columbia pennant, soon to be waved at a controversial West Harlem development; a baseball commemorating the Yankees’ first Series win in their new stadium, erected over community opposition; and the striped bass that helped thwart plans for Westway. Photo by Adi Talwar.


City Limits staff
Director Mark Anthony Thomas Editor-in-Chief Jarrett Murphy Deputy Editor Kelly Virella

Aging In Place
For many people, New York City is just a place to live.  For others, it is our passion and we take ownership of our boroughs, neighborhoods, and blocks, becoming stakeholders in defining and redefining their identity and success. In 1976, as New York crumbled in the wrath of the city’s fiscal crisis, City Limits was established as an information news service for those with a passion for the city. As we celebrate our 35th anniversary in the new year, we continue to use the power of investigative journalism and in-depth analysis to uncover the aspects of public policy that help you understand the people, the issues, and the civic pulse that defines our city and its neighborhoods. As New York City has survived epidemics, bankruptcies, recessions, and terrorism to remain the world’s greatest metropolis, City Limits has chronicled that story and the urban agenda like no other non-profit media organization. Our investigations are written with you in mind, a citizen conserved about how we collectively make a more equitable and progressive city. By extension, our work serves activists, policy leaders, and decision makers and we’ve seen where we’ve inspired coverage in mainstream publications, with hundreds of journalists from local, national, and international press following our content. We do this with a small team of professionals, contributors, and volunteers, and support from readers like you and organizations that believe in our mission. While our reporting has won numerous awards and was named one of the city’s most trusted sources on the economy, we are most proud of the fact that City Limits is one of the few places in New York City where journalists publish in-depth stories on civic issues. While we’ve worked with large institutions to strengthen our reporting and coverage of important issues – including the Regional Planning Association and it’s archival history for this issue – we are most proud of the advocates and civic leaders that depend on to bring attention to the issues that are underreported by mainstream news outlets. We take our mission seriously and spent 2010 building a bigger, better, and more impactful City Limits – but we need your help. The Community Service Society of New York, our new parent organization, has given us support to expand our efforts, but we need your help to sustain our cause. In 2010, the redesigned City Limits Magazine expanded on newsstands and more than doubled our online audience— putting us atop of our civic non-profit news peers in the city. We’ve recently been awarded grants from the Fund for Investigative Journalism and Decamp Foundation and joined the Investigative News Network. We established a direct engagement with the White House to help them increase their online audience outreach efforts and advised visitors from the State Department’s International Visitors program on media’s role in ensuring democracy. City Limits is well-positioned to carry the mantle of public interest journalism for the nation’s largest city. Our sole dedication to investigation, our decades of experience and credibility, as well as our unique hybrid of long-form print and web-based, multimedia journalism make us well equipped for this task. We’ve outlined goals over the next year to continue to deliver hard-hitting and impactful investigative journalism, increase earned revenue through business development, expand reach to and engagement with our target readership, and actively secure foundation investment toward model implementation. We have identified critical next steps toward building our vision of a sustainable City Limits and assembled a small team of professionals, contributors, and volunteers committed to using media and community information to stimulate social change and champion economic justice. As we build the capacity of our organization to serve more of the city’s underrepresented voices and provide the necessary community information needs that create a stronger and more social just society, we welcome support from those who share our goals and vision.


The ambulance bay at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. A special report at found that since the April 2010 closure of St. Vincent’s hospital, other downtown medical centers have seen increases in ambulance runs and emergency visits, which in some cases have strained available staff. Photo by Marc Fader

“The successes of small business in this town are a function of the incredible grit of minority entrepreneurs who are really pursuing the American Dream against all odds. They succeed in spite of the NYC environment, and not because of it.”

Contributing Editors Neil deMause, Marc Fader, Jake Mooney, Dianna Scholl, Helen Zelon Advertising Director Allison Tellis-Hinds Marketing Assistant Nekoro Gomes Creative Direction Smyrski Creative Proofreader Danial Adkison Interns Becca Fink, Barry Shifrin





The aftermath of a historic Republican surge might seem a strange time for immigration advocates to be pushing for passage of the DREAM Act, which would allow young people in college or the military to obtain conditional permanent citizenship. The hope: that lame-duck Democrats will take a stand. After more than eight years at the helm of the city’s schools, Joel Klein is stepping down. CityLimits. org offers a compendium of our coverage of his tenure, as well as a look at what challenges will confront the new boss at Tweed— from the end of the local diploma, to contract issues with teachers, to the unfinished question of whether to close failing schools.

Mark Edmiston, chair Adam Blumenthal Andy Breslau Michael Connor David R. Jones Andy Reicher Michele Webb

Director Mark Anthony Thomas


The city says it wants year-round amusements at the redeveloped Coney Island. But can ride owners and game operators afford the kind of rent that a 12-month spot at the boardwalk would cost?

The borough behind the brand


In our next issue


The Note

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


first foCUs
the Election’s over. so Let’s talk issues.
A look at the policy questions that campaign 2010 didn’t answer
hen the history of substantive American political campaigns is written, don’t bother looking for New York’s 2010 gubernatorial contest in the index. Rarely has a state with so many thorny policy problems endured a campaign that dealt with so few of them. Jimmy McMillan’s ‘stache and Andrew Cuomo’s cojones (or lack thereof) got the ink that should have gone to the state’s pension system and jobs crisis. And Carl Paladino had as many hallway shouting matches with Fred Dicker as he did debates with his Democratic opponent. The circus atmosphere was partly a product of the fact that everyone knew who was going to win, but now that the votes are counted is when the real suspense begins. Cuomo’s mantra during the “race” was that he wanted to build a mandate for the kind of sweeping change the Empire State desperately needs. Beginning on Inauguration Day, New Yorkers find out whether he can deliver. Check that: whether and what he can deliver. Shielded by his huge lead in the polls and his main opponent’s stupefying bluster, Cuomo faced few questions and gave few answers on what specific policies


he plans to pursue. Before the balloting, City Limits dispatched its reporters to find out what Cuomo was and wasn’t saying on key issues. Here’s a preview of what to expect when Cuomo takes the oath:

A house in southeastern Queens, epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in the five boroughs. Photo by Colin Lenton.


When a former federal housing secretary runs for governor in the midst of a housing-triggered recession in the state where public housing began, does it mean new ideas are coming? Yes and no.

There are plenty of worthwhile initiatives in the housing plans candidate Cuomo articulated, advocates say. But there were few bold ideas. And what is left out is as revealing as what is included. In his campaign materials, Cuomo said he’d push to make the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program—the bedrock of financing the development of affordable housing—more attractive to investors and would take a leadership role among governors to push Congress to fund the fund the National Housing Trust Fund, which Congress created in 2008 but never funded. If the Obama administration gets the amount it wants in the fund, New York State would see $111 million for affordable housing. Foreclosures continue to roil the state, eviscerating gains in homeownership in black and Latino communities and draining the state’s tax base. From February, when the state banking department began keeping track, to October, 134,000 New York State homeowners received notice that their banks are beginning foreclosure proceedings. Cuomo said one way he would minimize foreclosures as governor would be by scrutinizing servicers to prevent faulty ones. In response to the number of vacant and abandoned

Candidate Cuomo unveiled his “urban agenda” at City Hall 10 days before the election. But like the campaign in general, the agenda avoided specifics. Photo by Marc Fader

properties that the foreclosure crisis has left in many communities, Cuomo said he’d establish land trusts—innovative, publicly controlled legal entities that can acquire and maintain large areas of vacant land and manage their return to productive use. Advocates who have been beating the drum about the problem of overleveraged apartment buildings—properties bought for exorbitant sums during the real estate boom by owners who thought they could jack up rents on low- and moderate-income tenants—praised Cuomo for including plans to use the power of the state mortgage insurance fund and bank-regulating entities to push lenders to write down the debt on such buildings. But like nearly all the proposals in his “urban agenda,” the role Cuomo envisioned for the state was primarily advisory or involved the application of influence, not the exercise of direct state government authority. In some areas—like federal tax credits—Albany has no direct power. But in others, Cuomo was simply silent about using authority the state might have: His blueprint, for

instance, said nothing about MitchellLama units being removed from the system or about protecting rent-stabilized tenants from harassment. Rent regulation laws are up for renewal next year, and as ever, there will be a pitched fight between real estate interests and tenants over weakening or strengthening dozens of provisions. Tenant activists have been trying to repeal vacancy decontrol, the provision by which regulated apartments become market rate if they are vacated and the legal regulated rent reaches $2,000 a month, since it was reinstated in 1997. Cuomo has revealed nothing about how he’ll navigate those battles. Cuomo’s plan was also mum on financing for public housing. The administration of Gov. George Pataki ceased all funding for operational expenses, and local housing authorities have been struggling to maintain their stock since. —Eileen Markey


Cuomo’s energy and power agenda was more than 23,000 words long, including footnotes, stretched out over 150 pages.

But two words that never appeared in the document, together or separately, were hydraulic and fracturing. And while the document did discuss natural-gas drilling in other terms, the omission of hydraulic fracturing by name—hydrofracking for short—was notable. The state’s next governor will preside over administrative decisions that could decide whether, how and where that drilling is allowed to take place, and for Cuomo, the debate is particularly sensitive: Power companies with a stake in natural gas were among his campaign’s largest contributors. Proponents say drilling into the shale, which often involves pumping water and chemicals into cracks in the rock deep underground, could yield enough natural gas to change New York’s power landscape profoundly, providing plentiful fuel for power plants across the state and country while replacing coal, a dirtier resource, in rehabilitated older plants. Critics maintain that it threatens to poison groundwater wherever it occurs, including in the vast watershed that supplies drinking water to New York City. In his campaign literature and statements,


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City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6


Amtrak passenger efficiency based on data from the US Department of Energy Transportation Yearbook – 2009. Information on Amtrak’s environmental impacts and initiatives can be found at Amtrak, Acela, Acela Express and Enjoy the journey are registered service marks of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation.”

A power plant looms on the edge of Astoria. Cuomo’s energy policy calls for the closure of Indian Point but says little about how to replace the nuclear plant’s generating capacity. Photo by Marc Fader.


Cuomo indicated that he is seeking to maintain a tenuous balance—to encourage expanded natural-gas use, as he does in his power agenda, while ensuring that the gas is obtained in a way that does no harm to the environment. “Because so much of our supply of energy is based on natural gas fuel, ensuring a supply of low-cost natural gas is important to New York,” his position paper maintained, adding that drilling could help the upstate economy and reduce the need for more environmentally destructive resources, like coal. Still, it added, “New York State must ensure that, if and when the shale’s natural gas is obtained, it does not come at the expense of human health or have adverse environmental impacts.” New York’s energy market was deregulated in 1996, and consumers now choose among dozens of companies to provide their electricity. With power use expected to escalate over the coming decades, particularly in crowded downstate areas, companies are vying to build new plants and power lines and to develop new fuel sources—all endeavors that require state and local government approval. Cuomo’s energy plan made it clear that he likes wind and suggested that he

opposes coal. He has also long said that he favors closing the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County when its license expires in 2013. But Cuomo has made no specific proposal to replace the power Indian Point generates. Cuomo’s four years as attorney general offer precious few clues about his preferences on energy. In 2007 he investigated five power companies seeking to build coal plants in other states, questioning whether their investors had been fully advised of the financial costs that their emissions could create. Beginning in 2008, he began cracking down on conflicts of interest involving local officials and wind power companies. And in 2009 he charged that Fortuna, a natural-gas-drilling company, had misled upstate landowners into signing unfavorable leases. The company settled and agreed to pay $192,000 to the state. —Jake Mooney

said his education policy “book,” which would detail education reform policies in specific, was forthcoming. Voters went to the polls with no such report having been issued by the campaign. In his campaign policy book The New New York Agenda, Cuomo merely glanced at education reform—a startling gloss, given the issue’s prominence in Washington and Albany and at City Hall. It’s doubly startling given New York State’s second-round Race to the Top win and the political and financial support Cuomo drew from prominent pro-school-choice or pro-charter organizations like Democrats for Education Reform. Set against



Two weeks before Election Day, aides to Cuomo

While Cuomo’s commitment to equitable funding is welcome, advocates say, it’s not clear where the moneys will be found to address the disparities.

your more energy-efficient ride is here.
Maybe you’re choosing Acela Express® because you’ve heard it’s more energy-efficient than flying or driving. * Or maybe you just like a hassle-free ride with a convenient downtown arrival. Either way, it’s nice going, isn’t it?

6 The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store First Focus City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6

Servant heart. BuSineSS mind.
permitted to languish unmet. There is also uncertainty about how Cuomo will cap local property taxes while also improving school achievement. —Helen Zelon


The governor-elect has said he will attack the state’s unemployment by reforming economic development programs. Above, clients at STRIVE, a job training program in East Harlem. Photo by Colin Lenton.

the context of his first run for governor in 2002, when Cuomo championed universal preschool and literacy as vital education efforts, the candidate seemed to have shifted his focus away from the classroom to matters economic. Schools in New York are richly funded, Cuomo said during the campaign, but earn low marks for achievement. “We are No. 1 in spending in the nation and No. 40 in terms of performance,” he stated in the seven-candidate debate held on Oct. 18 at Hofstra University. To cure the funding excess, he proposes economies of consolidation and management and alleviating unspecified “unfunded mandates.” Cuomo additionally said that competition, school choice and charter schools should spur school improvements, in line with New York’s Race to the Top win. But the recent rise in the state’s cap on the number of charter schools notwithstanding, the vast majority of students in the state continue to attend traditional public schools, and on those institutions, Cuomo articulated few specific policy goals. He did, however, take up a theme made popular by outgoing city schools chancellor Joel Klein, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Newt Gingrich, among others. Cuomo asserted at the Hofstra debate that “inequity in education is probably the civil rights issue of our time.” “The way we fund education, through the property tax system, by definition is going to be unfair. And it is.” Cuomo said. Because richer districts have more

valuable property to tax, they can afford to spend more on their schools and their students than poorer district can. Starting in 1993, the Campaign for Fiscal Equity pressed the state and thengovernor Pataki for sufficient funding to assure that all of New York’s public schools meet their legal (and moral) obligation to provide a sound, basic public education through high school, despite each district’s economic status. The resulting legislation, the 2007 State Education Budget and Reform Act, was designed to infuse more than $7 billion into state public schools over four years, of which $3.2 billion would be directed toward New York City’s neediest students, along with an additional $2.35 billion in foundation aid. But budget stasis in 2009-10 froze CFE dollars two years into the plan and essentially extended the phase-in of funding from four years to seven, with payments anticipated to resume in the 2011-12 school year. Additionally, class-size reduction planning integral to the CFE lawsuit has been essentially abandoned by the NYC Department of Education, with the approval of state education commissioner David Steiner, after the DOE cited economic constraints. It is not clear if or when class-size reduction efforts will resume. While Cuomo’s commitment to equitable funding is welcome, advocates say, it’s not clear where the moneys will be found to fulfill CFE’s legally mandated obligations, which the state has essentially

If the seven-member comedy act that was the Oct. 18 gubernatorial debate can be said to have had a serious message, it was most likely this: It’s the jobs, stupid. Amid the prostitution jokes, one of the most pressing questions of the night was how New York’s next governor plans to address an economic future that looks, by anyone’s reckoning, bleak. Cuomo’s plan is described in the 224page Agenda which features a 33-page chapter devoted to economic development. Among Cuomo’s promised reforms: A $300 million Jobs Now tax credit that would refund payroll taxes for any new employees hired by New York businesses and kept on the job for at least one year. Revamping the Empire Zone economic development program to focus on key growth industries. Subsidy recipients would be required to indicate how many jobs they promise to create. Those who achieve their goals would get subsidies equal to 80 percent of state income tax withholding for the new jobs; companies creating less would be subject to a clawback, forcing them to repay the subsidies on a prorated basis. Reforming the state’s industrial development agencies, by instituting regional economic councils that would oversee development strategy and prevent local agencies from using state money to poach jobs from elsewhere in New York. Capping local property taxes and otherwise reducing regulatory and tax obstacles for companies wishing to move to New York. Some of Cuomo’s proposals should please critics of the current subsidy system—the need for clawbacks, for example, has been a common refrain among development experts who say that too often, companies collect taxpayer dollars and then fail to supply the promised jobs. And two of his proposals—Jobs Now

Some worry that Cuomo’s close ties to many advocates and beneficiaries of traditional economic development deals will present a roadblock to significant change.
and his revamped Empire Zones—would encourage companies to create higher-wage jobs by tying the size of company’s subsidy to its level of employee pay. Still, numerous questions remain as to how effective Cuomo’s proposals would be. For example, clawbacks may seem foolproof: If a company doesn’t meet its job goals, the state gets its money back. Yet the government must first ask for that money back—an unappealing option to public officials who don’t want to appear “unfriendly” to business. According to documents compiled by the subsidy watch group Good Jobs New York, Pfizer received $46 million from the New York City IDA in 2003 in exchange for creating 1,000 jobs. When the company instead announced layoffs, the IDA declined to implement the deal’s clawback provision, merely vowing to reject any Pfizer request for additional subsidies. Some observers are also concerned that Cuomo’s close ties to many advocates and beneficiaries of traditional economic development deals will present a roadblock to significant change. Cuomo’s Upstate Business Advisory Council included such business leaders as Jordan Levy, who as chair of the Erie County Harbor Development Corp. opposed attaching a living-wage requirement to subsidies for a proposed Bass Pro superstore in Buffalo. Cuomo has also received significant campaign contributions from major recipients of development aid in New York State. Jerry and Robert Speyer, who have given more than $100,000 to the Cuomo gubernatorial campaign, are principals of Tishman Speyer, the megabuilder that partnered with the NYC IDA for the new Yankee Stadium project. —By Neil deMause

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The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store First Focus

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6
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Their Day in Court
New Yorkers and their crimes
For the past 20 years, the city’s Open container 185 crime rate has carDisorderly conduct 29 ried great political Littering 27 weight. Recent Marijuana use or sale 20 revelations about DUI, reckless driving 17 suppressed crime Trespassing 13 reports raise quesCrimes in parks 13 tions about how valid the rate is. Biking on sidewalk 12 The fact is, Public urination 11 accurate or not, the Drugs (Non-marijuana) 10 official rate covers Turnstile jumping 7 only the seven Unlicensed taxi 6 “index” crimes that Corporate tax evasion 5 are tracked nationLarceny 5 ally by the FBI: Noise 4 murder, rape, felony Unlicensed/unleashed dogs 4 assault, robbery, Weapons 4 burglary, grand larResisting arrest 3 ceny and auto theft. While these are the Spitting 3 most serious crimes, Loitering 3 and are thought Obsructing fire dept. 2 to reflect broader Unlicensed vendor 2 trends in crime in Harrasment / Endangerment 3 the city, they Unlicensed air rifle 1 are a minority of the Possession of forged 1 offenses for which documents New Yorkers are arrested. Of the 96,000 felony arrests in New York City in 2009, drug crimes—which are not tracked by the crime index—totaled 26,000. And there were more than 245,000 misdemeanor arrests in ‘09 that also aren’t covered by the citywide crime statistics. In addition, the city in its most recent fiscal year handed out more than half-a-million summonses for minor crimes and violations. For a fuller picture of what laws New Yorkers are breaking, City Limits gathered information on every defendant scheduled to appear in one borough’s criminal court on one day—in the Bronx on Monday, Nov. 15, 2010. The graphics on these pages reflect the composition of that days caseload.

Source: WebCrims. Fourteen crimes omitted because of incomplete data. Arraignments of people arrested just before their court appearance weren’t included. In cases where a person faced multiple charges, the designated top charge was used. Both arrests and summonses are included.


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The UnPlanned City
By Jarrett Murphy / Photographs by Adi Talwar
12 The UnPlanned City City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6

Who will make the new New York?
THE ROAD NOT TAkEN: A model of the Lower Manhattan Expressway, one of Robert Moses’s defeated dreams, at the Cooper Union in November.


Waking The Dead
Lomex. Robert Moses. Westway. Jane Jacobs. What New York’s planning past tells us about its future.
hrough a canyon of thin skyscapers the road runs from the Williamsburg Bridge and into the great gray city. White cubes are stacked to form apartment buildings to the right and left—a wall of high-rises that decrease in height as the road descends from the bridge down into a subterranean vein, a highway sliced across the island of Manhattan. Above this road, some of the residential cubes are stacked in giant triangular arches. From the left, traffic from the Manhattan Bridge is merging in. On the right is the Hub, a locus of commerce and transit where subways, buses and a “people mover” monorail system interconnect. Nearby is a swirling structure that combines a school and parking garage. Ahead is the Holland Tunnel and the interstate system that runs clear across the American continent. It’s a dream come true. But only at 1:384 scale. This fall the Lower Manhattan Expressway, an idea born in the 1930s and nurtured by Robert Moses before it was killed in the late 1960s, lived again in a gallery at the Cooper Union. A team of architects, faculty and students recreated a model that visionary architect Paul Rudolph built in the early 1970s for what appears to have been a brief, doomed reconsideration of the Lomex proposal. Led by architect Ed Rawlings, the re-creators had only a few drawings and photographs to work from to resurrect Rudolph’s vision of a futuristic urban viaduct lined by ultramodern residential towers composed of dozens of uniform residential cubes and linked by swirling ramps to centers of commerce and mass transit. This was not just a new road going through an old city. This was a new city rising with the road.


NEW PEDESTRIAN ACCESS to key crossroads like Times Square is a Bloomberg-era twist on an old idea. Mayor Lindsay wanted to close Madison Avenue in Midtown to cars, but the idea was defeated.


The UnPlanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


No one is sure why the model, funded by the Ford Foundation, was created in the first place—especially in an era when big planning concepts and automotive-centric design were very much out of style. No one knows what happened to Rudolph’s original design. No one has been able to find the short movie that was made about the project, the script for which at one point declares: “The beauty of automobiles in motion stirs us all.” And no one can say what the city would have been like if city leaders hadn’t defunded Lomex in 1969, although people have their hunches. “Most of the time, the visceral reaction is, ‘Oh my God, I’m so glad they didn’t build that,” says Steven Hilyer, director of the archive at the Cooper Union’s Chanin School of Architecture.

For some, that’s just what New York is—“nothing more than a provisional city—a city which will be replaced by another city,” as famed urban designer Le Corbusier put it.
But the problem that Lomex was trying to “solve” remains. The “automobile in motion” might not be beautiful to New Yorkers, but the car is still very present in 2010 New York. Sure, the expressways don’t cut through Manhattan like Lomex would have. But they do have the borough surrounded—the BQE, the Grand Central, the Deegan, the Cross-Bronx, and even the New Jersey Turnpike on the west. “I keep looking at it and I don’t think that it’s dystopian,” says Brett Littman, head of the Design Center, which organized the exhibit. Yes, it suggests a city totally alien to the one we know. But for some, that’s just what New York is—”nothing more than a provisional city—a city which will be replaced by another city,” as famed urban designer Le Corbusier put it. “In some ways, that’s the life of the city,” says Littman: change. “We’re not Prague. We’re not China either, but we’re not Prague.” Before the project was killed, a short set of support beams for Lomex was built at the Manhattan end of the Manhattan Bridge. The beams are proof that, for all that has changed in New York in the past 50 years, one question runs constant: Is New York as good as the city it might have been?

Right now, more so than at probably any other time in its past, New York City is thinking about its future. City Hall is drafting an update to PlaNYC 2030. The City Planning Department is finalizing Vision 2020, a plan for the city’s waterfront. The Economic Development Corp. is pursuing “2020” plans to enhance the future prospects of the city’s media and fashion industries. In October, the Municipal Arts Society gathered industrialists, pro-cycling activists, developers, parks advocates, community organizers, architects and bureaucrats into one room for a two-day huddle on how to make a greener, more successful New York. The Regional Plan Association, creator in the past century of three landmark plans for New York’s growth, is considering launching a new one. Meanwhile, the just-completed election is likely to usher in a new world of fiscal reality, and the recently-finished Census will give New York its first look in a decade at what kind of city it is becoming. Climate change is a reality. Global competition is inescapable. An aging infrastructure needs updating if the region is to keep up. So the need to plan is obvious. And the desire to plan is manifest. Unfortunately, the way New York City plans is largely broken. Unlike many major American cities, New York has never completed a comprehensive plan for its future. Instead, it has passed zoning laws to try to constrain the private market. The last attempt to deal with zoning in a comprehensive way? Fifty years ago. Under Mayor Bloomberg, more than 100 neighborhoods have been rezoned, but it is not clear that those changes follow a logical, equitable or comprehensive plan for how to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of new residents the New York of 2030 will have to house, employ and move. In the 1950s, New York City set up community planning boards to give neighborhoods a voice in their future. But these boards have never received the funding they need. In the late 1980s, the boards were given the power to craft proactive plans for their development, but the process is so daunting that only a handful of boards have actually gone through it, and some did so only to see many of their wishes overruled by the city. When a developer or the city wants to change the way land is used in New York, there is an approval process that is supposed to give those community boards a voice. But the voice is often disregarded. At the same time, developers complain about a process that is too slow, too unpredictable, too open to manipulation by interest groups with little legitimate connection to the communities they purport to represent. Communities gripe about a system that gives them little chance to reshape deals that will alter the city they know. Environmental review is less about preventing harm and more about avoiding litigation— sometimes unsuccessfully. Citywide issues, like living wages and affordable housing, are addressed one development at a time. Efforts to spread burdensome facilities like waste transfer stations equally are handled on an agency by agency basis.

ARCHITECT ED RAWLINGS, with the Cooper Union’s Stephen Hilyer, the Drawing Center’s Brett Littman and a team of designers recreated a model of LOMEX that pioneering designer Paul Rudolph built in the 1970s. Rudolph’s original model was lost, so this year’s room-sized re-creation relied on maps, drawings and a few photos. The Rudolph model’s disappearance is one mystery. Another is why, working in the years after the city had killed funding for LOMEX, Rudolph completed the project. Rudolph’s design combines the expressway—a highway slicing across Manhattan to connect the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges with the Holland Tunnel—with ultramodern housing, a futuristic transit hub (the round structure in the center of the photo at left) and a “people mover” transit system.


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City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


the ones that Got away
Big-ticket projects that haven’t come to be … at least not yet
Lomex Westway West Side Stadium
First conceived in the 1930s and pushed by Robert Moses two decades later, the Lower Manhattan Expressway, or Lomex, was a highway linking the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges to the Holland Tunnel. Building it would have meant tearing up much of the area around Broome and Delancey Streets. Amid opposition by Jane Jacobs and neighborhood residents, the city killed the project in 1969. Lomex was one of three cross-Manhattan highways envisioned by auto-obsessed planners; others were supposed to run across Midtown and Harlem. There used to be an elevated highway along the west side of Lower Manhattan, and in the late 1960s a plan took shape to fill in some of the riverbank, sink most of the road in an underground tunnel and use the newly created land for parks and development. A multifaceted opposition sprung up, arguing—among other things—that the project was a waste of money that could be better spent on transit. In 1985, after a federal judge found that he’d been misled about the impact of the project on the striped bass, the idea died. Yankees fanatic Rudy Giuliani pushed the idea of a West Side Yankees stadium so hard, he came up with a needless ballot question in 1998 just to keep stadium opponents from putting forward a referendum on the West Side proposal. When the Yankee proposal faded, Giuliani shifted to a desire to get the Olympics for New York, with the West Side Stadium as a linchpin of the city’s bid for the games. The New York Jets became the potential anchor tenant. In 2005, with the Bloomberg administration backing this idea, it was blocked by Assembly speaker Sheldon Silver.

Photos courtesy Library of Congress, Department of City Planning, City Hall.

It was a Columbia University professor, William Vickrey, who won a Nobel Prize for advancing the idea of using fees to discourage people from driving during rush hour. London imposed a traffic charge in 2003 with some success. But when Mayor Bloomberg tried to bring the idea to New York, he ran into opposition from garage owners, small business operators and commuters from outer borough neighborhoods poorly served by mass transit. It didn’t help that the rollout of the idea—first by the business lobby, then as a lastminute addition to PlaNYC—left many New Yorkers confused on whether Manhattan-based corporations or outer borough residents were supposed to benefit.

Congestion Pricing

As industrial acreage is disappearing along with blue-collar industrial jobs, the city is surrendering manufacturing land to a university, to residential developers and to dreams for a convention center in Queens. The city is expanding its transit system but cannot afford to operate the current network. New York is reducing carbon emissions but building massive parking garages for its new stadiums and malls. Oh, and PlaNYC? Not actually a plan. This spring and summer New York had an opportunity to rethink how it grows when a charter revision commission set out to improve the way the city governs itself. At the commission’s public hearings, there was an outpouring of concern about the way the city is growing—from civic organization like the bar association and Citizens Union to the communities affected by Bloomberg-era development policy in all its manifestations: Atlantic Yards, Yankee Stadium, Willets Point, West Harlem, 125th Street, Greenpoint-Williamsburg. The charter commission responded, dedicating a whole hearing to expert testimony on the pros and cons of

the way the city plans, or doesn’t plan. But when it came time to make concrete proposals, the commission offered only a minor tweak to the way the city tracks data on environmental burdens. That measure passed on Election Day. But it barely scratched the surface of the need for reform laid on the commission’s table. “We knew that we were on a highly restrictive clock,” says Matthew Goldstein, the City University of New York chancellor who chaired the charter revision commission. Although he had been talking about it since early 2008, Mayor Bloomberg didn’t appoint the charter commission until this past March, and then—despite pleas for a longer time-line—the panel aimed hard at getting questions on the 2010 ballot. The Goldstein panel published its findings on land use and other areas where it did not act, hoping to equip a future panel to do a more thorough job. But it’s unclear that such an opportunity will arise. Why would it? The current system favors the mayor and the Council, whose individual members have all-but veto authority over development projects in their districts.

For the mayor, that means power. For Council members, it means money. Developers and their lobbyists are reliable sources of campaign contributions. The charter commission hearings and the Lomex exhibit are only the latest indications that New York is thinking about the way it grows. After nearly 40 years in purgatory, Robert Moses was dusted off in 2007 for a three-museum retrospective of his life and work. There was overdue credit given to Moses’ role in the expansion and improvement of the city and state’s park systems. But when it came to Moses’ most obvious contribution—building a lot of roads—the retrospective went out of its way to give him credit for, well, building a lot of roads. “The achievement of Robert Moses was that he adapted New York City to the twentieth century,” was how Columbia University professor Kenneth Jackson framed it. As she had done in life, the author and urbanist Jane Jacobs didn’t let Moses (or his apologists) have the last word. An exhibit exploring her work went up at the Municipal Art Society shortly after the Moses reflections came down. Everybody loves Jane Jacobs, and that’s the problem: Just about everyone has

appropriated Jacobs to posthumously endorse or denounce today’s development projects, no matter how violent the intellectual jujitsu behind the linkage—like the spokesman for one developer who described a plan that conemplated using eminent domain to evict light industry and low-income residential buildings as “real Jane Jacobs stuff.” As Pratt Center for Community Development senior fellow Eve Baron puts it, “Either Jacobs or Moses is invoked depending on what’s being sold.” This past summer, Mayor John Lindsay was reconsidered in a Museum of the City of New York exhibit, PBS documentary and book, and attention was paid to his overlooked role in enlivening the city’s urban design—or at least trying to. As James Sanders wrote in the Lindsay retrospective, one of the several planning teams Lindsay created “to promote advanced urban design ideas” came up with a plan to close Madison Avenue between 42nd and 57th streets to cars—permanently—and allow buses only down a center lane. The idea was laid to rest by the Board of Estimate in 1973 at the behest of taxi fleet owners and department stores. And this fall, veterans of the Westway battle gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their defeat of a plan to fill in the edge of the Hudson River on the Lower West Side,


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One Story, Building
Planning—and the lack thereof— through New York’s history

The Commissioner’s Plan for New York lays out the street grid from the Battery to 155th. Little space is designated for parks.

The modern city is created when Manhattan and part of the Bronx annex the east Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

New York becomes the first city to create a citywide zoning regime.

The Regional Plan Association issues its first plan for the New York metro area. Road building is emphasized.

Robert Moses defeats an effort to create a citywide master plan, which he fears would threaten his power.

Moses kills another master plan effort.

Manhattan Borough President Robert Wagner creates community planning councils, forerunners of the city’s modern community boards. The city revises its Zoning Resolution. Jane Jacobs publishes “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.”
1968 1961

creating an area for a park and residential development and sinking the West Side Highway below ground south of 40th Street. Though it was backed by all levels of government, Westway ‘s opponents saw it as yet another surrender of the city’s physical shape to the needs of the automobile—a boondoggle that would spur a rash of unwelcome development on the West Side with money that would be better spent on mass transit. The idea was killed in 1985. Instead of Westway, the city received more than a billion dollars in transit funding. But the Lower West Side got West Street, a six- to eight-lane highway separating New Yorkers from the river, where a pretty—but pretty thin—strip of park has taken shape. And while there were many sound arguments against Westway, none won the day. Instead, Westway died when a federal judge found that the project’s proponents had understated the threat that the development posed to the striped bass that lived among the piers and bulkheads on the river’s edge. “It was a preposterous conclusion, but it was at a point where everyone was exhausted by it,” says Craig Whitaker, the architect who designed the project. “The fact is this was on the heels of Robert Moses and there was a great deal of mistrust of planning,” Whitaker adds. “For a generation of officials, Westway was a clear warning sign that a big idea would be politically dangerous.” Of course, New York has built plenty of big things in recent years, like the new Yankee Stadium and CitiField. Smaller private developments transformed scores of city neighborhoods during the recent real estate boom. And other big things are still being built: Atlantic Yards, the Second Avenue Subway and four skyscrapers at Ground Zero. What’s unclear is whether the right things are getting built, or getting buried—and whether the decisions about the city’s future are guided by any consistent idea of what New York wants to be, and how it wants to get there. This doubt fuels the recent, misguided nostalgia for the Robert Moseses of the world, the men who “got things done” unencumbered by community opposition or environmental reviews. Boy, those were the days! But if Moses’ way has died, Jane Jacobs’ hope for grassroots planning has been stillborn. For all the lip service paid to her, little about New York’s development comes from the bottom-up. Even the Westway victory, as sweet as it was for community opponents, was not really about community input, but rather a judge’s pique over what he’d been told about the fate of a small fish. Neither Moses nor Jacobs’ New York has come to be. Maybe we need a new idea of how to make the city. For all that New York likes to think of itself as spontaneous, its very existence is the result of thoughtful planning:

The need to plan is obvious. And the desire to plan is manifest. Unfortunately, the way New York City plans is largely broken.
a water supply network spanning eight upstate counties, a subway system that ran to parts of the Bronx that were farmland at the time of its construction, even the dull but useful Commissioner’s Plan of 1811 that laid out the grid pattern of city streets from the Battery to 155th. Today’s city has some similarly ambitious thinking to do. With the population at an alltime high, the city is expecting another 700,000 people—more than live in Boston—by the year 2030. And the rezonings that the Bloomberg team has done, encompassing nearly a fifth of the city, will accommodate at their maximum 200,000 people. So somehow, New York City has to find a way to house another half-million people, to get them to and from work, to find school seats for the kids and parks for their weekends, and to do it all in a time of shrinking budgets, rising seas and little faith in the effectiveness of government. Robert Yaro, the president of the Regional Plan Association, says New York is no longer just competing with London and Tokyo. Singapore, Hong Kong, São Paulo, Bogotá and others are now challenging New York’s appeal to businesses and tourists. “This is all going to be about who puts together the best planning package,” he says. “Big cities know that they’re competing for constituents around the world to come to their city. You can’t do that piecemeal.” A consensus is emerging that New York City needs to plot its future—that it needs to think about not just where people will live but how they will move, that it must plan comprehensively, not episodically. And, many say, the voices of communities must be made stronger. Is New York as good as the city it might have been? The answer is about more than asphalt and steel. That was the striking thing about the Lomex model at the Cooper Union: There were buildings and roads and cars. But there were no people.
Top: The Commissioner’s Plan. Middle: Robert Moses and his proposed Battery Park Bridge. Bottom: Bloomberg unveils PlaNYC. Photos courtesy Jleon, Library of Congress, City Hall.

RPA issues its second regional plan, sounding an alarm on sprawl.

Mayor Lindsay’s master plan for the city’s future dies amid political squabbling.

The city creates the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure for consideration of zoning and development decisions.

A major charter revision includes new provisions to allow communities to plan their own future and to protect neighborhoods from disproportionate environmental burdens. Years later, critics will say these mechanisms did not deliver on their initial promise. RPA issues its third regional plan, calling for the preservation of open space and comprehensive improvements to the area’s transit system
2006 1996

Mayor Bloomberg launches PlaNYC, a strategy for sustainable growth as New York absorbs a projected 1 million more people from 2000 to 2030.

Congestion pricing, the highest-profile policy in PlaNYC, dies in Albany. But other PlaNYC initiatives move forward.

The Department of City Planning finalizes its 100th rezoning of the Bloomberg era.

After hearing calls for reform, the Charter Revision Commission considers changes to the city’s land use system, but opts to leave the work for some future panel.


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On The Move
The city’s transit system is better than you think. It’s also under more strain than politicians admit.
his summer there was a breakthrough— literally—in New York City’s efforts to upgrade its mass transit system. A 1,000-ton boring machine burst through a cavern wall below the Port Authority Bus Terminal to complete the 9,300 feet of tunnel in which an extended No. 7 train will run. The first major expansion of the subway system since the 1960s, the elongated 7 line will link new development in the Hudson Yards area to the rest of the city. The 7-train extension is part of a massive project to build up the long-neglected West Side. Conceived back when the idea of building a stadium for the Jets drove West Side planning, the Hudson Yards project includes changes to the zoning code that could create 28 million square feet of office space, more than 12,000 residential units, and retail and hotel development. The Jacob Javits Center is also due for an expansion. There is one odd thing about the 7-train expansion. The project began with two stations—one at 41st and Tenth and another at 34th and Eleventh—but is now down to one. So the city is spending $2 billion on a mile of track and a single station, and residential developers who were counting on the second station to make their projects viable are left in a lurch.

COMMUTERS PACk the 7 train at Grand Central station, rush hour, Friday November 12. The extension of the 7 train to 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue—and maybe even to New Jersey—will be the biggest expansion of the subway system in years.


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Attention, Passengers
The New York metropolitan transit system serves …

City stats

A NEW WAY TO PAY: Along the Bx12 select bus service route, commuters pay at the stop, not on board, in an effort to speed surface transit.

1.6 billion subway riders a year and 5 million people on an
significant cultural and economic advantage over cities like Dallas and Atlanta, where the downtown essentially closes at 7 p.m. And the subway system links to a web of commuter train lines that run to points as distant as Montauk, on Long Island; Waterbury, Conn.; and Bay Head, on the Jersey shore. “The thing that we have is the world biggest regional rail system,” says Regional Plan Association president Bob Yaro. “Other places are trying to replicate that. It’s an extraordinary asset.” Yes, the MTA has been slow to adopt some new technologies—it’s only now installing screens that tell passengers on a platform when the next train is coming—but it deserves more credit than it gets. The MetroCard was a big move forward in the 1990s. In the past decade, the move to computer-based signaling has allowed dispatchers to know more precisely where trains are in a tunnel and, if the technology is working (it isn’t always), to run trains more closely together—one reason service on the L line, long one of the city’s worst, has improved recently. And the 7-train extension is only one of several major capital projects under way to improve the system. After two false starts in past decades, the Second Avenue Subway is being built. A reconstructed Fulton Street transit hub will be completed in 2014. And the East Side Access project will give Long Island Rail Road passengers a chance to exit at Grand Central, linking the LIRR to the Metro North and five subway lines.

The Staten Island ferry and the bus system tie the boroughs together but, Hunter College professor Tom Angotti says, “As every New Yorker knows, the bus system sucks.”
Packed platforms and crowded rush-hour rides aside, New York actually has an excellent mass transit system. “We’re the only system in the world that’s open for 24 hours,” says Gene Russianoff, the longtime transit advocate who serves as senior attorney at the Straphangers’ Campaign. Indeed, while other mass transit networks feature some round-the-clock service, New York’s full system operates ceaselessly. “We’re the only system in the world that has regularly scheduled express and local service. We’ve been express and local since 1904,” Russianoff adds. “There are few systems as extensive.” The nonstop nature of the city’s system has helped New York create a 24-hour central business district—a

6,290 subway cars along 659 miles of track connecting 468 stations served by 24 subway lines …

average weekday riding

726 million bus riders a year—an average of 2.3 million on a weekday—riding 4,538 buses on 245 routes covering 2,070 miles …

More than half a million commuter rail passengers on an average day riding 11 Long Island Rail Road and five Metro-North lines.

This transit system allows New Yorkers to live without the expense, hassle and environmental impact of a car. Some 4 million New Yorkers—42 percent of the city—live in households without access to an automobile. That’s equivalent to the entire state of Oregon not having a single auto. It makes for a far higher car-free rate here than in any other place in America. And according to Municipal Art Society president Vin Cipola, “Even the people who use cars here use them less: nine miles per day versus a 26-miles-per-day national average.” Still, it’s an understatement that New York’s transit mix has its flaws. “Whole parts of the system are not up to a state of good repair,” says Russianoff, rattling off a list of needs from tunnel lights to station design to the control board he saw in one MTA tower that “looked like something out of grand Hotel.” Not to mention that the system is, he says, “insanely crowded like all the time.” Sam Schwartz, the former city transportation commissioner known as Gridlock Sam, says the problem is a lack of reliability:

“Too many breakdowns, poor information, too many crippling service interruptions, especially on weekends, which are unfortunately necessary due to lack of basic maintenance over the decades.” Many of the system’s problems are fiscal in nature: The MTA simply can’t afford to do it better. Others are structural: Like many—but not all—big cities, New York’s subway system radiates from the center out, the way it was laid out 100 years ago. There’s logic to that orientation, given Manhattan’s traditional role as the city’s center of commerce, culture and government. But it has meant that getting from borough to borough is very difficult, retarding the development of independent downtowns in the boroughs. And it’s a poor fit for modern commuting patterns, in which a nurse might live in the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx but work at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. The Staten Island ferry and the bus system tie the boroughs together but, Hunter College professor Tom Angotti says, “As every New Yorker knows, the bus system sucks.” Other shortcomings reflect a web of circumstances. For


The UnPlanned City

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flight Plan
Dreams of a one-seat ride


or decades, New York has wanted

a one-seat ride between downtown and the airports. Right now, the best you can do is two. Say you want to get from Manhattan’s Fulton Street to JFK. You take the A to Howard

Can we do better than the AirTrain? Photo courtesy MTA.

Beach, then jump on the AirTrain, and

get to the airport in 58 minutes from start to finish. In London, making a comparable trip from Oxford Circus (which is like Fulton Street, except the people walk slower) to Heathrow means a nine-minute subway ride and a 21-minute journey on the Heathrow Express. So the New York journey takes twice as long (but it also costs only a quarter as much: $7.25 from Fulton Street to JFK versus $33 from Oxford Circus to Heathrow). The MTA is now conducting a planning study for a new line that would connect the World Trade Center transportation hub to JFK using a new tunnel and an extension of the
NEW YORk ON THE MOVE: (Clockwise from bottom right) Taxis have gotten greener under Mayor Bloomberg (Photo by Alissa Ambrose), pedestrians in new walker-friendly Times Square, commuters experience “bus rapid transit” in the Bronx, drivers are a smaller presence in New York than any other place in America, bikes near the L train station in Williamsburg.

LIRR’s Atlantic Avenue Branch. But that would be enormously expensive—estimated six years ago at $3.5 billion to $6 billion—so transit advocates would prefer to see such money spent on improving or expanding the subway system, which serves millions of people in their everyday journey to and from work rather than travelers in their less frequent trips to the airport. Besides, a one-seat ride to JFK from Manhattan would be great for people in those seats, but most fliers wouldn’t use it. “Seventy percent of the passengers at JFK are not starting or ending their trip in Manhattan,” says Jeff Zupan, the Regional Plan Association’s senior fellow for transportation. “If you ran a train from Penn Station right to Kennedy Airport, even if you could do that, the question is, Would people in other places be able to take advantage of that? And the answer is no, unless they got to Penn Station first.” Meanwhile, JFK Airport is running into capacity limits. RPA is exploring potential solutions to the problem: improvements in air traffic control, intercity rail, using off-peak times more efficiently, pricing travel by day and, possibly, physically expanding JFK.


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decades there were calls for a one-seat train ride between the central business district and the city’s two airports. Mayor Rudy Giuliani proposed extending the N subway line to La Guardia Airport and building an AirTrain linking the subway system and LIRR to Kennedy Airport. Neighborhood opposition and budget constraints torpedoed the La Guardia line. The $1.9 billion JFK link was completed, but it’s far from a one-seat ride Giuliani sought. To get to the airport, you have to take the subway or the LIRR to the AirTrain, an hour-long prospect (compared with a comparable 30-minute ride in London). If you want a one-seat ride, you take a cab.

to dramatic ideas. The administration is studying what would happen if it followed South Bronx environmental advocates’ advice to tear down the Sheridan Expressway, a relatively little-used 1¼-mile elevated highway that links the Bruckner Expressway to the Cross-Bronx— something the Bronx River Parkway does just 4,000 feet to the east. But the changes with the biggest potential are on the city’s bus lines. In an average year, New York City’s 4,561 buses carry 726 million people—more than the second-and third-biggest bus systems (Los Angeles and Chicago) combined. Buses are more flexible and far cheaper to build and operate than trains, but they’re notoriously slow. The Straphangers Campaign found last year that the city’s slowest bus, the M42, traveled at an average pace of 3.7 miles per hour. “A five-year-old on a motorized tricycle would outpace the M42,” the campaign cried. Buses move slowly because they have to fight traffic, stop at lights and—most time-consuming of all—wait at each stop for passengers to get on and pay their fare. In June 2008, the MTA and DOT began experimenting with bus rapid transit, a set of methods to reduce the delays that make bus service slow. The city and MTA introduced bus rapid transit—or, their preferred term, Select Bus Service or SBS—on the Bx12 line, which runs along Pelham Parkway and Fordham Road in the Bronx. They designated bus-only lanes on the roads, scheduled fewer stops along the route and started to give buses priority at traffic lights. But the biggest change has been having passengers pay at the bus stop and get a receipt rather than on the bus. After a year, the Bx12 showed a 7 percent increase in ridership and a 20 percent decrease in running time. Transportation Alternatives executive director Paul Steely White says, “Fordham Road operates more like a train than a bus line” because of the new service. In October a second SBS line was launched, on the M15 bus line on the East side. The opening act was not flawless. “MTA debuts its Select Bus Service on a workday and … it’s just an ‘awful,’ ‘absurd’ mess,” screamed the Daily News. The Times made reference to “glitches and grumbles.” Backers of SBS hope those are just growing pains. Bus rapid transit has caught on in Bogotá, Johannesburg, even L.A. It might be New York’s best hope for a better mass transit system. “Surface transit really is the only way we’re going to be able to grow our transit system on the scale that New Yorkers are used to,” says Transportation Alternatives deputy director Noah Budnick. “We’re not going to be adding more subway lines anytime soon.” The MTA plans a third SBS route, on the B44 route

What’s Wrong With This Picture?
New York’s transit system is great. But it ain’t perfect. Here are some major problems with the city’s transit network.

Bus rapid transit has caught on in Bogotá, Johannesburg, even L.A. It might be New York’s best hope for a better mass transit system.
The obstacles to improving transportation in New York are well-known to the city’s transportation commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan; one of her assistant commissioners jokes that “The only way to get across town is to be born there.” But since her appointment in April 2007, she’s employed a range of policies to overcome—or at least drive around—some of those roadblocks. These include 250 new miles of bike lanes, pedestrian plazas in Times and Herald squares, and the closure of streets for Weekend Walks—a kind of street fair—and Summer Streets, when a route from Brooklyn Bridge, up Park Avenue and as far north as Central Park is closed off for a day to permit walking, running and biking. Jersey barriers—one of the grungier aspects of transport in the city—became canvasses for painters during “Hands On New York” day this past April. “Design is important if we want people to treat the city as a place and not just something to travel through,” Sadik-Khan told a Municipal Art Society conference in October. There already practical benefits to what city DOT has done: Sadik-Khan says the increased foot traffic around the new pedestrian plazas has been a boon to businesses. And the midtown seating areas have brought injuries down 63 percent for motorists and 35 percent for pedestrians. Under Sadik-Khan, the city is showing an openness

Moving between the outer boroughs is a pain Vast swathes of Queens are totally off the subway system

Getting across town in Manhattan is very difficult

There’s no easy way to get to either airport


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Map courtesy New York City Transit

The concentration of subway lines in Manhattan makes repair and expansion of the system complicated and expensive

you drive the train

New subway lines? Comfier buses? Tell us how you’d improve the city’s transit system by writing to transit@ We’ll collect and post your dreams for a better city.


Going somewhere
Transit improvements en route

7 Train Extension The city is paying for this first major expansion of the subways since the 1960s. The current plan will extend the 7 train by a mile from its current terminus at Times Square to a stop at 34th Street and 11th Avenue. An intermediate stop, at 42nd and 10th Ave., has been scrapped. However, the Bloomberg administration is now considering running the train all the way to New Jersey.

Second Avenue Subway In the 1930s and 1960s, funding was approved for a subway along the east side of Manhattan. The Great Depression and the fiscal crisis stopped those proposals in their tracks. Born again in 1995, tunneling is now underway for a line running from 63rd Street to 125th Street. The first ride is not expected until 2018.

along Nostrand and Rogers avenues in Brooklyn. That will open in 2012. Later that year, the most ambitious project to date—the 34th Street Transitway—will open in a busway, a lane that’s not just painted to be bus-only but barricaded by concrete to other cars; Sadik-Khan describes it as a kind of “surface subway.” The Obama administration is providing $18 million for the project. But plans for a Hylan Boulevard SBS route in Staten Island have run into political opposition over the project’s impact on parking and car traffic. And a proposal for a Merrick Boulevard SBS route has been scrapped over the same complaints. So the M15 is an important test for SBS in New York. Getting passengers used to paying before they board is only one challenge. SBS lanes can make it difficult for businesses on the bus-lane side of the street to get deliveries. Parking on that side of the street is also a no-no, so areas served by SBS have to surrender parking spaces. And SBS service requires prohibiting cars from an entire lane of traffic, which can carry 600 automobiles an hour. According to the RPA’s senior fellow for transportation, Jeff Zupan, there aren’t many streets in the city where there are enough bus trips during an hour to make a strong argument for cars to yield the lane. “It don’t think it’s a panacea in every case,” he says of SBS. “There are selectively places where it works.” Indeed, as exciting as all today’s transit projects sound, a cold dose of reality is never far away. The Second Avenue subway is supposed to eventually run from the from Lower Manhattan to Harlem, but now there’s only funding for three stations on the East Side. And even those are unlikely to be finished on time. “We’re putting about $2 billion into just sustaining a 100-year-old system, and that’s a very expensive hobby,” says Yaro. “The bad news is that the places that want to clean our clock are building brand-new transit systems.” In 2007, as part of his PlaNYC proposal, Bloomberg proposed a new source of money for mass transit: tolling cars that entered or moved within the area south of 60th Street in Manhattan. It was political dynamite; PlaNYC’s authors didn’t know until three days before the report was printed whether congestion pricing would make it in or not. The plan certainly had its flaws—there were questions about equity for neighborhoods poorly served by transit, worries about the impact on small businesses, uncertainty about the ability of the city’s arterial highways to absorb the displaced crosstown

traffic—and it had little if any grassroots support. Still, it would have produced for the MTA some $420 million in annual revenue. What never came through in the 18 months of debate over congestion pricing was that its impetus wasn’t aesthetic or moral or even environmental, but purely practical. New York City’s survival depends on mass transit and the system is in a financial crisis that riders can’t fix: Transportation is the leading expense of low-income families—soaking up 30 percent of their pay. “It’s not just about the CO2 issue,” Rockefeller Foundation’s assistant director Edwin Torres says of the city’s transit challenge. “It’s about working people getting to work.” It’s unclear if, beyond Bloomberg, New York’s political leadership understands the gravity of the crisis facing the nation’s largest transit system. During the debate over congestion pricing, Yaro met with one skeptical legislator and explained that 10 times as many people from his district commuted by subway as drove to work. His response was, “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” And during his campaign for governor, Andrew Cuomo said the MTA has to get by with the money it has. What money? Even as the MTA struggles with chronic revenue shortages, it is being asked to transport a growing city—a New York that is 380,000 people larger than it was a decade ago, with nearly twice that number of people expected to arrive in the next two decades. But the MTA doesn’t decide where those people go. The New York City Department of City Planning does. City Planning says it strives to encourage “transitoriented development”—in other words, creating more room for development in areas well served by transit and reducing the room for new buildings in neighborhoods without good transit links. A recent study by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU finds that the areas where the administration “upzoned,” or added residential capacity, tended to be well served by transit, with 74 percent of upzoned lots within a half-mile of a subway station. Of course, that means 26 percent of the upzonings—or 26 million square feet of potential new residential space—is not located near transit. What’s more, Furman found that more than half the lots that were downzoned—or altered to allow smaller buildings—were near transit. So growth was blocked in areas that had the transit infrastructure to absorb more people. And just because an area has a subway line doesn’t mean it’s actually “well served” enough to deal with new residents. It makes as little sense to site a massive new development next to a hopelessly overcrowded subway

East Side Access This link between the Long Island Railroad and Grand Central will tie together the Metro North, LIRR and five subway lines. But with an $8.1 billion price-tag and expected April 2018 completion date, it’s over-budget and behind schedule by $300 million and 18 months.
Photos courtesy New York City Department of Transportation, MTA.

34th Street Busway The city has been experimenting with bus rapid transit as a low-cost way to improve travel. In 2012, a more ambitious bus innovation—with the bus riding in a dedicated, barricaded lane rather than contending with other traffic—will open along 34th Street. Can bus rapid transit work elsewhere in New York?

line as it does to put it where there are no subways at all. But the city’s planning process doesn’t always recognize the mismatch between land use plans and transit infrastructure. For instance, the environmental review for the 2007 rezoning of a swath of Jamaica, Queens, found that the move would most likely result in more than 5,000 new apartments and more than 1,300 new subway riders. The subway lines at the Jamaica station were already 14 percent over capacity. But the review found no “significant adverse impact on subways” because the increase in passengers would average out to three new people per overcrowded subway car. Anything fewer than five new people per car, the city’s regulation for environmental review says, doesn’t count. A different problem could arise along the path of the new 7 train. The project began with two stations—one at 41st and Tenth and another at 34th and Eleventh— but is now down to one. “The argument the city made when they dropped it, aside from BEyOND THE BOROUgHS the fact that they didn’t have enough money for it, was, President Obama’s stake in local planning ‘Development has happened on West 40th without it, so we don’t want the station,’ “ says the RPA’s Zupan. “Now you put people in places where they expected to have a station, and now they’re stuck without a subway.” The planning problem starts in the transit system. “There is no central place that plans for transportation in the tristate region,” Schwartz says. “The MTA, NYC DOT, NYS DOT, Port [Authority], NJ Transit, NJ DOT and Connecticut DOT each do their own planning, which is very dependent on leadership and politics.” But it is complicated by the absence of any formal connection between the people who plan where New Yorkers live and work (City Planning) and those who run the transit systems. There is also a dangerous dissonance between what the administration sees as progress and what communities detect. This goes beyond the NIMBYish opposition to bike lanes. At the October MAS conference, SadikKhan pointed to a marketing brochure for a snazzy new residence in Brooklyn. She was pleased that one of her bike lines was featured as part of the appeal. But the building in question, New Domino, is where the city, contrary to community wishes, changed zoning rules to allow a developer to build a massive new complex, bringing more people to an area of Brooklyn where transit and schools are already strained. The bike lane looked cool. But there was something wrong with the rest of the picture.


The Unplanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6



Five Boroughs. One City. No Plan.
Is the city’s failure to plan a plan for failure?
he first one was in Forest Hills: 61 blocks. East Harlem was next: 57 blocks. Then Morrisania, in the Bronx. Next, Bridge Plaza, in Brooklyn. Soon it would happen in Park Slope, City Island, Bayside, Dyker Heights, Throgs Neck, Fort Greene, North Riverdale, Astoria, and across virtually all of Staten Island. At one point during the Bloomberg administration’s nine-year spree of 108 rezonings, community activist Phil DePaolo heard one frustrated cop at a public hearing remark, “It’s like a fucking revolving door with these rezonings.” Since 2002, New York City has rezoned 9,400 blocks, changing the regulations governing the way land is used (residential? commercial? manufacturing?), the style and height of buildings, the size of yards and the distance between houses. “There’s really been a sea change over the last decade,” says Paul Graziano, a community planner. “Back in the ‘80s, under Koch, and even into the ‘90s they would do a five-block rezoning and say it took them five years to do it and it’s the largest rezoning they’ve ever done and it’s amazing.” The current administration makes those past efforts look comical. Since Bloomberg became mayor, the city has rezoned 18 percent of the city—an area comparable to 33

WILLETS POINT, a hub for auto work and industry in the shadow of the Mets ballfield. known as the “iron triangle,” it’s ugly, useful and not long for this world.

the entirety of San Francisco or Boston. On one rezoning, Graziano began talking to City Planning in 1999, during the Giuliani years. “I met with City Planning in 2000, 2001, and they thought it was interesting. But nothing really happened until Amanda Burden got there.” Burden, who carries the honor of being a fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, has sat on the City Planning Commission for 20 years and was named its chair—and the head of the Department of City Planning—15 days into Bloomberg’s first term. She says the rezonings “are setting the conditions for sustainable, transit-oriented growth” and are “designed to accommodate a population of 9 million New Yorkers projected by 2030.”

in Douglaston of eastern Queens and at Hudson Yards in Manhattan’s far west? The city says it is pursuing “transit-oriented development”—encouraging growth in areas near transit lines and curtailing it in areas that are car-dependent. But the recent Furman Center report finds that while about three-quarters of the areas where City Planning has allowed more growth are near transit, a quarter aren’t. And more than half of the areas downzoned had good links to transit. Fisher thinks there is a slightly different idea at work: “The Bloomberg administration has a philosophy that recruitment and retention of talent is key to the city’s economic development and that the way to do that is by giving that talent places to live, play and work, and

A MECHANIC takes a look in Willets Point. Under the Bloomberg administration, land zoned for industrial use has continued to dwindle—squeezed by the lure of lucrative residential development.

“The absence of comprehensive planning leaves New York City without the foundation for sound future growth. Neighborhoods pay the price when development overloads their streets, schools and services. Government agencies do not know where their resources will be needed.”
Ken Fisher, a former city councilman who now represents developers going through the land use process, says Burden has left a distinctive imprint on the city. “Amanda Burden has been empowered by the mayor to raise the quality of design. She’s notoriously detail-oriented. It doesn’t mean that they always get everything right, but it’s forced developers that have come before her and city agencies to raise their game,” he says. The RPA’s Bob Yaro concurs. “There’s been a stronger focus on urban design than at any time since the Lindsay administration,” he says. Indeed, zoning under Burden has charted new territory—inclusionary zoning that gives developers the right to build larger structures if they create affordable housing, bonuses for builders who protect cultural institutions, provisions to encourage bike racks, neighborhood grocery stores and waterfront development. But as impressive as the roster of rezonings and accomplishments is, the sheer number raises a question: Is there a consistent idea behind what City Planning has done in Riverdale and in Stapleton, Staten Island, so a lot of the waterfront development is driven by that.” Melinda Katz, now a land use lawyer in private practice, became chair of the City Council’s powerful Land Use Committee at around the time Burden took over City Planning. She says the Sept. 11 attacks of just four months earlier fueled a feeling that the city needed to act. “We had to do something in order to move the city’s economy along. One of the greatest memories I have was this unspoken realization for my community that we needed to promote faith and confidence in the city of New York for business, development and tourism from countries all around the world,” Katz recalls. “We felt that land use could be a great tool for promoting that confidence. If the rest of the world saw we were active not only in security but also looking at land use, that would send a message that New York was safe for business.” That focus meant different things for different neighborhoods. In September 2003, when the city announced the downzoning of 40 percent of Staten Island’s residential lots, Bloomberg expressed his

concern for the survival of “tree-lined streets and suburban-style family homes.” So he “directed the City Planning Department to work closely with the borough president to make sure these applications proceed quickly through the review process.” But residents of other neighborhoods—like Williamsburg, Greenpoint, 125th Street, Jamaica, and other areas that were not downzoned but instead targeted for increased density—did not get their communities preserved. It’s true that different policies make sense in different neighborhoods. But the Furman Center found a pattern that at least raises questions: Areas that got downzoned—like most of Staten Island— were whiter and wealthier than areas that got upzoned, like 125th Street and Jamaica. “Most of the issues that are taken up in zoning are really to accommodate developers’ visions of how the city should be growing,” says Columbia University professor Elliott Sclar. “The only time communities have a shot,” he says, is “when developers don’t have their eyes on a particular project.”

New York passed its first zoning resolution— a document describing what can be built on every square foot of the city—in 1916, becoming the first city in the world to apply zoning on a citywide basis. Other cities soon followed New York’s lead. Developers chafed at the intrusion onto their private property rights. One builder, the Ambler Realty Co., sued the village of Euclid, Ohio, to challenge the municipality’s zoning rules as an unconstitutional “taking.” The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the village, and zoning has enjoyed authority ever since. By the 1950s, architecture critics and builders in New York began to complain about the strictures of the 1916 rules, which contributed to the “wedding cake” look of many of New York’s older buildings: To build higher under the 1916 rules, builders had to set back the upper floors, so that buildings looked like cake layers stacked one atop another. There was a desire for the new, international style of skyscraper—a sleek, soaring rectangle set in a plaza. And while some groaned about the confines of the 1916 rules, others worried about their looseness: The 1916 zoning theoretically would have permitted


The UnPlanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


7. If the Council has

modified a ULURP proposal, it goes back to City Planning to decide if the change can be made without starting the ULURP process all over again.

9. The Council, however,
held its final vote on a plan, the mayor can veto it if he acts within five days.

8. After the Council has

still gets the final word. If the mayor vetoes a land use decision, the Council has 10 days to override it by a two-thirds majority vote.


The UnPlanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


Photos courtesy Christopher Peterson, Ad Meskens, City Hall, gaf.arq

building to house 55 million people (about as many people as live in modern-day South Africa). So in 1961, the city revised the entire zoning resolution. That 1961 regime is still in place, although it has certainly evolved. It has been amended more than 250 times just since 1993. Some of those tweaks are the neighborhood-specific zonings, like the 108 so far under Bloomberg and Burden. But other changes apply citywide—to all balconies, for example, or transient hotels, the waterfront, adult establishments or sidewalk cafés. On the City Planning website, Burden says that the recent rezonings are anchored by “comprehensive urban design master plans.” But some planners dispute that description. Zoning, they say, is chiefly a regulatory device; it just says what can and can’t be built. The private market dictates what actually gets built, which is fine, except that the private real estate market can’t provide everything a neighborhood needs. “Planning is about more than the physical,” says the Pratt Center’s Eve Baron. “You have to have not only a building for people to live in but day care, schools, all those sorts of services.” Transportation infrastructure, parks, health care—all these are what goes into a real comprehensive plan. New York has never taken a comprehensive approach to planning. The 1811 Commissioner’s Plan—which set in place the width of Manhattan cross streets and avenues still seen today—was purely physical, and it so narrowly focused on real estate development that it neglected to provide more than a few small parks in the nearly 10-mile span between the Battery and 155th Street. Some cities took a different tack. The Plan of Chicago in 1909 laid out streets but also plotted where cultural facilities and parks should go. In the 1920s, the U.S. Department of Commerce drafted two laws for states to adopt comprehensive planning. Today, 24 states have some comprehensive planning regime, and at least 10—California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—require cities to create such plans. Some, like California, require all local laws to conform with a local plan covering stuff like land use, housing and open space. Take Miami’s comprehensive plan, created in 1989. The most recent update and review of the plan—published in 2004—reveals both breadth and specificity. It details changes in the city’s demography and population, describes challenges associated with poverty and economic development, and then analyzes how specific city policies have adhered to the comprehensive plan’s language on land use,

housing, parks, sewers, ports, airports and natural resources. Every goal is tracked precisely, down to the location of new affordable housing and where deficient roadways were repaired. Similar attempts at comprehensive plans have been tried in New York. They failed. Robert Moses personally defeated efforts in 1939 and 1950. Most spectacularly, in 1969, the Lindsay administration actually prepared a master plan, but it went nowhere. Had New York planned comprehensively for its future in the early part of the 20th century, “you could have had farmland protected—one of the things we’re regretting today. You could have had more concentrated development around subway lines. You could have had the city’s social infrastructure coordinated with land development,” says Hunter College’s Tom Angotti. Manhattan might have been made less dense. “We would have ended up with a city with far more equitable development,” says Ron Shiffman, an urban design professor at the Pratt Institute. “Some of our burdensome facilities would have been distributed equitably through the city rather than overwhelming certain communities. I think the city would probably have more of a balance of jobs.” The city’s failure to plan in the past would be little more than historical trivia—were it not for the fact that, advocates say, the city still isn’t planning. The City Charter charges the City Planning Commission with “the conduct of planning relating to the orderly growth, improvement and future development of the city, including adequate and appropriate resources for the housing, business, industry, transportation, distribution, recreation, culture, comfort, convenience, health and welfare of its population.” That’s not what’s happening. “The charter puts the City Planning Commission in charge of long-term comprehensive planning, but that commission has come to narrow its focus to reviews of individual proposals for zoning map changes put forth by property holders and the Department of City Planning,” Elena Conte, an organizer at the Pratt Center, told the Charter Revision Commission this summer. “The absence of comprehensive planning leaves New York City without the foundation for sound future growth. Neighborhoods pay the price when development overloads their streets, schools and services. Government agencies do not know where their resources will be needed. When communities attempt their own planning … they have no way to connect their efforts with the city’s own plans. And developers themselves have little certainty that infrastructure and services will be adequate to support their projects.”

More Than A Pretty Name

Created in 1975, New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP , governs a wide-range of city land use decisions, like zoning changes, special zoning permits, the sale or purchase of land by the city and siting for capital projects. Here’s how the system works:

1. Developer files

application with the Department of City Planning. A copy is sent to the affected community board.

2. If the developer submits all

necessary paperwork and completes any necessary environmental review, and the project generally meets with what City Planning wants, it is certified. This starts the ULURP clock ticking.

3. The community board gets 60 days to review the proposal, and must hold a public hearing on it. The board can render a decision on the application—this is purely advisory—or do nothing; either way, the application moves to the borough president’s office.

6. The City Council

automatically reviews some ULURP applications and can choose to weigh in on others. A land use subcommittee (Landmarks, Planning or Zoning) gets the first look, then the full Land Use Committee weighs in, and finally the entire Council can consider a proposal. By tradition, the Council usually follows the lead of the councilmember in whose district a project falls. The body has 50 days to act on a ULURP proposal.

4. After the commu5. The City Planning Commission, composed of seven members selected by the mayor (including chair Amanda Burden, above) and six others named by the borough presidents and public advocate, has 60 days to vote on the proposal once the borough president is done. In some case, if the BP votes “no,” a supermajority of nine commissioners is necessary to overrule the beep. But in most cases, a simple majority rules.

nity board finishes, the borough president has a 30-day period in which to review the idea and give his or her recommendation (again, it’s advisory) to City Planning.

On Earth Day 2007, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled PlaNYC, his pioneering proposal for creating a sustainable city. Impressive in presentation and rich with detail in describing the challenges facing New York—a growing population, rising seas, dwindling energy supplies and more—PlaNYC called for a menu of policies to address them, from controlling sewage releases to expanding bus service, reclaiming unused waterfront territory to facilitating new natural-gas infrastructure. Bloomberg wasn’t the first to talk about sustainability, but he was the first to make government a prominent player in bringing it about. “It’s really changed the way New York City is,” says one member of the team that produced PlaNYC. “For better or worse, we have lots more bike lanes. For better or worse, we have seating areas. They’re putting things back on the pedestrian level. This is the first time America has done something like this, and it’s happening in New York City.” While not all-encompassing—PlaNYC says little to nothing, for instance, about CITy OF INDUSTRy freight—it is remarkably comprehensive, collecting under New York’s dwindling the umbrella of sustainability manufacturing space everything from affordable housing to open space to energy transmission. And it has invigorated the city’s offices. “There’s been a lot of unique thinking that has permeated city agencies, including City Planning,” says Shiffman. “Things that the department was not cognizant of or was opposed to 10 years ago, suddenly, they’re willing to talk about.” This has led to real-world achievements: converting much of the taxi fleet to hybrid, planting 350,000 trees and launching 20 pilot projects to keep storm water out of the sewer system. There’s just one problem with PlaNYC: It’s not a plan. “I think it’s been a very important contribution, but I don’t think it’s a substitute for the kind of comprehensive planning that is usually thought of as part of a land use process,” says Professor Vicki Been of NYU’s Furman Center. A comprehensive plan “would normally say, ‘Here are areas that are underdeveloped and could take more growth, and here are areas that are at their max,’ “ Been adds. “PlaNYC tells you we want a more sustainable city, a city where everyone is 15 minutes from a park. But it doesn’t tell you, ‘This area needs growth, this area doesn’t need growth.’ “ Ironically, PlaNYC was never intended to be what its name implies. “It’s supposed to be an agenda, and that’s what it is,” says the former PlaNYC staffer. “We made a mistake by calling it a plan. Plan means something to people that we didn’t understand at the time. We

area. It promises new jobs, but will mean a loss of the city’s dwindling supply of industrial land.

125th Street Rezoning


The “Iron Triangle” is ugly and dirty, but it is also an industrial hub that provides some 1,700 blue-collar jobs. With the threat of eminent domain in hand, the city is pushing a hotel and convention center—as well as a much-needed environmental clean-up—for this area just east of CitiField. Thanks to the lousy economy, and a dispute over the city’s estimate of the project’s traffic impact, no development appears imminent.

Yankee Stadium

The lack of a comprehensive plan in New York has placed a heavy burden on the system the city uses for making land-use policy. It’s called ULURP, short for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, and it accomplishes the significant feat of pleasing almost no one—mainly because it’s not built to be as comprehensive as people want it to be. Much of the trouble begins before ULURP does, in a period known as precertification. This is when a developer has to gather all the paperwork that City Planning requires—and, in many cases, complete an environmental impact statement, or EIS. For the simplest project, like the building of a small school, an EIS takes three to six months. The review of more complicated proposals can take years. Creating the EIS itself is costly for a developer, but the bigger financial risk to builders is that construction costs will increase drastically or economic conditions change markedly while the environmental review process plays out. One reason for how long these reviews take is the laundry list of considerations each EIS has to make: traffic, transit, pedestrian movement, air quality, water purity, open space, shadows, housing, noise, neighborhood character, socioeconomic effects. The litany of items considered, says land use lawyer Fisher, goes to

Columbia University is building a new research campus on a 17-acre site near the west end of 125th Street. The project conflicted with a community plan for the

This move to increase the permitted height of buildings along Harlem’s historic artery raised concerns about threats to incumbent residents and cultural facilities.

Overruling objections by the local community board and borough president, City

GreenpointWilliamsburg Rezoning

The local community didn’t want to lose its parks to make way for a stadium receiving some $1.4 billion in public subsidies, but the Bloomberg administration—which will, as it is required by law, replace the large park areas that were destroyed, albeit with more and smaller ones—insisted.

the absurd. “A leaf falls on a lake in California and [an EIS] consultant has a new task in the Bronx,” Fisher says. “A lot of it is litigation-driven.” Linh Do, a senior vice president at AKRF, the firm that dominates the EIS world in New York, concurs: “New York City is very informed. The communities, they’re very savvy. The environmental document becomes more than an environmental document. You’re fearful of litigation. You want to cover your bases.” This caution contributes to the length of the process and the report. But length is just one problem. Because they apply arbitrary criteria provided by the city, some EISs seem to downplay obvious concerns. The proposal to rezone industrial areas in Williamsburg to residential, for instance, was determined to have no significant impact on business displacement in the area. Building 5,000 apartments in Jamaica was deemed to represent no

significant adverse impact on subway crowding. And the Yankee Stadium plan that obliterated a huge city park, to be replaced at public expense over a number of years by a collection of smaller parks, was said to have no significant adverse impact on open space. And even if an EIS finds that a project is going to have an adverse impact, it does not mean that a developer will be compelled to fix the problem. What’s more, community critics note an inherent conflict: The firms that prepare EISs are paid either by the developers or by the city agency facilitating the project. Would the EIS consultant really publish something that its client didn’t like? Edward Applebome, the president of AKRF (which with its subcontractors has, over the years, collected at least $10 million in fees from the city for environmental reviews) acknowledges that developers are likely to


The Unplanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


Photos by Edwin, Adi Talwar, Jim Henderson, Alissa Ambrose, Jarrett Murphy

thought it was a cute name. But planners kept telling us, ‘That’s not a real plan.’ It wasn’t supposed to be. That’s not what we were doing.” A specific plan—one linked to city policies, specific places and actual budget dollars—was possible, “but there was a deliberate decision not to do that,” says Pratt’s Eve Baron. “At that point, there was no sense that there would be a third term,” she says. “Everyone was very conscious of the time constraints.” Indeed, a countdown clock in the mayor’s City Hall bullpen reminded people of their dwindling time in office. And in the background was the ever present speculation, encouraged by some at City Hall, that Bloomberg wanted to run for president in 2008. The path the mayor took did produce a landmark document for the environmental movement. But it did not create any formal links between those noble sentiments and the zoning decisions going forward at City Planning or the investments being made by the city’s Economic Development Corp. Some of those entities’ decisions reinforced PlaNYC. But others—downzoning transit-served neighborhoods in a city crying out for affordable housing, building an excess of parking garages at the new Yankee Stadium and Gateway Center in the Bronx, adding tens of thousands of residents to the sewage and transit infrastructure around Atlantic Yards—did not.

Building tension
Controversial land use moves of the Bloomberg years
Atlantic Yards
The proposal for a Nets arena and massive residential development, which bypassed the city’s land use review process and carried the prospect of using eminent domain, had allies because it promised an unusually high share of affordable apartment units. But now that the real estate market has cooled, it’s unclear whether or when the affordable housing will appear.

The original proposal was slightly scaled back, and now the economic downturn appears to have stymied any significant new development.

Willets Point

Planning approved changes that allowed high-rise development on the waterfront and residential development on industrial areas. The apparent result so far: rising rents and closed factories.

In the Zone
Decoding New York’s zoning New York’s zoning system combines a set of rules with a map. The rules, or “zoning text”, describe different categories of development (say, R1, which allows only single-family detached houses, or M3, for potentially noxious industrial uses) and the zoning map says which category applies to every square inch of the city. The categories are limits, not requirements: For instance, an R8 zone allows buildings up to 20 stories high, but not every building in an R8 has to be that high. And they apply only to new construction: If your R8 district is suddenly changed to an R1, you don’t have to tear down your 20-story building—although you might be in trouble if you want to add on to it. The zoning rules mandate that developers do some things—like provide parking for residents of a new building—and entice them to provide other amenities, like affordable housing, by offering “bonuses” that permit bigger buildings than normally allowed.

choose his firm because, “we’ve had a history of working with them. They’re comfortable working with us.” But he argues that if his firm rigged an EIS to downplay some environmental harm, it would only expose the developer or agency to a lawsuit—precisely what AKRF is supposed to protect its clients from. The deeper problem with EISs, says Applebome, is not the EIS. It’s the fact that the environmental review becomes a battleground for all the strong feelings around controversial projects. “It carries the water for a lot of discussion,” he says. In an attempt to defuse some of the strong feelings that swirled around one of the most controversial recent projects, the Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, developer Forest City Ratner in 2005 cut a deal with potential community opponents: The community groups got affordable housing and local construction jobs. FCRC got their support for the project. Ratner’s allies were anchored by ACORN, the now defunct community-organizing group that had years earlier picketed a Ratner project for failing to hire locally. The bargain struck between Ratner and ACORN was called a community benefits agreement (CBA), and it was the first major one in New York City. Among other things, it pledged that 50 percent of the 4,500 units of rental housing that were to be associated with the project would be affordable and that Ratner would make “good faith efforts” to guide 35 percent of construction contracts to minority-owned firms, and another 10 percent to women-owned companies. Other deals followed. The Related Companies made promises to the community around its new Gateway Center in the Bronx, which displaced small businesses in order to create a chain-store-dominated mall. Columbia University signed a CBA with groups near its development site in West Harlem, where it contemplated using eminent domain to take over residential and industrial lots for a new research campus. The Yankees pledged community benefits when they built a new stadium using $1.4 billion in public subsidies. Some CBAs do deliver some benefits. According to a recent report by a task force appointed by City Comptroller John Liu, Atlantic Yards has exceeded targets for hiring minority contractors. The community partner of the Gateway Center says it has set up nutrition and job-training programs for local residents. And Columbia has made at least $1.55 million in required payments to a CBA fund. But there’s no independent monitor of the Yankees CBA plan. The nonprofit that was supposed to be administering the benefits fund at the Gateway project was sued for diverting money from the developer to its own salaries, not community benefits. The vehicle for CBA funding in

districts allow residential buildings of up to 14 stories

zones are for large retail centers

districts are for automotive services and other stores that have an industrial feel

districts are for residential buildings of three to 12 stories

West Harlem was slow getting its incorporation papers prepared. And at Atlantic Yards, the number of promised affordable units, which will be publicly subsidized, will most likely be smaller than estimated, take longer than initially projected and serve households making more than the average local family. These case-by-case flaws hint at larger problems. It is unclear that CBAs are legally enforceable: If a developer tries to back out, what can community groups really do to force him to comply? There is often no mechanism for monitoring compliance. And who gets to represent the community, community boards or independent groups that might not reflect an entire neighborhood and could benefit financially by becoming the conduit for a developer’s community payments? “Accountability and potential conflicts of interest are an issue for many of the community benefit agreements,” read the report by Liu’s task force. “Benefit agreements are an unfortunate byproduct of the city’s failure to develop solutions for problems that demand a comprehensive citywide approach. Benefit agreements also arise because the city doesn’t effectively plan for its neighborhoods and insufficiently considers community needs. Rezoning applications that support major new development move forward without adequate provisions for public schools, transit and other essential supports.” A report from the New York City Bar Association earlier this year came to a similar conclusion as Liu’s panel. “On the one hand, it’s good for residents to be engaged in decisions affecting their neighborhood. On the other, there can often be the perception of ‘zoning for sale,’ “ it read, adding that “communities that have strict regulations that are waived in exchange for benefits may lose sight of genuine land use goals, leaving the community unprotected.” Environmental reviews and community benefits both try to bridge the gap between the planning that communities want and the limitations of the ULURP system. Not surprisingly, they both fail. As the bar association concluded, “The current ad hoc approach is sending mixed signals to both the community and developers.” Replacing that ad hoc approach won’t be easy. There are reasons New York has never engaged in comprehensive planning. One is that in New York, planning, policy and purse strings have often been separated: City Planning used to be able to direct city capital expenditures but it no longer has that power. And while Planning still controls the land, DOT runs the streets, the MTA operates the subways and buses, and the Port Authority, Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority and other independent players oversee other important assets.

is a designation for heavy industry, like power plants and fuel depots

manufacturing districts are for light industry


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Top: Visitors view plans for the new Moynihan Station, a rail hub to be built— after several fits and starts over the past 17 years—on the site of the Farley post office. Bottom: Harlem banker Vincent Morgan worries about the survival of that neighborhood’s cultural resources after the major rezoning of 2008.

Could Be a Contender
A plan for the waterfront?
espite being an archipelago city, New York for decades largely turned its back to the water. All that has begun to change over the past two decades, from the new Brooklyn Bridge Park to canoe trips down the Bronx River. Now the city is planning the Water: The sixth borough? next phase of waterfront Photo by Colin Lenton. development. Vision 2020, the city’s comprehensive waterfront plan, is required by city law to be updated and finalized by the end of this calendar year, and the Department of City Planning is engaged in an uncharacteristically comprehensive and inclusive effort to draft the plan—comprehensive because it covers everything from habitat restoration to seaside industry, and inclusive because there have been eight public input sessions as the plan has evolved. At press time, the draft of the plan calls for measures like exploring the options for developing cultural resources on the Canarsie pier and working with other city agencies to make sure a new pedestrian bridge at East 111th Street “provides for a closer relationship to the waterfront.” One of the plan’s goals is hardening the city against the inevitable effects of climate change and sea rise. Another is to better equip the city’s maritime industry to survive and thrive after the completion in 2014 of a project to expand the Panama Canal, which, the department says, could mean “increased volumes and larger ships coming into the region’s ports.” Not everyone is in love with the latter focus. “This whole process has been tilted away from the environmental side to the business side,” Rob Buchanan, a boating advocate, said at an October public hearing. The city’s environmental justice community is most worried about what’s not in the plan: Any real discussion of the city’s six Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas—South Bronx, Newtown Creek, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Red Hook, Sunset Park and Staten Island’s North Shore—which previous waterfront plans designated as places where heavy industry could be sited with limited buffering for anyone who happens to live nearby. The draft plan does call for increasing environmental stewardship of waterfront industrial areas, but the recommendations are vague, as in the South Bronx, where the city should “balance needs of city’s waste management with those of the community.” Whatever final Vision 2020 plan emerges, the fight won’t be over: The recommendations of the plan will have to be encoded into the city’s actual zoning policies and funding decisions.


Another is that the real estate industry, always a powerful actor in New York, has generally preferred a freer hand to buy and build what it wants. “This city is known as the real estate capital of the world for a reason,” says Hunter’s Angotti. “They were able to kill proposals for a comprehensive plan in the early part of the 20th century.” There’s also a deep and widely held suspicion about the wisdom of planning. On the left, disciples of Jane Jacobs worry that planning stifles the organic development of the city through the imposition of ill-conceived, large-scale, top-down projects. On the right there are complaints that planning—or even the simpler act of zoning—restricts the benevolent hand of the market. And of course, New York’s size and ethnic and political diversity would also be a challenge to getting a plan. “Twice before, they’ve tried to do a comprehensive plan for the city,” says the RPA’s Yaro. “Both times it collapsed under its own weight for being too politically difficult.” What’s more, a plan that says everything about New York could end up saying nothing. Partnership for New York City president Kathy Wylde remembers the Lindsay master plan. “It was a look at planning objectives from 20,000 feet, where some of the facts were wrong,” she recalls. “I’m not a big believer in comprehensive planning based on that experience. I think it tends to be a combination of wishful thinking and unrealistic raising of expectations, or lowering them.” And of course, plans can move slowly compared with a fast-changing city: If New York produced a comprehensive plan, says Fisher, “it would be obsolete before it was published.” All these problems could beset a comprehensive plan. But none of them is a given. “[Planning] is not a theoretical exercise,” says Angotti. “It’s a matter of political determination. If the mayor decides that a plan is a worthwhile exercise, they’d find a way to do it.” Indeed, some plans do work. The Regional Plan Association, while lacking any formal authority and having a region-wide focus, managed to accomplish lasting achievements through its three regional plans (see “Three Wishes,” on p. 50). The question is not whether a comprehensive plan will be easy. The question is whether New York can solve its problems without one—not just the problem of climate change or population growth or traffic congestion, but the democracy problem that plagues the city’s current system for deciding what to do with its finite supply of land. Municipal Art Society president Vin Cipola said recently that the city’s move toward transit-oriented development is a good step. The problem, he says, is that communities are saying, “ ‘Yes, we see this new stuff going up, but how has it added to the quality of life in my community?’” Cipola adds: “And the answer, often, is it hasn’t.”


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Whose Dreams Will Decide?
The push for neighborhoods to have more than a voice
t’s a strange walk down North 7th Street in Williamsburg on a weekday morning these days. People pour into the L train station on the corner of Bedford Avenue, and the bikes locked around posts and poles are so abundant, it can be hard to move down the sidewalk. It looks like boom time. But then you pass a stalled building site. And then another. You turn the corner and see a whole block that is empty. You round another block and notice one factory building after another that is gated, out of use. Move toward the waterfront and you see towering high-rises that appear to be only half full. Yet others are still going up. The rash of residential development, spurred by a 2005 rezoning, is behind much of it: the bikes, the high-rises, empty lots and closed factories, where owners ousted industrial tenants in search of the bigger bucks that residential development might bring. “We call this one Jurassic Park,” says Phil dePaolo, a home audio consultant by day who sidelines as an inveterate community activist and gadfly. “There was a place called Oriental Food Supply. It was great. You’d come in here and buy fresh bok choy.” Now it’s an empty spot in a vacant lot. The rezoning of the area to a midrise residential district totally changed the Williamsburg real estate market. “Once that happens, the land values just skyrocket,” says dePaolo.
A SPARkLING LUXURY HIGH-RISE—the new face of Williamsburg after a controversial 2005 rezoning.



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This is not what Williamsburg and Greenpoint asked for. In fact, it wasn’t what they planned for. A decade ago, these neighborhoods took the city up on an offer to plan proactively for their future. They spent years crafting a vision of what should happen. The city accepted and approved it. But when developers wanted access to a two-mile stretch of the Brooklyn waterfront and some of the hipster interior of the new Brooklyn, the City Planning Commission simply disregarded much of what the community wanted. If New York City is going to approach its future in a thoughtful way—planning rather than just zoning, thinking comprehensively, considering not just where the buildings go but also where to put schools and how to improve transit—it will have to solve the riddle it has wrestled with for nearly 60 years: whether and how to involve communities in planning their future. In 1951, Manhattan Borough President Robert Wagner established 12 community planning councils to advise him on land use and budget decisions. After Wagner became mayor and the City Charter was revised in 1963, the concept went citywide. In 1976 the boards’ role in the city’s land use process was strengthened—the idea being to try to let a layer of government closest to the people guide the planning that affects communities. Today, there are 59 community districts in the city, and each has a community board. A board has up to 50 volunteer members—half appointed directly by the borough president, half recommended by the local City Council members and approved by the BP—serving two-year terms. The board chairman is elected by the board members, who also hire a district manager who works full time for the community board. The community board is the first stop in the city’s process for reviewing land use proposals like zoning changes. It also helps monitor the delivery of city services like garbage pickup and police protection. And every year it submits a “statement of needs” that is supposed to inform the city’s budget process. When the charter was revised again in 1989, community boards were given a key power: the right to propose a plan “for the development, growth and improvement” of its district, called a “197-A plan,” for the section of the charter that grants the power. “Let’s put it this way: The community has more influence, on paper, than it ever did,” says Paul Graziano, the planner. “However, there’s a caveat with that: That’s for areas that are not on the radar for upzoning or for more intensive redevelopment.” Williamsburg and Greenpoint began work on 197-A plans in the mid-1990s. The plans were approved by

“Let’s put it this way: The community has more influence, on paper, than it ever did. … However, there’s a caveat with that: That’s for areas that are not on the radar for upzoning or for more intensive redevelopment.”
the city in 2002. Their goal was to reclaim the waterfront—which had been plagued by heavy, noxious industry—for open space and low-rise, affordable residential development. New transit options were proposed for an area traditionally poorly served by the MTA. And protecting light industry in the interior of the neighborhood was another key principle. Less than two years later, the City Planning Commission proposed a 183-block rezoning plan that differed significantly from what the 197-A plan called for. The housing on the waterfront was made far higher than the community wanted. The plan’s hope to hang on to historic buildings was not addressed. There was inadequate provision for affordable housing. And residents worried that the city’s desire to create “mixed-use” districts to serve both residential and industrial tenants was not going to do enough to protect industry. The community board voted against the plan 37-0. The borough president also did not approve the plan. But under the ULURP process, those votes are advisory. And for the most part, the City Planning Commission didn’t take the advice. In a report issued at the March 2005 meeting where the Planning Commission approved the Greenpoint-Williamsburg rezoning, the Department of City Planning pointed to benefits in its rezoning plan, like a 28-acre waterfront park. It noted that the initial rezoning proposal had been tweaked slightly to protect some areas. And, City Planning pointed out, the department did develop the city’s first “inclusionary zoning program,” which offers developers higher buildings and public subsidies if they included affordable apartments, specifically for the GreenpointWilliamsburg rezoning. Still, the changes didn’t much

A Face in the Crowd
Comparing New York’s density to cities worldwide
With more than 111,000 people per square mile, the Philippine capital is the densest incorporated place on earth Manila New Delhi Manhattan If Manhattan were its own city, it’d be among the 20 densest in the world Mumbai Gutenberg, N.J. Kabul Jakarta Brooklyn The Bronx As a whole, New York is not among the 50 densest cities worldwide, and it ranks fifth in the U.S. But it is America’s densest large city. Beijing New York City Moscow Queens Chicago Philadelphia Staten Island Los Angeles It only has 10,000 residents, but since Gutenberg, New Jersey, covers only a fifth of a mile, it is the densest city in the U.S.

City stats


Bedford Park, Bronx

36,156 33,269

Manhattanville, Manhattan

Tompkins Houses, Brooklyn

Lefrak City, Queens







In any city, some neighborhoods are denser than others. If the density of New York’s most crowded census tracts were measured in square miles, here’s how they’d compare with Manila.


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West Brighton Houses, Staten Island 47

resemble what the community had asked for in its 197-A plan. That 197-A plan “served as an important basis for DCP’s planning and laid the groundwork for an extensive public outreach process,” City Planning continued in its report. “The Commission acknowledges the importance of the 197-A plans as a guide to policy and believes they serve as valuable foundations for the proposed rezoning plan. The Commission observes, however, that conditions have continued to change within these neighborhoods since the 197-A plans were adopted.” City Planning, “which had blessed the 197-A plan, totally fucked that neighborhood royally,” Graziano says. “They did not want 40-story buildings on the waterfront. They did not want the manufacturing district turned residential. They threw

the 197-A plan in the garbage.” Not long after that, Community Board 9 in northern Manhattan submitted a 197-A plan covering a swath of West Harlem. Among other things, the plan wanted to prevent Columbia University from using eminent domain to drive residential and industrial uses out of an area just north of 125th Street. City Planning sat on the community’s 197-A plan for a year while Columbia prepared its own plan. The final plan gave Columbia what it wanted, and the university agreed to provide community benefits in return. Years earlier, when Manhattan Community Board 6 completed its 197-A plan, it called for the new East River Science Park to be used solely for scientific and medical uses. “The first thing the Economic Development Corp. did was to put

THE REzONING OF HARLEM will permit more high-rise luxury development in a neighborhood already stung by gentrification. Measures encouraging affordable housing and the preservation of cultural resources were part of the rezoning deal, but skeptics doubt they’ll be effective.

a proposal out for a hotel,” says CB6’s land use chair, Ed Rubin. The 197-A plan, he says, “is only a statement of policy. They can ignore it, and they do all the time.” A veteran City Planning administrator does not dispute that description. Indeed, the department is just doing what the charter says it’s supposed to do. “The 197-A plan does establish a framework for future action. We’re not slaves of the 197-A framework,” he says. City planning does need to think about the citywide issues—housing, economic development—that a single community might not care to contemplate. Critics just find it odd which issues get citywide priority (housing, for instance, as opposed to retaining industry) and which groups get a hearing on them. New York certainly needs to retain and expand institutions like Columbia. But how should the desires of big institutions and developers be weighed versus those of residents? “Our view is that no proposal trumps the other,” the City Planning administrator says. In the two decades since 197-A plans were created, only eight of the city’s 59 community boards have produced one. One was withdrawn. Another, from CB11 in northeastern Queens, was rejected; according to Queens Civic Congress head Sean Walsh, who drafted the plan, it was deemed unacceptable because it called for the rezoning of Northern Boulevard, which is seen as a major artery on which citywide policies— rather than community desires—hold. “The bottom line is that City Planning owns all the chips: their cards, their house, their chips,” he says. And “to get something on their agenda may take years.” Some boards who’ve done 197-A plans are very happy with the results. At CB8 in Riverdale, chairman Damian McShane says, “Overall, City Planning was very good to work with.” While CB8 didn’t get everything it wanted, “what we were able to do was in large swaths of the community, we did downzoning where there were existing single-family homes,” McShane says. Even Walter South, the landmarks and preservation chair of the Manhattan board that tried and failed to rebuff the harsher parts of Columbia’s plan, says the 197-A effort has helped in other parts of the neighborhood. “We are now in the process of doing a contextual zoning for the area north of 135th Street,” he says. “Landmarks has just announced that they

are willing to consider a Morningside Heights historic district. We were able to get a lot of things on the table, to get things approved.” But 197-A plans have not created the comprehensive, community-based planning they promised. “The real problem with the 197-A plans is not so much City Planning. It’s that it is a small hurdle in a developer’s road,” Jerome Armer, who sat on Brooklyn’s CB6 for nearly 30 years, says. “Any good developer will know what he has to do to jump the hurdle.”

Taken together, charter revision proposals made during the summer draw a pretty clear road map for how New York City might do planning better.

Some communities do succeed in persuading City Planning to change its mind. Deborah Ayala, the president of the Jamaica Hills Community Association, has worked with City Planning on a number of rezonings since 1990. “They were very, very helpful when we said, ‘Listen, the zoning wasn’t going to work.’ We were one of the first civics that were able to have City Planning create a whole new zone for us. They were wonderful.” The communities and community boards that get heard are those that have a good relationship with their Council member—since he or she has an informal veto over projects in the district—and demonstrate political heft. James Vacca, a councilman who previously served as district manager for Bronx Board 10 for 26 years, recalls a time in 2003 when Mayor Bloomberg came to Throgs Neck for a town hall meeting. “We made sure people were there,” he says,


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to demonstrate the neighborhood’s strength. This helped Throgs Neck get the downzoning it desired. But even relatively muscular community boards carry little weight. Each is but one of 59 boards across the city and has merely advisory powers. This is why, rather than saying “no” to a land use application, community boards often vote “yes” but attach conditions. The City Planning Commission is free to ignore those conditions, and it often does, but boards view it as the only way to stay relevant to the process. “Community boards who vote’ no’ are typically labeled NIMBY,” says Vacca. By the time a land use idea gets into the ULURP process and comes to a community board, he says, City Planning has probably already decided it is something it supports. “The reality is, at the end of the day, the application will very likely be approved.” Money matters too. The City Charter says the Department of City Planning is supposed to “provide community boards with such staff assistance and other professional and technical assistance as may be necessary to permit such boards to perform their planning duties and responsibilities.” But the city has never done that. The Department of City Planning does not enjoy abundant resources. Despite being tasked with having to plan a city that has grown by more than a million people since 1981, City Planning has lost 36 percent of its workforce since then.In recent budget cuts, City Planning suffered dearly—absorbing cuts of nearly 5 percent this year, when the overall city budget shrank by only 2.5 percent. Oddly, City Planning has said these cuts are not a problem. According to a fiscal 2011 budget document, when the City Council asked City Planning about the impact of losing 15 percent of its staff in the past two years, the agency “stated that despite this loss in total staff, it has enough resources and capacity to meet the agency’s objectives.” Over the past 20 years, community boards have enjoyed modest growth in budget and head count, but each still has very little to spend: Manhattan Board 10, for example, serves more people than live in Green Bay, Wis. But Board 10’s $279,000 annual budget is substantially less than what Green Bay’s Department of Economic Development spends in a year. The inadequate funding of the community boards creates inequities between boards that serve wealthy neighborhoods and those that cover lower-income areas. “We’re a relatively affluent neighborhood,” says Rubin of Manhattan Board 6. “We were able to hire

three Wishes
New York’s regional plans
enough green space … the growing separation of rich and poor … the growing separation of worker and workplace.” The plan called for the creation of secondary city centers in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx to disperse economic activity outside Manhattan, advocated the preservation of unskilled jobs for workers with little education and recommended that buses “have their own right of way, at least during rush hours.” The plan also called for considering new kinds of transit, like “moving sidewalks,” and even talked promisingly of a “gravityvacuum tube” subway system to speed travel between stations. Affection for the automobile remained: The 1968 plan called for “completion of the expressway network in the core,” including Lomex.

lawyers and a planning firm” for the 197-A plan process. “It’s very hard for a poor district to develop 197-As.” A 197-A plan takes years to complete and requires the help of a professional planner, which can cost upwards of $100,000. This is why some community boards don’t bother with the chief tool for comprehensive, community-based planning that New York City has to offer. “I felt the 197-A represented a very general look at your district,” Vacca says. “It takes years, and at the end of the day, it’s advisory. Community boards want something that is more than advisory.” Any discussion of community input runs into the tricky task of deciding whose voices need to be heard. “What is ‘the community’?” asks longtime environmental justice advocate Eddie Bautista. “It differs depending which councilperson you talk to.” Community boards are not universally loved. With borough presidents picking their members, community boards do not enjoy political independence. This has been demonstrated in recent years when community board members who voted against projects that were priorities for borough presidents found themselves removed from the board when the next round of appointments came. When eight members of a Bronx board voted against the Yankee Stadium project, which then BP Adolfo Carrión strongly supported, three rebels and the chairman were disinvited from the board. The Atlantic Yards project circumvented the ULURP process, but Brooklyn Board 6 opted to weigh in on it anyway. “We came up with a critique which basically supported Atlantic Yards but felt that there were aspects of it that were a bit large and recommended that the development around the actual arena be scaled back or made more realistic,” recalls Armer, who had been on the board since the 1970s. For that, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz did not reappoint Armer and four others to the board. Vincent Morgan, the chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District, was deeply opposed to the 2008 rezoning of the 125th Street corridor that allowed for massive residential development in an area already under threat from gentrification. Two local community boards gave conditional approvals of the rezoning; one a conditional disapproval. Morgan was particularly worried about what would happen to Harlem’s cultural institutions. City Planning developed a zoning bonus to protect those gems, but Morgan and others doubt it will succeed. As troubling as the product of the rezoning push was, Morgan says, the process was even worse. “I think that a lot of times, we fool ourselves into thinking there’s this open process. It’s who puts the process together that control who

o entity has done more to plan for the growth of the New York City metropolitan region than the Regional Plan Association, which since 1929 has produced three sweeping visions for the tri-state area. The plans reflect both foresight and the thinking of the times in which they were produced, and each resulted in concrete changes to the region’s shape.


gets access, who gets listened to and who doesn’t,” he says. “The community boards are stacked and are little political entities all on their own.” But there are ways to make community boards work better. When he was running for Manhattan borough president five years ago, Scott Stringer released a report finding multiple flaws in the way community boards were composed and operated. The process for appointing members was “politicized and unsystematic,” he found, leaving multiple vacancies and leading to boards whose membership was out of whack with the demographic makeup of the neighborhood. What’s more, ethics rules, oversight, training and assistance were absent. When he took office, Stringer implemented a menu of reforms to make boards work better. His staff holds regular information sessions and talks to community groups about the opportunity to join a community board, targeting that outreach to communities that are underrepresented on the current boards. He’s had the community board membership application translated into five languages, enlisted 5,000 neighborhood organizations to distribute them and impaneled a committee to advise him on appointments. Stringer also launched a fellowship program to pair planning students with boards, an attempt to close the expertise gap between what boards need and what the city is willing to fund. Stringer says his reforms have helped to reduce the board vacancy rate from 25 percent to zero. Stronger community boards have an ally in the corporate HOW BIg A CITy? community. “From the busiDiffering views on how ness community standpoint, large NYC should get a strong community board structure is seen as a good thing and a source of stability and predictability,” says Partnership for New York City president Kathy Wylde. That’s because community boards are easier to deal with than are some of the ad hoc coalitions that have sprouted to negotiate community benefit deals with major developments. If businesses have to deal with the community, they’d rather it be in a forum whose rules and players they know. Right now, says Wylde, “Investment is discouraged by large uncertainty factors and the sense that decisions are not based on an underlying plan or a long-range planning consideration.” Bob Yaro, the president of the Regional Plan Association, disputes the notion that community input is undervalued by the City Planning Commission: “They get criticism from both sides, that they haven’t engaged enough, that they are too responsive to the community, that outcomes have been shaped by NIMBY. They’ve

anti-sprawl message of seeking to keep people closer to their jobs (as well as its concern about the “somewhat indiscriminate location of slaughter houses”), the ‘29 plan called for a large expansion of the rail system. But the plan was also open to throwing rail transit under the bus (if you will) in favor of the wonderful automobile. “If a bold and comprehensive treatment of the highway system is pursued in advance of actual need ... a great deal of the expense in railroad and transit line construction may be avoided.” The ‘29 plan called for a regionwide loop road, 12 thruways, 20 radial routes, five circumferential routes, eight express highways and at least 170 other roads.

1929: Notable for its prescient

1968: RPA’s second report also showed great foresight, noting with concern “the swift spread of building without saving

1996: RPA’s third plan strikes a decidedly pessimistic tone, noting the challenges posed by technology and globalization to New York’s economic preeminence. The plan proposed the creation of 11 regional nature reserves, reinvestment in urban parks and the protection of greenways linking open space through the region. Echoing the 1968 plan, it advocated 11 regional downtowns—as well as revived metro centers in Brooklyn and Long Island City—argued against sprawl and pushed for affordable housing. But its recommendations on transit were sweeping. Some didn’t happen, like a a light rail link between Brooklyn and the Bronx. Others—like building the Second Avenue Subway—have. And a few ideas are at least still on the table, like congestion pricing.


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probably struck the right balance if both sides are criticizing them.” It’s true—sometime communities can ask for a lot. Westerleigh, in Staten Island, was rezoned in 1989 to reduce the density of residential development. It was downzoned again in 2003. In 2005 they pushed for a third round of density reduction. “We wanted the area rezoned to R2. Some of the limitations of R3 permitted developers to squeeze in more housing than we were comfortable with,” says Michael Morrell, head of the Westerleigh Improvement Society. This third round of downzoning “was going fine until it met the desk of the chair, Amanda Burden,” Morell says. “We were just confronted with a stone wall. She claimed that the area was suitably zoned.” Ultimately, Westerleigh got the downzoning it asked for. But it exposed the City Planning Commission, which was simultaneously upzoning big swaths of the city, to the charge that it was overly concerned with the needs of Staten Island homeowners. Pleasing everybody is hard. “My concern is that most folks and most communities are inherently conservative,” says Ken Fisher, the land use lawyer. “So if you were doing a 197-A plan in certain neighborhoods of Brooklyn when I was growing up, the thrust of it would have been to figure out how to keep those neighborhoods as white as could be.” But the content of community involvement is almost a secondary concern, Fisher MAKINg PlANS says, to the problems with how the process works today. What’s in other cities’ comprehensive plans? “What makes developers crazy is a lack of certainty on how long things are going to take,” says Fisher. ULURP is time-limited to around seven months, but the period before the ULURP clock starts can span years. Paradoxically, it’s the larger projects—the ones communities worry about the most—that are best equipped to deal with the cost overruns and legal bills that a drawn-out process generates, he says. “Smaller projects often languish.” Allies of developers seem to see an entirely different planning system than community members experience. “There is so much room for input along the way, and that same room for input, I think, sometimes that overwhelms people,” says Melinda Katz, the former Council land use committee chair, who now works in land use law. So how can developers be upset at the amount of community input while community members complain that they don’t have a voice? The confusion is in the difference between input and influence. Getting a say and getting your way—or, at least,

getting some of what you asked for—are two different things. A developer faces two rounds of public comment on the environmental review, ULURP hearings at the community board and borough level, a City Planning Commission hearing and a City Council session. That seems like a lot of community involvement. But while there are ample opportunities to speak, a community has little real sway within that process. “The City Planning Commission thinks they do plenty of community input,” says Roberta Brandes Gratz, author of the book “The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs.” “The problem is they go to a community with a plan, and then they get the community to react,” Gratz says. “That’s not community input. Community input is when the community is involved in making the plan.” When Mayor Bloomberg went to the Queens Museum in December 2006 to unveil the first stage of PlaNYC, he said the city was “going to go to the real experts—you. New Yorkers in all five boroughs” to help draft the document. The administration did engage the public. “There were dozens of meetings with advocacy groups, civic group,” says Eddie Bautista. “As I was there, I saw the plan evolve and change with people’s input.” But when you consider that PlaNYC set out to address everything from housing to open space to energy to transit for the next quarter-century, three months was a pretty small window of opportunity for community members to be involved. “The thing with PlaNYC was, we did as much [community outreach] as we could with the time we had,” says the former PlaNYC staffer. “We did it with no budget.” While PlaNYC has chalked up dozens of accomplishments, its early life was dominated by a signal failure—the collapse of the congestion-pricing proposal. The lack of grassroots support for the mayor’s traffic fee is one explanation for its demise. Indeed, says the Municipal Art Society’s David Shackenberg, “One of the things about PlaNYC is it’s top-down.” He adds, “A meaningful comprehensive plan—if it’s possible—has to come from disparate points and has to reflect different neighborhoods and neighborhood perspectives. It can’t be a mayoral-driven, top-down plan.” The Bloomberg administration is now working on an update of PlaNYC. In late October, at a sparsely attended community input session at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, PlaNYC organizer Ibrahim Abdul-Matin suggested the second round of PlaNYC would aim to correct a flaw in the first one—the fact that the mayor set the goals without asking New Yorkers if they shared them. “PlaNYC is a citywide plan, but it’s also a neighborhood

Unfair share?
Partial victory at the polls


he current city charter calls for the city to locate infrastructure like solid waste transfer stations and jails in a way that furthers “the fair distribution among community of the burdens and benefits associated with city facilities.” Critics of the current system say vague language in the charter and flaws in the rules adopted to implement it have made this “fair share” provision less potent than it was supposed to be. Many city projects never make it onto the city’s annual list of infrastructure projects, so communities don’t always get the heads-up they are supposed to. More important, the rules deal with the concentration of similar facilities, but not with the total burden a neighborhood faces from different kinds of polluting infrastructure. And facilities that are

Refuse on Newtown Creek, in a heavily industrialized border zone between Brooklyn and Queens. Photo by Jarrett Murphy.

funded by the city but owned by a private company that gets the bulk of its business from other sources may not be subject to the rules. The Department of City Planning says that agencies need the flexibility to proceed with facilities even if they miss the once-a-year deadline for the infrastructure to-do list, called the Annual Statement of Needs. And a City Planning official insists that city agencies take a broad look at the burdens different neighborhoods face, even if the rules

don’t expressly call for that. This year’s charter revision commission proposed a minor fix to the fair share rules. It passed with 83 percent of the vote. The tweak means the official map that guides agencies’ siting decisions will now include waste and transportation facilities regardless of whether they are government property or privately owned. “It’s a step, right?” says New York City Environmental Justice Alliance executive director Eddie Bautista. “We look forward to future commissions to push it further.”

plan,” he said. “This is where we want you to think with us. Is this a good goal? Is it a meaningful goal? Is it a practical goal?” The October meeting was just one step in an outreach process that will involve community groups, community boards, borough presidents and another round of public hearings. But so far, the meaningful impact of community input seems pretty limited. “This is not enough time to get out every idea that you have,” Abdul-Matin told the crowd at Lincoln Hospital, and he was right. When the meeting broke into groups around specific policy areas, there was about 20 minutes to talk about big-ticket topics like “transit” and “waste.” Participants were discouraged from talking about specific policies and told to focus on crafting broad goals. At one table, someone suggested that public input was an important part of developing a better transit system and a better PlaNYC. “This is something that we hear consistently at every meeting,” the facilitator agreed, “the need for more consistent and more thorough community involvement.”

New York City doesn’t need to invent a system for urban comprehensive planning out of thin air. Plenty of cities offer different models for how to do it. In Houston, it’s called Super Neighborhoods, in which elected neighborhood boards create plans that determine where capital spending goes. In Buffalo, the Good Neighbors Planning Alliance links community plans generated in each neighborhood to capital and program budgets. Seattle sets growth targets and then asks neighborhoods how to reach them; the resulting plans are tied to city spending and managed through a citywide council led by citizens. In Portland, Ore., an effort is now under way to create the Portland Plan, tying together public spending, local codes, laws and growth planning. Because Oregon’s statewide land use planning system requires citizen involvement, community participation drives the Portland process. The beginning of the six-year effort was a two-year community visioning process that involved 17,000 people (the equivalent of 270,000 people in New York City). Linda Nettlekoven, a member of the committee overseeing community participation, says


The Unplanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


Oppostite page, top: Residents of Melrose battled a city redevelopment plan that would have excluded them. They won a revamped neighborhood. Bottom: Phil dePaolo, Williamsburg resident and activist, points out some of the effects of the 2005 rezoning.

the community input has not been perfect—”We struggled with being too white, too homeownerfocused, etc. The people who tend to have easier lives have more time to participate”—but the city has given grants to the local Latino Network and Urban League to run training programs to get members of other communities involved. None of these other cities’ approaches seem incompatible with New York’s existing community board structure. And none of them would doom New York to a useless exercise in master planning. “I remember the 1969 master plan being used for people to kind of sop up water,” says Ronda Wist, senior director of planning and advocacy at the Municipal Art Society. “A comprehensive plan may be impossible because of what New York is,” she says. “But it’s possible to set up a comprehensive planning framework.” One plan might not work for the whole city, but a collection of community plans covering the entire map could. During the brief period this summer when it looked as if the Charter Revision Commission would consider major changes to the land use process, several sets of policy proposals emerged from players on the planning scene. Taken together, they draw a pretty clear road map for how New York City might do planning better. One was that community boards need resources to do their jobs. “Over time, the community boards became service delivery mechanisms, even dropping planning from their name,” says Manhattan Borough President Stringer. “We need to look at how we plan in this city. We think that every community board must have a planner working with the board.” One way to do this, says Citizens Union, would be to create a pool of independent planners who can work with different boards. An alternative approach would be to give each board a small but guaranteed portion of the overall city budget. Another clear theme was that an independent planning authority is needed. The Pratt Center calls for separating the jobs of Department of City Planning Commissioner and head of the City Planning Commission; the current combination of those titles means that Amanda Burden directs consideration of what her own department has prepared. Hunter College’s Tom Angotti suggests putting the public advocate in charge of overseeing the land use process citywide. Stringer has called for the creation of an Independent Planning Office “to look at the issues in a more macro way.” “The City Planning Commission does a good

job in managing and shaping individual projects,” he says, “but they are not empowered to do a lot of the critical thinking that we need to do.” A third strand is the desire to encourage comprehensive planning by communities by giving the 197-A process teeth—or at least dentures. “197-A plans should be submitted to all relevant City agencies and such agencies should formally review and respond to such plans, and integrate them as much as possible in their policies,” is what Stringer’s report recommends. “Any departure in agency policy from an approved 197-A plan should be justified in writing with an opportunity for the community board and public to respond. All ULURP actions should also require consideration of integrating 197-A plans when practicable and any inconsistencies should be formally justified in the application materials.” Angotti goes a step further: He’d require community boards and city agencies to submit 197-A plans. Taken together, these would form a comprehensive plan for the city. For any of these changes to take place, another charter revision commission would need to be impaneled. That’s the mayor’s call. The mayor’s Department of City Planning, which did not comment for this piece but directed City Limits to community advocates who’d worked with it, does not want to see broad changes in how the city plans. The agency defended ULURP in its testimony to the City Planning Commission this summer. “It is slow, but it is predictable and also allows sufficient time for issues to both percolate and to get resolved,” said David Karnovsky, the agency’s chief counsel. “It allows for a balancing of local, borough and citywide concerns.” Luckily, almost none of the calls for change this summer advocated the abolition of ULURP—and none would have stripped City Planning of the flexibility it needs to square the desires of individual neighborhoods with citywide demands. “I don’t think anybody wants a plan to be law, precisely because things change,” says Pratt’s Eve Baron. “You don’t want to be bound to create 20,000 units of housing if the growth changes drastically.” What’s been called for, instead, is to give all the city’s neighborhoods a real reason and the real resources to plan, so citywide issues don’t need to be solved one project at a time; so decisions on where to build might have some linkage to transit, schools, jobs and other parts of life in the city; so communities have an option other than NIMBY and developers have a real road map for


The UnPlanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


A NEW NEW YORk EMERGES: (CLOCkWISE FROM TOP LEFT): a bike on Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue, wrecks in Willets Point, a destination in rezoned Williamsburg, a musician on the 7 train platform at Times Square, oils for sale along 125th Street in Harlem.

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what neighborhoods will tolerate. That way, more people have an incentive to engage in the municipal government’s most fundamental task: deciding what to do with the blocks and buildings that make up New York City. When, in 1990, the city proposed demolishing much of the Bronx neighborhood of Melrose, located a few blocks east and south of Yankee Stadium, and replacing it with a middle-income development that would have priced-out incumbent residents, many in the neighborhood rebelled. They organized, protested and demanded something different: a smaller plan that had the explicit goal of letting people who wanted to stay in the area remain. Remarkably, the city listened. And today, the 35-block area known as Melrose Commons is dotted with neat townhouses and sharp-looking rental buildings. “We don’t build housing. We build homes,” boasts Yolanda Gonzalez, the executive director of Nos Quedamos (We Stay), the group that led the opposition to the first plan and the development of the alternative. Each of NQ’s buildings features cavity walls and filtered air to reduce the irritants that contribute to the area’s high—but,

these days, much lower—rates of asthma, which killed Gonzalez’s brother at the age of 27. Now kids get sick less, Gonzalez says, so they get to school more, so parents take fewer days off from work to tend to sick kids, so there’s more money around to pay bills. The design of the buildings, she says, reflects people’s needs. There are play areas located next to laundry rooms, for residents with kids. There are country kitchens in the apartments that permit a parent to cook and watch his or her kids do homework. The buildings had white roofs and recyclable components before they were fashionable. There are still battles: A traffic light that community members asked for on Elton Avenue 12 years ago was just installed but doesn’t work. A sinkhole on 157th Street has been a noisy traffic obstacle for decades. But the people are still there. One wonders how Nos Quedamos managed to do what other communities have not done—to shape its own destiny. The secret? “At the end of the day, every person who was around the table was a person, and what was happening in our backyard was happening in everyone’s backyard,” Gonzalez says. “That, and we had a better plan.” CL


The UnPlanned City

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 6


3. Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights, and Ocean Hill

1360 Fulton Street First Monday, 7:00 p.m.

4. Bushwick and Ridgewood

315 Wyckoff Avenue Third Wednesday, 6:00 p.m.

The input that neighborhoods have in planning New York City gets transmitted through the city’s 59 community boards, which have a role in approving land use decisions, monitoring the delivery of other city services like sanitation and police and advising the mayor and City Council on budget decisions. Serving populations of 100,000 or more—in other words, constituencies the size of a small city—the boards are a vital link between residents and government, and their meetings often touch on critical issues facing neighborhoods. Below is information on where and when the board in your neighborhood will meet next. For more information, go to directory.shtml.

127 Pennsylvania Avenue Fourth Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
Community board members rally during the charter revision hearings in April 2010. Photo by Jarrett Murphy

5. East New York, Cypress Hills, Highland Park, New Lots, City Line, and Starrett City Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Gowanus, and Cobble Hill

6. Red Hook, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Gowanus, and Cobble Hill

Melrose, a low-income South Bronx neighborhood, was redeveloped along the lines of a community plan.

9. Parkchester, Unionport, Soundview, Castle Hill, Bruckner, Harding Park, Bronx River and Clason Point

3. Crotona Park, Claremont Village, Concourse Village, Woodstock, and Morrisania

1426 Boston Road Second Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.

6. Belmont, Bathgate, West Farms, East Tremont, and Bronx Park South

1967 Turnbull Avenue, Rm. 7 Third Thursday, 7:00 p.m.

12. Edenwald, Wakefield, Williamsbridge, Woodlawn, Fish Bay, Eastchester, Olinville, and Baychester

4101 White Plains Road Fourth Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

250 Baltic Street Second Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

7. Sunset Park and Windsor Terrace

1932 Arthur Avenue, Rm. 709 Second Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.


4. Highbridge, Concourse, Mount Eden, and Concourse Village

1. Mott Haven, Port Morris, Melrose

3024 Third Avenue Last Thursday, 6:00 p.m.

1650 Selwyn Avenue, #11A Fourth Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.

7. Norwood, University Heights, Jerome Park, Bedford Park, Fordham, and kingsbridge

10. Co-op City, City Island, Spencer Estates, Throggs Neck, Country Club, zerega, Westchester Square, Pelham Bay, Eastchester Bay, Schuylerville, Edgewater, Locust Point, and Silver Beach


4201 4th Avenue Third Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.

1. Flushing Avenue, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Northside, and Southside

8. Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, and Weeksville

2. Hunts Point, Longwood, Morrisania

5. Fordham, University Heights, Morris Heights, Bathgate, and Mount Hope

229A E. 204th Street Third Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

3165 East Tremont Avenue Third Thursday, 6:30 p.m.

435 Graham Avenue Second Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

1291 St. Marks Avenue Second Thursday, 7:00 p.m.

1029 E. 163rd Street, Suite 202 Last Wednesday, 6:00 p.m.

W. 181st Street at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. Fourth Wednesday, 6:00 p.m.

8. Fieldston, kingsbridge, kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil, Van Cortlandt Village

11. Morris Park, Pelham Parkway, Pelham Gardens, Allerton, Bronxdale, Laconia, and Van Nest

5676 Riverdale Avenue Second Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

1741 Colden Avenue Fourth Thursday, 7:00 p.m.

2. Brooklyn Heights, Fulton Mall, Boerum Hill, Fort Greene, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Fulton Ferry, and Clinton Hill

9. Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Wingate

350 Jay Street, 8th Floor Second Wednesday, 6:00 p.m.

890 Nostrand Avenue Fourth Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.

10. Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, and Fort Hamilton

8119 5th Avenue


The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store Homework

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6


Third Monday, 7:15 p.m.
11. Bath Beach, Gravesend, Mapleton, and Bensonhurst Third Wednesday, 8:00 p.m.

505 Park Avenue, Suite 620 Third Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
9. Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville, Morningside Heights, and West Harlem

46-11 104th Street First Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
5. Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth, and Liberty Park First Monday, 7:30 p.m.
12. Jamaica, Hollis, St. Albans, Springfield Gardens, Baisley Park, Rochdale Village, and South Jamaica

Oakwood, Ocean Breeze, Old Town, South Beach, Todt Hill, and Travis

2214 Bath Avenue Second Thursday, 7:30 p.m.


1. Tribeca, Seaport/Civic Center, Financial District, Battery Park City

460 Brielle Avenue Third Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.

12. Boro Park, kensington, Ocean Parkway, and Midwood

5910 13th Avenue Fourth Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.

49-51 Chambers Street, Room 715 Fourth Tuesday, 6:00 p.m.

16-18 Old Broadway Third Thursday, 6:30 p.m.
10. Central Harlem

61-23 Myrtle Avenue Second Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
6. Forest Hills and Rego Park

90-28 161st Street Third Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.

2. Greenwich Village, West Village, NoHo, SoHo, Lower East Side, Chinatown, Little Italy

13. Coney Island, Brighton Beach, Bensonhurst, Gravesend, and Seagate

1201 Surf Avenue, 3rd Floor Fourth Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.

3 Washington Square Village, #1A Second to last Thursday, 6:00 p.m.

215 West 125th Street First Wednesday, 6:00 p.m.
11. East Harlem

73-05 Yellowstone Boulevard Second Wednesday, 7:45 p.m.

13. Queens Village, Glen Oaks, New Hyde Park, Bellerose, Cambria Heights, Laurelton, Rosedale, Floral Park, and Brookville

3. Annadale, Arden Heights, Bay Terrace, Charleston, Eltingville, Great kills, Greenridge, Huguenot, Pleasant Plains, Prince’s Bay, Richmond Valley, Rossville, Tottenville, and Woodrow

3. Tompkins Square, East Village, Lower East Side, Chinatown, Two Bridges

1664 Park Avenue, Ground Floor Third Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
12. Inwood and Washington Heights

7. Flushing, Bay Terrace, College Point, Whitestone, Malba, Beechhurst, Queensboro Hill, and Willets Point

219-41 Jamaica Avenue Fourth Monday, 7:30 p.m.

655-218 Rossville Avenue Fourth Tuesday , 7:30 p.m.

14. Flatbush, Midwood, kensington, and Ocean Parkway

810 East 16th Street Second Monday, 7:30 p.m.

59 East 4th Street Fourth Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.
4. Clinton, Chelsea

15. Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, kings Bay, Gerritsen Beach, kings Highway, East Gravesend, Madison, Homecrest, and Plum Beach

330 West 42nd Street, Suite 2618 First Wednesday, 6:30 p.m.
5. Midtown

711 West 168th Street, Ground Floor Fourth Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.

133-32 41st Road - Suite 3B Second Monday, 7:00 p.m.

Book your trip today at or call 1-800-USA-RAIL


2001 Oriental Boulevard, C Cluster Last Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.
16. Brownsville and Ocean Hill

450 7th Avenue, Rm. 2109 Second Thursday, 6:00 p.m.
6. Stuyvesant Town, Tudor City, Turtle Bay, Peter Cooper Village, Murray Hill, Gramercy

1. Astoria, Old Astoria, Long Island City, Queensbridge, Ditmars, Ravenswood, Steinway, Garden Bay, and Woodside

8. Fresh Meadows, Cunningham Heights, Hilltop Village, Pomonak Houses, Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates, Holliswood, Flushing South, Utopia, kew Gardens Hills, and Briarwood

14. Breezy Point, Belle Harbor, Broad Channel, Neponsit, Arverne, Bayswater, Edgemere, Rockaway Park, Rockaway and Far Rockaway

1931 Mott Avenue Second Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.

444 Thomas Boyland Street, Rm. 103 Fourth Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.
17. East Flatbush, Remsen Village, Farragut, Rugby, Erasmus and Ditmas Village

2. Long Island City, Woodside, and Sunnyside

36-01 35th Avenue Third Tuesday, 7:00 p.m.

197-15 Hillside Avenue Second Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

statEN isLaNd

9. Richmond Hill, Woodhaven, Ozone Park, and kew Gardens

866 UN Plaza, Suite 308 Second Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.

43-22 50th Street First Thursday, 7:00 p.m.

120-55 Queens Boulevard, Rm. 310A Second Tuesday, 7:45 p.m.
10. Howard Beach, Ozone Park, South Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Tudor Village, and Lindenwood

1. Arlington, Castleton Corners, Clifton, Concord, Elm Park, Fort Wadsworth, Graniteville, Grymes Hill, Livingston, Mariners Harbor, Meiers Corners, New Brighton, Port Ivory, Port Richmond, Randall Manor, Rosebank, St. George, Shore Acres, Silver Lake, Stapleton, Sunnyside, Tompkinsville, West Brighton, Westerleigh

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39 Remsen Avenue Third Wednesday, 7:00 p.m.

7. Manhattan Valley, Upper West Side, and Lincoln Square

18. Canarsie, Bergen Beach, Mill Basin, Flatlands, Marine Park, Georgetown, and Mill Island

250 W. 87th Street First Tuesday, 6:30 p.m.

3. Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, North Corona, and La Guardia Airport

82-11 37th Avenue, Suite 606 Third Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
4. Corona, Corona Heights, Elmhurst

115-01 Lefferts Boulevard First Thursday, 7:45 p.m.

1 Edgewater Plaza, Room 217 Second Tuesday, 8:00 p.m.

5715 Avenue H, # 1D

8. Upper East Side, LenoxHill, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island

11. Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck, Auburndale, East Flushing, Oakland Gardens, and Hollis Hills

46-21 Little Neck Parkway

2. Arrochar, Bloomfield, Bulls Heads, Chelsea, Dongan Hills, Egbertville, Emerson Hill, Grant City, Grasmere, Midland Beach, New Dorp, New Springville,



Homework The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6


ThURSdAY, JANUARY 6 ALL dAY LEED Green Associate Seminar New York, NY The U.S. Green Building Council has made a number of recent changes to the LEED examination required for accreditation. “Green Associate” is the Tier 1 achievement within USGBC’s new LEED 2009 three-tiered accreditation system, and signifies a strong knowledge base of the principles of LEED Sustainable Design without the technical knowledge requirements of LEED AP+. This seminar goes over LEED principles and certified projects. For more information, visit http://www.greenedu. com/new-york-city-leed-seminars/

WedNeSdAY, FeBRUARY 16 ALL dAY Intelligent Infrastructure The Architecture of Progress New York, NY Infrastructure is one of the great challenges of the twenty-first century. Over the next 30 years, the global population will skyrocket from roughly six and a half billion to between nine and twelve billion. Reserve your place today for Intelligent Infrastructure, the next event offered in the Ideas Economy series from The Economist. To register, please visit

developed the agency’s first domestic violence strategic plan, supported the placement of domestic violence consultants in child protective offices throughout the city, and designed mental health, substance abuse and medical policies and programs. In her most recent role as the Deputy Commissioner of Family Support Services, Ms. Roberts has overseen the city’s preventive service programs, working to prevent child abuse and neglect and reduce the need for foster care placement.


Safe Horizon Appoints New Chief Program Officer Safe Horizon, the nation’s leading victim assistance organization, has announced the appointment of Liz Roberts as Chief Program Officer, effective as of November 29, 2010. Liz Roberts comes to Safe Horizon with 23 years of experience as an advocate, clinician and administrator working on behalf of children and families affected by violence. She began her career as a shelter counselor, hotline worker, and children’s program coordinator for community-based domestic violence programs in the Boston area. At the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Ms. Roberts trained more than a thousand health care providers to screen for intimate partner violence during health care visits. Next, she worked as a therapist with young children who had witnessed violence. She has taught courses on family violence at the Columbia University School of Social Work and at Wheelock College in Boston. For the last ten years, Ms. Roberts has held several leadership positions at the New York City Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). She began in 2000 as the Director of the Office of Domestic Violence Policy and Planning and became the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Child and Family Health in 2004. In 2006, she was appointed the Deputy Commissioner of Family Support Services. During her years at ACS, Liz

The CUNY School of Law Job Type: Full-Time Job Category: Education/Academic


ThURSdAY, JANUARY 27 ALL dAY Upgrading to World Class: The Future of New York City’s Airports New York, NY Join Regional Plan Association, the Better Airports Alliance, and JP Morgan Chase at a major conference to address the chronic problem of airport congestion and delays in the New York Region. For more information, visit or call (212) 253-5796.

The Associate Administrator manages one or more College administrative functions. He/she develops, implements, and assesses programs and services to produce high-quality results and meet strategic goals. He/she also coordinates activities among different units, and with areas outside the College, and may oversee staff, budget, operations, and facilities. He/she develops, implements, and assesses programs and services to produce high-quality results and meet strategic goals. He/she also coordinates activities among different units, and with areas outside the College, and may oversee staff, budget, operations, and facilities. The Executive Director of Institutional Advancement will be working with the Dean of the Law School. The successful candidate will oversee the development, marketing, and public relations operations. The successful candidate will work closely with the Dean, faculty, volunteers, and colleagues (as appropriate) to design and implement identification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship strategies to build recognition and support for the Law School. The Executive Director of Institutional Advancement will serve as Executive Director of the Law School Foundation and will build strong working relationships with the Law School Foundation Board of Directors, the Office of the Chancellor of CUNY,

departmental staff, colleagues, and faculty. As a key member of The Law School team, the Executive Director of Institutional Advancement will be expected to contribute broadly to all aspects of the fulfillment of the institution’s mission and growth. The Law School seeks an experienced professional with the demonstrated ability to respond effectively to the following challenges: Prepares for, plans and executes the Law School’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign. Creates and successfully implements annual strategic plans for fundraising and communications operations to innovatively lead the institution’s overall advancement efforts to a higher and more sophisticated level of achievement. He/she will develop long-range plans, operating guidelines and department budgets. This position is in CUNY’s Executive Compensation Plan. All executive positions require a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree and eight years’ related experience. Additional qualifications are defined below by the College. Broad intellectual curiosity about, and familiarity with, political, academic and historical issues, on a local, national and international level, and in particular a knowledge of New York City’s social justice community and its unique role in the legal community; Understanding of and appreciation for the legal and social justice needs of the communities in New York City that are underserved and underrepresented; Significant experience in the design and leadership of development, marketing, and public relations programs within a complex higher education environment and/or social justice organizations, resulting in marked improvement and growth; Progressively responsible, substantial and diverse fund-raising experience and a proven track record demonstrating the ability to secure significant gifts, including major gifts and annual fund, from both defined and non-defined constituencies; Proven ability to build strong relationships with key audiences, including donors, colleagues, and peer organizations and individuals in the social justice community; Knowledge of and experience in developing communications advocacy campaigns on social justice legal issues, including local and national legislative

issues and impact litigation; Bold and imaginative mindset and an ardent desire to act in an entrepreneurial and collegial manner to design, shape and build a strong and successful institutional advancement program; Exceptional interpersonal skills combined with the self-confidence and sensitivity needed to build consensus for policy and operational changes; Demonstrated ability to work effectively with, and, by virtue of a keen intellect and superb written and presentational skills, quickly gain the trust and confidence of, various constituencies, including the Dean, the faculty, Board members, staff, potential donors, and community and business leaders; Knowledge of the culture of academic institutions and in particular of graduate education; Patience, tolerance, maturity, stature, self-motivation, energy, a personable nature, a strong work ethic and integrity. To Apply: Send resume and cover letter to: Angela Kofron Search Committee 65-21 Main Street Flushing, New York 11367. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY; The City University of New York is an Equal Opportunity Employer, which complies with all applicable laws and regulations, and encourages inclusive excellence in its employment practices

(5) years fundraising experience, including in a supervisory capacity; a proven record of success and accomplishment; management of high dollar individual donors from identifying prospects through securing major gifts; excellent interpersonal and team building skills; ability to take initiative, work under pressure and handle multiple coinciding deadlines; knowledge of, and commitment to, LGBT issues and communities. Background and experience working with city, state and federal elected officials highly desirable; proficiency with Raiser’s Edge preferred. To Apply: Submit a cover letter (stating desired position and salary requirements) and resume, by email to For regular mail or fax: Center Human Resources 208 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011 FAX (212) 9242657. Duplicate submissions are not necessary. No phone calls, please. The Center is proud to be an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. Learn more at

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center Job Type: Full-Time Job Category: Social Service and Agency The NYC LGBT Center is seeking an experienced fundraising professional to work closely with the Director of Development, Executive Director, key volunteers and committees to execute an aggressive fundraising strategy. The Deputy will be responsible for all aspects of major donor and government relations strategies, work with other development team members to support overall departmental goals and objectives, and will assume day-to-day management in the absence of the Director. Qualified applicants will have a minimum five


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The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store Extra Extra

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6


More Than Jibber-Jabber
Yes, that’s Mayor Edward I. Koch. And yes, that’s Mr. T. Joined by then-Department of Housing Preservation and Development commissioner Anthony Gliedman, the mayor and the action star were photographed announcing the T-Force campaign, an effort—according to Gliedman’s widow Virginia—to combat housing discrimination. “They shot a commercial to publicize fair housing referrals and the use of counseling,” she says. The event is believed to have been held in February 1986, but no caption information or photographer’s credit is associated with the print in City Limits’ vault. Gliedman served as the city’s housing commissioner through Koch’s first and second terms, during which time he oversaw efforts to repair the damage that disinvestment and fiscal crisis had done to the city’s housing stock; he resigned in 1986 and died in 2002. Koch served three terms as mayor and still comments regularly on politics. (He also does movie reviews.) Mr. T is still Mr. T. New York City’s human rights law bars property owners and sellers from treating potential buyers or tenants differently because of their race, religion, gender, gender identity, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, immigration status, age, lawful occupation or whether they do or don’t have children. Refusing to sell housing, giving different prices to different buyers, restricting housing to married people or to those without children—all are against the law. The city’s Commission on Human Rights, which enforces the fair housing law (as well as laws against employment and public accommodation discrimination as well), reports that a third of the 410 complaints it received in fiscal year 2010 concerned housing. In 2008 the city made it illegal to discriminate against renters who planned to pay with Section 8 benefits; in 2009, the human rights commission was able to get 142 Section 8 renters into housing that they were initially turned away from. But the commission has fewer resources than it did when Koch and Mr. T were hanging out: Its staff dropped to 70 positions in 2009, from 165 in 1986. –Jarrett Murphy



The Death and Life of the Neighborhood Store Look Back

City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 5 6