Charter Revision Should Make Land Use Governance More Inclusive

It has been nearly 30 years since New York City’s charter was last comprehensively reviewed, and the City has changed dramatically. Between 2005 and 2015, New York City had 90% of new jobs within the New York metropolitan region, a complete reversal of 1975-2005 trends. In the past three decades, our transit system was in crisis, came out of crisis, and has gone back into crisis again. All the while, inequality has continued ever upward, with wealth concentration for top earners, wage depression for the lowest income New Yorkers, and persistent inequities along racial and ethnic lines.

In the 2018 State of the City address, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to convene a Charter Revision Commission to review the New York City Charter. While the mayor hopes the commission will review policies and procedures related to campaign finance, once a revision commission is convened, they will independently define the scope of their review.

On Friday, a public hearing was held on Intro 241-2018 , a bill that if passed, would convene a charter revision commission to conduct a comprehensive review and (if deemed necessary) a major overhaul of the city charter. To many, a comprehensive review of the Charter is long overdue, given that the last substantial reforms occurred in 1989. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Public Advocate Letitia James and Borough President Brewer via Councilmember Ben Kallos will call this the People’s Commission, a nod to its representatives being selected by each branch of city government: the mayor, council speaker, public advocate, comptroller and five borough presidents.

Now, it is seeming increasingly likely that two charter revision commissions will be convened simultaneously: one by the mayor that will deliver recommendations most likely relating to campaign finance reform by November 2018, and the other created by Intro-241 which would conduct a holistic review of the charter.

While a single revision commission would be best, RPA testified in support of Intro-241 because a charter reform has great potential to make New York City more equitable. In our Fourth Regional Plan, we highlighted the need to make local planning more inclusive, predictable and efficient, and over the course of 2017, we participated with the Offices of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, City Council Member Antonio Reynoso and over 40 community and land use experts citywide to identify strategies for land use reform, and charter Revision is needed to accomplish some of the most important recommendations. Planning comprehensively, and empowering communities to have more of a say in their own futures will require a rethinking of the balance of power in the city.


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