A Blueprint with Two Holes?

Earlier this year, the Department of City Planning unveiled the launch of their new Business Process Reform (i.e. BluePRint). Over the past 18 months, the Department worked with dozens of practitioners and stakeholders in the public review process to improve the way the private sector does business with City Planning. (Full Disclosure: several authors of this blog contributed to the effort.)

With the goal of improving the land use and environmental application review processes, the Department has standardized applications and the drawings, maps, attachments, and all other documentation associated with these applications. This is a huge step forward and will remove the second-guessing and seemingly endless revisions previously necessary to bring an application to the point of certification. Additionally, BluePRint aims to streamline the actual review of these documents to create a predictable and efficient pre-certification process. Again, bringing clarity to a previously unpredictable process will go a long way to improving the development process in New York City.

For a complete description of BluePRint, please see the Department’s explanation here.

In concept and in execution, we are optimistic about the all-around benefits anticipated from BluePRint. We believe in the Department’s sincerity at fixing what has been a long-standing problem. If the reforms are implemented and carried out as planned, all stakeholders – both in the public and private sector – will be better off.

That said, it appears that BluePRint has two major holes. Continue reading

The (Forever?) Iron Triangle

Last week, opponents of the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to redevelop Willets Point found themselves cheering a move by the Mayor. The Administration withdrew its legal request to utilize eminent domain in the 12-acre Queens neighborhood.

In 2008, the area – which currently and historically has been used for automotive and industrial uses – was rezoned. Mayor Bloomberg’s vision was a mixed-use neighborhood with retail, residential, hotel and other uses. Adjacent to the new Mets ballpark, close to the subway and several highways, the vision for the neighborhood was quite grand. Continue reading

‘Occupy’ing the Zoning Resolution

On September 17, a leaderless (or, alternatively, leader-full) group of people began a demonstration aimed at highlighting the vast income inequality that exists in this country today. Named ‘Occupy Wall Street’, they gathered to express their outrage at the collusion between the country’s largest financial institutions and the government – a relationship which led to the 2008 financial collapse and one that has greatly increased the already vast wealth gap.

Among the many early decisions made by this group that allowed the movement to be so successful (catchy name, lack of hierarchy, open decision making process, etc.), one additional decision stands out as particularly wise – the location of the demonstration. Continue reading

The Next 50

Next Thursday, the New York City Zoning Resolution turns 50 years old. As zoning nerds the world over take a minute to acknowledge this milestone, we must not forget to turn our attention to the next 50 years and start considering specific actions that will encourage the progress of this great city and preserve its competitive advantage. It is time to think big…literally.

While planning (and zoning, for that matter) doesn’t happen in a vacuum, as we look at the next 50 years, architects of the City’s planning and zoning policies should take three words into consideration – no, not location location location. Urban planning technocrats, elected officials, neighborhood groups, and all other stakeholders should be guided by the following three words: Continue reading

Zoning: What’s the Point?

Sometimes, we get lost in the details and forget to step back and ask the basic questions.  In the speed of the everyday, we end up focusing on nuances, instead of looking at the big picture – the proverbial forest for the trees. When dealing with New York City zoning, this can often be the case.  In this case, the “basic question” that needs to be asked here is – ‘What is the Point?’.  Why do we have zoning?  What is its goal? Continue reading

What Changes Behavior?

If we can agree that the goal is to get people to use less energy, less water, less oil; to get people to invest in greener buildings, greener technologies, greener transportation; then the question is – how do we do it?  How do we get to a state where people and companies are making more environmentally conscious choices? Ultimately, we must answer the question – What changes behavior?

Last month, I spent two weeks in Israel.  With its geographic location coupled with the space it inhabits politically, Israel has severe environmental and resource challenges – much more so than the United States.  With water scarce and the cost expensive, Israel has had to address these (and many other environmental issues) for decades.

When it comes to water, Israel gives a quota for “normal usage” to its residents.  Residents are charged a standard rate for the first 30 cubic meters (for a family of 4 every 2 months).  Above that limit, residents are charged a much higher rate, in addition to an over-usage penalty.

When it comes to gas, your eyes may be rolling lately at the price of gas in the US, but Israelis can pay as much as three times the price we do.  As a result, their cars are much smaller (SUV’s are a rarity) and public transit is robust and well-used.

As for energy usage, Israel has embraced solar technologies for more than 30 years.  Just take a look at the rooftops in Tel Aviv.  Nearly every one has a solar panel connected to the building’s water heater.

These are just a few examples of how Israel is addressing some of its sustainability challenges.  Now some might say that Israel, because of its geography and lack of resources, was forced to encourage its citizens to act more sustainably.  And that’s exactly the point.  Sometimes we need a push in the right direction in order to achieve meaningful results. Continue reading

The City’s “Quick Response” to Providing Information

The Department of Buildings recently introduced a new “Quick Response” feature to the building permits displayed at all construction sites in the City.

Quick Response (QR) codes are barcodes that can be read by smartphones.  The City says that, when scanned, the QR codes will provide “details about the ongoing project – including the approved scope of work, identities of the property owner and job applicant, other approved projects associated with the permit, the complaints and violations related to the location”.  Users will also have the ability to click a link that will initiate a phone call to 311 to register a complaint.

Essentially, a person walking past a construction site will be able to get instant information about the project.  We here at ZONE commend the City’s effort to utilize technology as a means for greater transparency.

To that end, the City recently hired Rachel Sterne as its first Chief Digital Officer.  Rachel has gotten off to a fast start – she’s already using twitter and quora, among other sites, to engage the public on issues of City government and technology, including the new QR codes. Continue reading

GGBP: Time to Pay Attention

Recently, Howard Peskoe (of Counsel here at Herrick, Feinstein) and I were invited to speak to the New York chapter of the International Facilities Managers Association on the City’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan and its impact on IFMA’s members.

IFMA asked us to speak because a major component of the GGBP (the benchmarking law) is about to become effective on May 1, 2011.

We have addressed the GGBP in ZONE previously, but now seems the perfect time to revisit its four laws.

Continue reading

Urban Agriculture – Ready for its Close-Up?

Earlier this year, I had the privilege if sitting on a panel which analyzed a fascinating and innovative proposed urban agriculture development project in the Bronx. The event was very interesting and demonstrated the many benefits of urban agriculture, as well as the growing level of support for the concept.

The panel – put together by the Sustainability Practice Network – looked at one of the responses to an EDC RFP asking for development ideas for a vacant block in the Bathgate section of the Bronx. Continue reading