For the most part, much of the public drama over the Department of City Planning’s East Midtown proposal has been played out. At this point, most anyone with a stake in New York City real estate has (often quite forcefully) thrown in their two cents: architectural pundits and practitioners, big-time property owners, citywide civic advocacy groups, a consortium of affected Community Boards, present and presumptive Manhattan Borough Presidents, and nearly every faction of the fourth estate. But ultimately—or likely penultimately, as the City Council will most certainly take its turn to weigh in—it finally comes down to what the City Planning Commission thinks, and its moment arrives this week.
In May, the City Council adopted a zoning text amendment that revised the parking regulations in the “Manhattan Core,” the area south of 96th Street on the east side and south of 110th Street on the west side. Since 1982, this area of Manhattan has been subject to parking regulations that differ from those in effect in the rest of the City, in part due to an effort to reduce pollution after the Clean Air Act and an acknowledgement that the number of cars in the congested areas of central Manhattan should be limited. Parking is not required for any new development in the Manhattan Core and is only permitted in limited amounts.
For those of you planning to attend this week’s CPC public hearing session, remember that the host venue is the National Museum of the American Indian, in the former U.S. Custom House building, at One Bowling Green in Lower Manhattan. When the CPC expects an extraordinary turnout for a public hearing, it makes special arrangements to move the proceedings—normally at its headquarters at 22 Reade Street—to an offsite location, and this week’s agenda should validate the move.
The piece (which is misplaced in the Arts Section) argues that the plan, developed by the Department of City Planning, calls for too much density, without sufficient focus on infrastructure and mass transit – and it seems to suggest that people won’t be working in high-rises so much (but is silent about living).
Density is good for the environment, and it is good for New York. It is a key reason why the City’s “carbon footprint” is so low. Density is also good for the workplace – as it brings people and corporations together. It is good for neighborhoods and for the life of the City. The rezoning’s focus on Grand Central (contrary to the main theme of the Times’ commentary) demonstrates an awareness of the basic need to support the highest densities at and around established transit nodes. The plan is not an irresponsible call for enormous buildings – but an incentive program to encourage the replacement and rebuilding of undersized and obsolete Class “B” buildings.
The plan doesn’t pretend that zoning is a panacea – it’s but one tool in an overall effort to keep New York City globally competitive while also balancing a regional focus among Hudson Yards, Lower Manhattan and Midtown.
The Times piece would be better placed in the Metropolitan section – and would better serve the readers if it were more comprehensive.
(Image borrowed from Department of City Planning presentation of East Midtown Rezoning).
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
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
Last week, the Municipal Art Society (MAS) held the first of what will likely be many 50th anniversary “celebrations” of the City’s thousand-plus page Zoning Resolution.
Alas, like President Obama and the Zoning Resolution, I too was born in 1961. I don’t have my long form birth certificate – but trust me – I am as aged as the City’s zoning. Continue reading
There’s been quite a bit of talk in New York recently about Wal-Mart – the big box retailer is resurrecting its bid to open its first New York City store. Wal-Mart’s earlier attempts to open a Brooklyn or Queens location failed when the store came up against the city’s strong unions – who oppose Wal-Mart’s non-union approach – and a general concern about the effects of the retailer on wages and small businesses. This time around, the City Council’s Committees on Community Development, Small Business and Economic Development plan to hold a joint oversight hearing on Wal-Mart (scheduled for this Wednesday), and Christine Quinn, the Council’s Speaker, has been quoted as saying, “Wal-Mart is something I am not supportive of.” But can the City Council, unions, or small businesses actually block the store from opening anywhere within the five boroughs?
Unlike some other cities in the US, NYC doesn’t have regulations that prohibit chains. So why hasn’t Wal-Mart just opened here already, like Home Depot, Costco, Target and several other large chain retailers have before it? Although these other stores have also faced barriers to entry, particular attention is paid to Wal-Mart, as they seem to rally opposition like no other store. What’s the source of the legal barriers and the regulatory constraints – and can Wal-Mart be stopped? The answers to these questions, like so many others, lie partially within the Zoning Resolution. Continue reading
Every NYC health club or any business or establishment offering physical exercise, massage or use of steam/saunas (the Zoning Resolution calls them Physical Culture Establishments – or PCEs) is required to obtain a Special Permit from the Board of Standards and Appeals – before opening. Even when they fall within a commercial zoning district. An onerous rule, perhaps, but at least it seems relatively simple. Continue reading
Lower Manhattan has several small – and sometimes forgotten – narrow alley-ways. Often rubble-strewn, dormant and seemingly neglected, these urban paths appear to be worthless byways of a time long ago. They also have names that hearken back to a bygone era: Stable Court; Great Jones Alley; Franklin Place.
Who plows these “streets?” Who owns them? Can they be gated and made exclusive? What lies beneath them? Why were they created? And, how are they taxed?
These are not mundane questions. Alas, they are not easily answered either. Continue reading